Conflicts & War

Outrage in Nepal over killing of lower-caste suitor

By Sangam Prasain

Kathmandu, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Nepal has been witnessing unprecedented public anger against abuse faced by Dalits or the so-called untouchables, who form the lowest strata of the Hindu caste system, after a young man from this community and five of his friends were beaten to death for falling in love with a girl belonging to a “higher” caste.

Even the confinement measures against Covid-19 have not prevented protests in Kathmandu and other places against the killing, besides the launch of several independent investigations by authorities and criticism from the United Nations, the European Union and human rights organizations.

The conservative Himalayan country, where ancient caste-based discrimination has continued despite laws to prevent such abuse, has not turned a blind eye to this most recent crime against Dalits, who are often subjected to dehumanization.

A five-member investigation team from the Provincial Assembly of Karnali, a region in western Nepal where the incident occurred on May 23, concluded that the killings were a result of an affair between the Dalit boy and an upper caste girl.

“The incident is clearly motivated by caste-based discrimination,” Karnali Provincial Assembly lawmaker and investigation team member Sita Nepali told EFE.

It all started a year ago, when a 21-year-old Navaraj BK from Jajarkot district met Sushma Malla, 17, during a sporting event in neighboring Rukum district, and they fell in love.

The relationship continued and in April they decided to get married. But the bride’s parents rejected the match as they were from a higher caste while BK was a Dalit.

However, far from giving up, on May 23, the young man decided to march to his lover’s house accompanied by 19 of his friends and family members.

On reaching her house, the girl’s mother shouted him out, calling him “dum”, referring to a group within the Dalit community mainly engaged in cleaning toilets and collecting garbage.

“When we reached the girl’s home, her mother started to shout at Navaraj. She said ‘you dum, you are back again. I will kill you,'” Sudip Khadka, a friend of BK who had accompanied him, told EFE.

While returning from their failed attempt to secure the hand of the girl in marriage, the group was attacked by some 200 residents of the girl’s village near the Bheri river that separates the Jajarkot and Rukum districts.

Khadka said it felt like an ambush. “There was no escape.”

“The whole village attacked us, pelting stones. Some others who were unable to run were beaten mercilessly,” recounted Khadka, who saved himself by jumping into the river.

Navaraj and five other friends were not so lucky, as they were beaten to death and their bodies were thrown into the stream. Several others were severely injured.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, was one of the first figures to respond from the international community.

“It is distressing that caste-based prejudices remain deeply entrenched in our world in the 21st century, and I am filled with sadness for these two young people who held high hopes of building a life together despite the obstacles presented by their accident of birth,” Bachelet said.

For decades, Nepal has struggled to abolish caste-based discrimination. In 1963, it introduced a civil code to turn these offenses into a punishable crime.

Moreover, in 2011, Nepal promulgated the Untouchability and Discrimination Act, and the Constitution provides clear protections for Dalits, who make up 13 percent of the population in the Hindu-majority country.

“Despite these legal provisions, violence against Dalits has not stopped,” said Parbati BK, a Dalit rights activist and former Maoist guerrilla from Jajarkot.

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