Dalit diaspora calls for 20% Dalit representation in new Nepal Gov't

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Sep 19 12:29:29 UTC 2006

GOVERNMENT 6. 9. 2006

September 1, 2006, Washington, DC: Dalit advocates from among the Nepali
diaspora in the United States have criticized Nepals draft interim
constitution because it does not endorse affirmative action on behalf of
Dalit.  The criticism has been leveled by the Nepali-American Society for
Oppressed Community (NASO) against the Interim Constitutional Drafting
Committee, which presented its proposals to the Nepali government and
Maoists on August 25.

NASO had earlier sent an open letter to the Committee demanding that Dalit
be guaranteed 20 percent of the positions in the government and in all
state bodies, proportionate to the Dalit population in Nepal. The proposal
was ignored by the Committee, which declined even to respond to the NASO
letter. The Committees draft makes no specific provision to include Dalit
in political life.  Contacted by the Advocacy Project (AP), Prakash Nepal
from NASO said that in the absence of special provisions, Dalit will
almost certainly not be elected to the Constitutional Assembly when
elections are held next April, or in subsequent parliamentary elections,
because Dalit do not hold a majority in any region of the country. Mr.
Nepal told AP that NASO will now lobby hard with the US Congress to push
for quotas before the Assembly elections.  NASO has also called on aid
agencies to allocate 20 percent of their budgets for Nepal to Dalit. Mr.
Prakash said that the goal is to "eliminate the gap between the lower and
upper castes," adding that this should be seen as a temporary measure that
would last until a "casteless society" is created in Nepal.  The reaction
of some aid agencies has been positive. Dr. Prasen Jit Khati, the policy
and advocacy advisor for Oxfam in Nepal, said that all of Oxfams programs
focus on gender and social inclusion and agreed that aid should go to the
most "marginalized Dalit." Even a 20 percent quota was "not enough," he
said.  An official from ActionAid said that the agencys program in Nepal
centers around 10 minority groups. While Dalit receive roughly 14 percent,
he said, the agency might agree to increase this to 20 percent.  But an
official from the World Bank told AP that the Bank is opposed to such
affirmative action because it does not want to "reward" certain groups
over others. An official at UNICEF also expressed concern that a 20
percent quota would discriminate against other needy sectors of the
population that do not have the Dalit contacts or ability to lobby.
While the Dalit population in North America is small estimated in the
hundreds NASOs members are influential in the Nepali diaspora. NASO also
has considerable lobbying power, given its proximity to the US Congress
and multilateral organizations.  Meanwhile, in another sign of the
internationalization of Dalit advocacy, Pratik Pande, from the Jagaran
Media Center (JMC), recently told the UN Working Group on Minorities in
Geneva that the government of Nepal must ensure proportional
representation for Dalit and other minorities in the new democratic Nepal.
This was first time that JMC, a partner of AP, had addressed the UN
directly. JMC is also pressing the UN Development Program to use its aid
to ensure that Dalit do not face discrimination at water taps in western
Nepal.  Two AP interns Nicole Cordeau and Stacey Spivey have been working
with JMC this summer, and another AP intern Lori Tomoe Mizuno is working
with the Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP) in Kathmandu. One of their
tasks has been to collect information, which can be disseminated by AP and
used by advocates like NASO outside the country.



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