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Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability in Nepal

Part 3: Structural and Legal Privilege

By Subhash Chandra 

Note: Subhash spoke at the ‘Youth’s Voice for the Nation’ virtual event about ‘caste-based discrimination and untouchablity in Nepal’ on 24th September. This is part three of three parts on important aspects from that discourse.

The Dalit known as untouchables comprise 12.8 percent of the population in Nepal. Caste based discrimination and untouchability has existed here for centuries. Hundreds of thousands of people have suffered from this uncivilized practice for hundreds of years. Why do upper caste people continue to inflict this suffering on others as if it is their noble duty to do so?

Among other things, upper caste people enjoy the benefits of such privileges. Privilege comes from ‘private law’, legal or structural protection of advantages used with impunity at the exclusion and expense of others. Private law because it is imposed by certain individuals or groups to protect ongoing benefits from advantages gained. With impunity because there is no legal consequence or punishment for exploiting others. At the expense of others because this direct and indirect exploitation, pushes down and deprives people not covered by the structure or law.

People with privilege enjoy, mostly without any responsibility, several advantages- social, political, economic, cultural and educational. So, in a way, privilege is a special legal and structural protection of advantages. Legal protection because the law does not consider such advantages as unjust and unfair, and does not do anything to stop that. Structural protection because it exists in socio-cultural aspects of daily life and society hardly notices, let alone condemns, its (mis)use, rather society and culture is used as means to maintain privileged protection of advantages.

Privilege carries the idea and practice of prejudice too. Privileged people hold and use prejudices to devalue, humiliate, and dominate underprivileged people. For example, to criticize or humiliate someone for their shortcomings or behaviour, upper caste people in Nepal commonly and generally say- ‘they are all like that’ or ‘don’t exemplify your caste’, meaning that certain groups of people are always the same and incapable of changing their situation and somehow always reflect their caste in their behaviour.

There are two things privileged people can do to move towards equality and equity. First, use the advantages you gain from your development in a responsible manner to uplift everyone, especially those who have been disadvantaged. Such advantages may include your resources, skills, education, connections, and knowledge. Second, notice your privileges- the structures and laws that protect you and not others- and stop using those protections for your personal benefit, because when you use privilege, it’s at the expense of others, especially those who have been disadvantaged.

As long as we continue to aspire to wealth and superiority, and society continues to praise and reward individuals for that, it will be impossible to end caste based discrimination and untouchability. Caste is similar to the race issue and white privilege in the western societies. It is an accident of the history that we inherited. Now the question is- do we want to be the ones to continue carrying on this inhuman practice? Or, do we want to choose to break the chain, stand up, to speak up, and lift up everyone in society?