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Nepal: Law on Discrimination Based on Caste

(May 26, 2011) On May 24, 2011, Nepal's legislature passed the Bill on Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability, designed to end discriminatory practices aimed at those considered to be members of the lowest castes, known as “Dalits.” It had been under consideration by the Parliament for two years. The legislation prohibits such discrimination and treatment of individuals as “untouchable” in public and private spheres, establishes increased punishment for officials guilty of discrimination, criminalizes incitement to caste-based discrimination, and provides for compensation to victims from perpetrators of biased acts. (Nepal: UN Welcomes New Law on Caste-Based Discrimination, UN NEWS CENTRE (May 25, 2011).)

Dalits make up about 20% of the country's population and despite a long-standing official end to the caste system, still face extensive discrimination in education and employment. Particularly in western Nepal, the less-developed area of the country, Dalit women and children endure economic, physical, cultural, and psychological violence. According to Maria Brink Schleimann of the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), “[w]omen also often bear the brunt of acts of vengeance against Dalit communities that try to better their circumstances.” (Toni Bacala, Discriminated Dalits in Nepal Seek Hope in Education and Employment, MEDIAGLOBAL (May 4, 2011).) The IDSN is a Copenhagen-based, non-governmental organization working for “the elimination of caste discrimination and similar forms of discrimination based on work and descent.” (About IDSN, IDSN website (last visited May 25, 2011).)

Jyoti Sanghera, the head of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal, said of the new legislation,

This is the first time ever Nepal has adopted specific legislation for addressing the serious crime of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. … It is now vital to ensure effective implementation of this law, taking appropriate measures such as raising awareness of the law amongst the general public and specific training for the police. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

The Chairman of Nepal's National Dalit Commission, Bijul Bishwakarma, referred to the extreme suffering caused for centuries by caste-based discrimination and expressed the hope that the law will make it possible for members of the Dalit community to have access to justice. (Id.)