Rights of Minorities in Nepal

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sat Apr 16 13:14:11 UTC 2005

>>From The Rising Nepal,  April 16, 2005

Rights Of Minorities Proper Policies & Strategies Needed

By Ritu Raj Subedi

In recent times, call on protecting the rights of minorities has gathered
momentum around the world with the cropping up of many organisations and
rights groups globally pressing their governments to introduce
multi-cultural policies and programmes to address their problems.


The concept of the minority is the by-product of the last century. The
minorities started voicing for their rights be it in the sophisticated
democracy of the US or in developing nations where democracy is either in
the nascent stage. Yet not much headway has been made as they failed to
realise the woes of minorities despite their efforts and promises to this
end. The minority people comprise different ethnic, racial, religious,
immigrant or other groups. They possess a distinctive presence within a
society but have little power or representation relative to other groups
within a society. In practice, minorities are ethnic, religious or
linguistic groups living among a majority group in considerable and
justified fear of persecution.

Almost no country is homogenous. The worlds nearly 200 countries include
500 ethnic groups while two-thirds of countries have more than one ethnic
or religious groups making up at least 10 per cent of the population. Many
countries have a large indigenous population marginalized by colonisation
and settlers. In its last years human development report (HDR), the United
Nations Development Programme has called for nations to introduce
multi-cultural policies to incorporate the minority issues. There is
ideological base for the HDR focus on the cultural and minority issues. It
is inspired by the post-modernistic movement, which is a complex rereading
of history and critical questioning of the Western tradition. French
philosopher Jack Derrida claims that modern western system of thoughts
contains a bundle of inherent contradictions veiled in grand narratives or
master narratives.  It defies coherent, organized and centralized versions
of reality and interpretation of any discourses. This spurred the study of
women, black, minorities, aboriginals and ethnic communities, and
contributed to bring these areas into mainstream of studies.

The report has identified two types of cultural exclusions living mode
exclusion and participation exclusion. Living mode exclusion occurs when
the state or social custom denigrates or suppresses a groups culture,
including its language, religion or traditional customs or lifestyles.
Needed are policies that give some form of public recognition,
accommodation and support to a groups culture. Participation exclusion
includes social, economic and political exclusion along ethnic, linguistic
or religious lines. Its refers to discrimination or disadvantage based on
cultural identity. Such exclusions operate through discriminatory policies
from the state (such as the denial of citizenship or of the right to vote
or to run for office), past discrimination that has not been remedied
(lower performance in education)  or social practice (such as less access
in the media to a cultural groups point of view, or discrimination in job

.In Nepal too, the issue of the minority is gaining ground, thanks to the
open policy coupled with global campaign and awareness. Nepal is a
multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-racial nation. During the Panchayati
system that adopted the ideology of one nation and one culture, many
ethnic and religious groups could not come up for their rights as they are
enjoying in the existing multi-party democratic set up. With the advent of
the multi-party democracy in 1990, different ethnic communities found
themselves in a congenial atmosphere to develop and promote their
languages and cultures. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal has
clearly spoken about respecting different religions, cultures and
traditions. So the minorities such as Buddhists, Muslims and Bahai, Jain
and Sikh communities have been free to observe and celebrate their
religious activities without any hindrance.

Likewise, the Constitution is clear about promoting the language of
minorities. For example, the Article 18 of Part 3 of the Constitution
states, Each community residing within the Kingdom of Nepal shall have the
right to preserve and promote its language, script and culture. Nepal has
61 indigenous nationalities and over 92 languages. Although there have
been efforts to promote ethnic languages and cultures, there is a fear of
mother tongues of different ethnic communities vanishing. For example, the
language of Kusunda is on the verge of extinction. The descendants of
Kusunda do not speak their mother tongue. According to research, there
were only three speakers of Kusunda language in 1970. Last speaker is
reported to have died in 1985. There is an urgent call to save their
mother tongues.


New types of minorities have lately been added to the listHIV people, sex
workers, gays and lesbians. These people have been looked down upon by the
orthodox society. HIV people need social caring and protection while the
sex workers should be treated fairly and efforts should be made to bring
them into mainstream. HIV people have been launching a campaign for their
rights as they are paid little attention from government and other major
actors of the society. Thus, it is imperative to bring policies and
strategies to address the different types of minorities in the country.


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