A scheduled and broadcasted protest rally on August 4 2015 in Kathmandu, organized by the Joint Dalit Struggle Committee including the Coalition of Dalit Constituent Assembly (CA) Members, Dalit civil society and the Joint Political Dalit Struggle Committee, ended in a violent altercation with police. The Dalit activists were calling for Dalit rights to be secured in the new draft Constitution and demanding proportionate representation with additional compensation in the central and provincial governments and legislature.

During the rally, police allegedly used excessive force against protesters and Durga Sob, President of the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) and a number of other Dalit activists and CA Members were injured.

On August 5, following appeals from among others, the Chair of the CA and FEDO, the government announced that it would form a committee to investigate into the alleged police excesses. The police claim that the use of force was required to place the situation under control after the protesters turned violent.

The demonstration was triggered by a deep concern of Dalit activists for the dilution of Dalit rights in the new constitution-making process. The rights secured in earlier drafts appear to have been watered down in the new constitution. Dalit activists have therefore been demanding to ensure that their rights are secured in the new constitution-making process.

The new draft constitution does mention non-discrimination, the elimination of all forms of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. However, concern has been raised with regards to some of the actual provisions including the sections on women’s rights, Dalit rights and rights to inclusion, equality and social justice. Dalit activists have, among other things, called for guaranteeing equal proportional and additional representation of the Dalit community in legislative bodies. Specifically, activists are calling for an additional 10%, 5% and 3% at the local, regional and national level respectively along with proportionality, as was secured in previous drafts of the Constitution.

Across the board, the application and enjoyment of a number of fundamental rights (Article 45 of the draft constitution) are restricted by the addition of the clause ‘as provided by law.’ In effect, the application and enjoyment of certain rights are subjected to the enactment of relevant legislation. Thus, until and unless, relevant legislation is enacted, these rights, including those relevant to the Dalit community, will not be secured.

In terms of the National Women’s Commission (NWC) and the National Dalit Commission (NDC), the new draft Constitution lacks mention of the quasi-judicial powers that they require in order to function as investigating and monitoring institutions and remains silent with regards to their coordination and complementarity with the National Human Rights Commission. Additionally, the NDC continues to lack an independent status as well as Dalit women representation. Furthermore, and contrary to the UN Paris Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions, the draft constitution lacks a provision securing diversity during appointments of Chairpersons and members of the commissions.

Further, mention of the human rights mechanisms at the provincial level is lacking and the National Inclusion Commission lacks mention of Dalit representation.

According to Dalit activists, merely highlighting non-discrimination as a right and not guaranteeing other rights related to life, dignity, representation and participation and following a human rights approach throughout the constitution-making process, will be inadequate in addressing the rights of Dalit people. The majority of national organizations including FEDO have appealed for their concerns to be addressed, underlining that unless the new constitution addresses the marginalised and particularly the Dalit community, ownership and finally the legitimacy of the constitution is at risk.

More information

Govt to form panel to probe police action on Dalits, ekantipur.com news article, 5 August 2015

The Dalit march, The Kathmandu Post, 8 August 2015