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Report on Securing the rights of the underprivileged in the new constitution

Organised by Centre for Consolidation of Democracy (CCD)

17 April 2010

Report Prepared by: Pranab Kharel, The Kathmandu Post


Introduction

Centre for Consolidation of Democracy (CCD) with the support of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) organized a day long seminar on April 17 2010 titled "Securing the rights of the underprivileged in the new constitution". The aim of the seminar was to bring to light the issues facing the underprivileged of the country - namely Dalits and women. Divided into three sessions, the seminar was a useful exercise in brain storming about an important issue facing the country. As the issue of restructuring of the state is gathering pace, this debate has surely contributed in that discussion. CCD's initiative to give momentum to this important debate deserves few words of appreciations. This is so because the institution is closely associated with Nepali Congress, a party that has been at the forefront of democratic struggle in Nepal. However, in the last decade or so the party has been accused of doing away with the issues of social justice for the underprivileged. While the party has all along expressed commitment to the philosophy of social democracy, in practice this has not been the case. Even the idea of election of the Constituent Assembly (CA), it is argued by some, was not readily accepted by influential sections of the party. However, the election of the CA and the issues brought to fore by it - in particular those of the minority groups has demanded serious rethinking on the policies needed to be undertaken by the parties. In this regard, CCD's effort could prove vital for NC. During the inaugural session Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES Nepal has said that it is important that rights of the underprivileged be discussed and ensured in the upcoming constitution so that they can also feel positive changes into their lives. When we talk about social justice, it is important that no groups is left behind should feel true ownership towards state and society than only we can have a state that can withhold on its own.

Proceedings of the seminar:

Three papers were presented in the seminar highlighting different facets of the issues pertaining to those of the underprivileged.

First session:

Paper:Securing Rights of the Underprivileged in the New Constitution
Author: Jagdish Chandra Pokharel
Session Chair:
Commentator:

In the first session of the seminar, Jagdish Chandra Pokharel presented his paper, wherein he has tried to do three things. Firstly he has tried to define the category of underprivileged. Secondly he has identified the issues associated with the and thirdly he has dwelled on the strategies to uplift the underprivileged. Pokharel was of the view that state was to play an important role in reducing the all pervasive inequality. And the education was one of the keys through which this could be done. And therefore the need to impart quality education. Another aspect of his presentation was on the need to relate the issue of redistribution of the resources with the idea of social justice, thereby stressing the need for making available the required resources for the underprivileged. He highlighted the prevalence of poverty among different ethnic groups across the country. One of the important aspects of his presentation was on the reports of the CA committees for the rights of the underprivileged. The questions and comments that followed the presentation were interesting. Nayan Singh Mahar stressed on the need for the effective delivery of the services on the part of the state to increase its legitimacy. Likewise Khilanath Dahal highlighted the relation between class and caste, wherein the class dimension of inequality inherent in caste system was brought to light.

Second session:

Paper: Securing Dalit rights- strategies and mechanisms for implementation
Author: Meen Biswokarma
Session Chair: Man Bahadur Bishwokarma
Commentator: Bhakta Biswokarma

In the second session of the program, Meen Biswokarma presented his paper on strategies and mechanisms required for securing the rights of the dalits in the new constitution. He stressed that the issue of dalits will not be addressed if proper policies are not undertaken. He is in fact wary that the rights of the dalits may not be secured by the federal set up. While the dalits are majority in terms of population, Biswokarma argued, they have been marginalized. Therefore the label of minority misfits dalits. He was of the view that the number of dalits is more than the actual as enumerated in the census. There are couples of reasons. First, given that the last census was conducted during the period of civil war, hence proper enumeration could not take place. Secondly, Biswokarma says that in the last census, the dalits of the Kathmandu valley and terai region were not included. Therefore the real numbers of dalits need to be worked out. Similarly, he stresses that inclusion is also about participation. But he said that while dalits are demanding for their rights, they in no want to curtail or encroach upon the rights of upper caste. Commenting on the paper, Bhakta Biswakarma said that the right based approach being adopted in the country may be troublesome as it obliterates the aspect of responsibility.

Third session:

Paper: Securing and redefining women rights: prospect, challenges and opportunities in the new context
Author: Kanta Rizal
Session Chair: Durga Ghimire
Commentators: Amoda Shrestha and Laxmi Rai

The third and the final session of the seminar consisted of a paper on womens' right in the new Nepali context. Presenting her paper, Kanta Rizal opted for an informal approach to her presentation. She told the audience that informal conversations would help brings the issues to fore in a better manner. She advocated for a right based approach to the issues of women and stressed on the discriminatory provision against women existing in Nepal's legal system. One of the highlight of the presentation was Rizal's attempt to dissect the category of woman in Nepal. She was of the view that Nepali women are no monolithic entity. Some among these women would like to do away with the every traditional characteristic associated with Nepali women. Every woman should have the right to choose what she wants. But others like her would like take issues at hand. Similarly she defended the women movement as belonging to all including men. Therefore, when there are talks of empowering women, men should not feel threatened. The idea is to respect each other, in particular the responsibility carried out by each other.

Conclusion:

The seminar was able to bring to fore the issues associated with the various marginalized group of Nepal. This interaction was a testimony to the fact that other narratives to the issues of marginalized exist in the country, which has a secular outlook rather than that of negation as being seen in the mainstream. Such interaction should also be conducted at the grass root level rather than confining it within the inner circles of Kathmandu.

 
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