Diversity has to be one of the most remarkable aspects of the natural world and that of a society as it is the principle constituent of its vibrancy and colorfulness. However, there is an aspect of this diversity that is artificially introduced through various practices of social and cultural discriminations. Prejudiced actions of humans treat other people unfairly and create unjustly engineered diversity – a distressing, inhumane, colossally immoral and counterproductive kind. It inflicts a sense of humiliation in many while giving a sense of privilege to others. It is a great cause of disparities that lead to subjugation of one population under another and, therefore, to rebellion and counter-rebellion. They are severely damaging to the society, threat to peace, and obstacle to society in making use of its full potential.
Nepal’s centuries old feudal practices, in which ordinary people did not amount to much, discriminated people along various fronts. Scars of discrimination are everywhere, whether we look from economic point of view or along the lines of castes, ethnicity, culture, geographic regions, and gender. They have harmed the country both socially and economically by providing better opportunity to a small population while depriving others from realizing their human potential. After centuries of such practices, discrimination has become the paramount feature of Nepalese society. Therefore, correcting the entrenched practices of social exclusion and building a society that provides “equal agency for all” has become a necessity in Nepal irrespective of how imposing this ill practice may appear.
In all feudal societies, and also in industrial ones, discrimination is often done by the privileged to the poor. But Nepal carries an equally powerful scheme of discrimination that adds an extra dimension of difficulty. Not only there is a vertical divide and disparity from the rich to the poor, there is a lateral divide and disparity along caste and ethno-cultural lines. In Nepal, majority of wealth, power and privilege is concentrated among a small group of elites that come from a specific cultural backgrounds like Brahamin, Chhetri, Thakuri and Newar, while a poor from a marginalized communities like Dalits fall in an insurmountable “pit of disparity”. If life of a poor Brahmin is in despair in Nepal, a life of a poor Dalit would be where nothing exists below it. But the irony of the problem is that, a Chhetri would exploit another Chheteri as easily as anyone else and so would a Dalit do to another Dalit.
Caste and ethnicity-based division of people is so entrenched in Nepal that a fight against it is more difficult than achieving economic progress. Even though people of dominant social order and marginalized Dalits are of same ethnicity and race, their overall socio-economic standings are vastly different due to entrenched discrimination practiced for centuries. The progress of the marginalized is hindered from their childhood to death due to poor income, poor health, poor education, poor access to resources, lack of political powers, and lack of social empowerment. Whereas there are people living at distant locations holding ownership of land in obscure corners of Nepal, those poor and marginalized who are toiling the land in the villages remain landless and do not own a decent piece of land and resources to build a decent future.
These issues are not going to go away simply with the passage of time and economic progress of a country. India is a prime example of this. Passage of time has not cured the problem of exclusion of women, Dalit, and indigenous population in the most prosperous and resourceful of the countries in the planet like USA and Canada and so would not in Nepal. In fact it is perfectly possible to develop a rich country with full of destitute people, who could even be employed. The economies of the South Africa and South America were and still are of that nature. Yet, the social and economic costs of discrimination are so high in Nepal that this issue will remain dominant for some time to come.
Because the past discriminations have kept the majority of marginalized people in an illiterate and humiliating state, it makes it practically impossible to suddenly have enough of those people in most organs of the state even if we were to instill a highly inclusive system of governance. We may reserve quota for filing university professors or teachers from every community in proportion to their population but we would not have enough of those qualified people from those groups. Therefore, the proportionality must first start from political representation, local development, and policy formation. If such endeavor is supplemented with an environment to earn dignified livelihood for the already-marginalized adults and food and dignity for the elderly, society will be heading in a path of positive transformation. Society can then expand fair access to all areas where the capacity to take on those responsibilities is built in today’s marginalized communities.
Having said that, however, the most profound tool for transforming the lives of the marginalized people is education. All researches carried around the world point that education is the first and foremost factor in transforming the life of any individual. And because the foundation for education begins to be built from the day a child is conceived, the key to building a fair and prosperous society is in raring and educating all children of the country without discrimination. The side effect of doing this right would be felt in all fronts including in the endeavor of building an egalitarian society and economic progress. If this opportunity were to be missed and we were to get lost in only the issues of representation and head counting among adults, the social discriminations will remain dominant and our dreams of prosperity will never come true.
Despite all fairness in political representation, the gender, caste, ethnic and cultural discriminations could not be addressed without allocating extra resources of the local communities and that of the state for specifically addressing those problems. In educating children, the state of poverty and illiteracy not the caste or ethno-cultural identity should determine the degree of marginalization and for the allocation of state resources to address those problems. That means a Thakuri of Humla may be in need of greater state resources than a Dhobi of Kathmandu; a Tamang of Sindhupalchok may need greater resource than a Kami of Palpa. Similarly, a scholarship allocated for the poor may well go to a person of any caste from a slum than to a wealthy person who identifies with Dalits and Janajatis more at philosophical and intellectual level than at economic level.
One bright side of today’s Nepal is that its marginalized people are in no mood to remain subjugated and are eager to find a lasting cure for the disease of discrimination and disparities. This desire has already been demonstrated by the last ten years of war, and if no solution to this problem is found, the country’s fate will be the same or worse once again. In absence of solutions that address the problem from every major angle such as delivering fairness and justice, creating economic opportunities, espousing and discovering new dreams, and building durable systems, the problem will remain with us perennially. However, even espoused social movements and political parties seem to get lost in arguments over semantics of terms than in pouring energy into breaking serious grounds in philosophical, scientific, social and economic fronts. That is part of the reason why this problem remains at large and unbound today.
Because the road to fairness and inclusion is a long journey, the voyage must begin at the earliest to gain a momentum towards the maturity of that journey. And, “all stars would have been aligned” for the success of the journey when first steps are taken from four different directions. Firstly, a constitution and laws must be re-written so as to uphold principles of inclusion, fairness and inherent equality of humans. Secondly, there must be fairness in political representation – in local bodies, in political institutions, and in national legislature. Thirdly, there must be concrete step taken to address the physiological and intellectual needs of all children regardless of gender, culture, race and economic standings. Fourthly, problem of livelihood must begin to be addressed by mobilizing local human, economic and natural resources. Then only we can expect to see a society that ensures justice, equal rights, self-respect, and equal opportunities for our future generation.