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The report documents the Dalits’ experience of systemic caste-based discrimination in Nepal and the challenges they face in accessing justice.

Kathmandu: Authorities in Nepal are failing to protect Dalits, particularly women and girls, from systemic and widespread caste-based discrimination, said Amnesty International in its new report published on Friday.

The report, “No One Cares”: Descent-Based Discrimination against Dalits documents the experience of systemic caste-based discrimination in Nepal and the challenges they face in accessing justice as the Nepali authorities’ existing legal and protective measures prove insufficient and fail to secure their human rights.

“The authorities in Nepal are not doing enough to counteract the culture of impunity for human rights violations related to descent-based discrimination in Nepal. Efforts made by the authorities are still inadequate and insufficient, and they seem to exist only on paper but do not translate into real changes in the lives and the human rights of Dalits, Dalit women and girls in particular,” said Fernanda Doz Costa, Amnesty International’s Director for Gender and Racial Justice Programme.

Despite legal reforms to prohibit caste-based discrimination, Amnesty International has documented examples of how every aspect of everyday life in Nepali society is divided and operates based on the caste system, where discrimination and violence is pervasive for Dalits. They continue to face multiple barriers in access to justice and have no recourse to reparations due to institutional discrimination, including in the police.

Culture of impunity

Impunity is rampant for several reasons, including inadequate statute of limitations in the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability, (Offence and Punishment), (CBDU) Act, lack of representation of Dalits in the justice system and institutional discrimination in the police and justice system, lack of effective oversight mechanisms and accountability.

Dalits do not trust the police and the justice system in general, and the limited government level data and statistics available (Only 30-43 cases per year registered under CBDU Act in police records) confirm their distrust is well-founded, including for Dalit women confronting caste-based violence. The inactions or limited actions of Nepali authorities, including failing to hold public officers accountable, and closing the trust deficits, are reinforcing this culture of impunity and are sending a message to society that caste and gender-based discrimination and violence are “acceptable” and “natural”.

Intersectional cases of caste and gender-based violence often go unreported, further perpetuating a culture of invisibility, silence, and impunity. In many instances, the burden of shame and stigma is placed on the Dalit survivors, rather than on the non-Dalit perpetrators.

According to Amnesty International, in instances when the caste-based incidents are reported, police frequently refuse to register cases to initiate the criminal proceedings in law, including for crimes of untouchability and gender-based violence or rape cases involving Dalit women. Police often prefer to push for informal mediation out of the justice system rather than initiating criminal investigations and prosecutions which results in widespread impunity.

Case of Angira Pasi

In May 2020, the body of Angira Pasi, a 12-year-old Dalit girl was found hanging from a tree in Rupandehi district in Nepal. A 25-year-old non-Dalit man belonging to so-called “dominant caste” had been accused of raping her. Instead of lodging a police complaint, the locals including the Ward Chair decided that Angira Pasi should marry the accused who raped her, because she would otherwise be considered unsuitable for marriage in the future. The mother and aunt of the accused reportedly abused Angira Pasi saying she belonged to the “low caste” so she would not be allowed into their house. They also beat her up. Two days later, Angira Pasi was found hanging from a tree.

The police initially refused to register a complaint from the victim’s family. After pressure from civil society, a complaint was registered and the accused, his mother, and his aunt were detained as suspects in Angira Pasi’s case. On 12 September 2021, the Rupandehi District Court convicted the accused of murder and sentenced him to 18 years in prison. An appeal against the conviction is pending before the High Court.

Barriers in access to justice

Access to justice is hindered when police fail to register and effectively investigate cases under the CBDU Act. Rather, as reported by stakeholders, the police often registered such cases under other laws which has the effect of downplaying the discriminatory motive of the offence and dilute the severity of caste-based discrimination.

There have also been reported incidents in which police have failed to conduct thorough, impartial, fair, and timely investigations into the suspicious deaths of victims from the Dalit community.

Case of Ajit Dhakal Mizar

The corpse of Ajit Dhakal Mijar, an 18-year-old Dalit man, has been lying preserved in a morgue at a hospital in Maharajgunj, Nepal, for the last eight years as his father fights for justice.

On 14 July 2016, Ajit, who was in an inter-caste relationship with a non-Dalit “dominant caste” girl, was found dead in suspicious circumstances. Ajit’s death was immediately recorded as suicide by the police and his corpse declared as unidentified. He was quickly buried by the authorities without informing the family.

Ajit’s father found certain anomalies relating to the post-mortem report produced by the law enforcement agencies, which raised his suspicion. He requested to exhume his son’s body and refused to perform final rites for his son until he gets justice. 

Amnesty International interviewed Ajit’s father and his lawyer, who claimed that the police showed willful negligence in their failure to effectively investigate Ajit’s cause of death. Ajit’s father said the police showed allegiance to the non-Dalit suspects and covered up the actual cause of his son’s death. They both claimed that an autopsy or post-mortem of Ajit was not conducted, and a forged post-mortem report was produced as evidence. They also claimed that if the Supreme Court of Nepal directed a post-mortem it would reveal the facts as to whether Ajit hanged himself or was murdered. Ajit’s case, challenging both the lower courts’ verdicts which acquitted the three accused with involvement in his suspicious death, is still pending at the Apex Court.

“No one cares”

Anita Mahara, one of the Dalit women interviewed for Amnesty International’s report said that it seems like “no one cares”.

Allegations against the police regarding willful negligence of duty in handling caste-based discrimination prompted the Nepal’s Parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights to require a Dalit cell in every police station since 2020. This resulted in the creation of 86 Dalit-specific police cells across the country, each tasked with reporting, investigating and coordinating with victims of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Amnesty International’s researchers visited three district-level police stations in Madhesh Province and discovered that the Dalit desk was not functional, except for a placard labelled “Dalit desk”.

Despite some encouraging legal protections, the state is failing to fulfil its human rights duty to address caste-based discrimination. The specific legislation created for this, namely the CBDU Act, lacks effective implementation and falls short in effectively combating such an entrenched system of caste-based discrimination.

The Nepali authorities must create a holistic plan for a truly transformative response to uproot the entrenched caste and gender-based violence and discrimination in Nepal, based on human rights obligations and with an intersectional lens. There is an urgent need to take special measures to improve the situation of Dalit women and girls due to the inter-generational history of oppression and entrenched culture of caste-bias, patriarchy and discrimination.

“Nepal must fulfil its obligation to provide effective, timely and meaningful access to justice and reparations for survivors. It must move away from merely paying lip service to the ideals of achieving equality for all but take a concrete human-rights centric approach to relegating descent-based discrimination to the dustbins of history,” said Fernanda Doz Costa.