THE caste system is a classification of several hereditary groups of hierarchical social class. Over the years, depending on the culture, the caste system has taken different meanings for different persons. It is a complex system which is defined by many elements such as birth right, ethnicity, occupation, power and financial status. Caste discrimination involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It is often outlawed in countries affected by it, but a lack of implementation of legislation and caste bias within the justice systems largely leave the most oppressed Dalits without protection. Caste discrimination affects an estimated 260 million people worldwide, the vast majority living in South Asia. The caste systems divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Those at the bottom are considered ‘lesser human beings’, ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’ to other castes.
Violence still rife
Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioural traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be segregated based on the superiority of one group over the other. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior. In today’s world, different forms of racism are often based on social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. Political systems inculcate racism too. In terms of political systems like the apartheid system that support the expression of prejudice in discriminatory practices or laws, a racist ideology may include associated social aspects such as nativism (where native residents exert supremacy over migrant residents), xenophobia, segregation, hierarchical ranking and supremacism.
Racism exists within societies in western, eastern or African communities. Similarly, it exists against each community. However, looking at the human history during the past 500-1,000 years, the Western powers that claim to be the heralds of democracy and protectors of human rights can be associated with racism toward non-westerners. Slavery can be stated as one of the most extreme examples of racism in the West. Slavery itself dates back to thousands of years in different forms. The enslavement of the Africans was accomplished because of the racist belief that Black Africans were less human than white Europeans and their descendants.
In todays’ world, caste systems and racism are illegal all over the world. However, there was a reality check recently when the killing of innocent people raised outrage in Nepal and the USA. The killing of five young men in Chaurjahari, Far West Nepal, based on their caste and the killing of a black American in Minneapolis, Minnesota of the USA, have highlighted the fact that human beings are still discriminated and killed on the basis of their heredity, origin, colour, economic, social, cultural, and ethnic status. Caste-based discrimination and racial discrimination have surfaced across the seas in both the richest democracy - United States of America- and one of the poorest and new republic Nepal! This is a sad reality check that no matter how much work has been done in human rights all over the world, the mind-set and deep human values are based on hatred and wrong value systems which separate human lives and lead to their extinction in both the so called developed western world and the cultured eastern civilisation!
On May 23, 2020 Nawaraj Biswokarma, a 21-year old Nepali youth from the Dalit community of Jajarkot district, went with a group of his friends to meet with his girlfriend from a Chetri community in neighbouring Rukum West. They were in love and wanted to get married. The villagers got the information about his coming and attacked the boy and his friends. This led to the death of five persons, including Nawaraj in Chaurjahari Municipality in Rukum. One of the boys is still missing.
The Dalit Journalists Association of Nepal held a protest rally at Maiti Ghar near the Parliament in Kathmandu. Several protests have taken place all over the country against discrimination based on the caste system and related to inter-caste marriages both by staging protests and via the social media. 12 people related to this incident have been arrested in Rukum. The Nepal government has formed a committee to investigate into this matter. Dreadful incidents like this occur sporadically in Nepal, but most of the time the investigations leads to no concrete justice.
In the USA, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis, Minnesota, was suffocated when a police officer pinned him down on the ground with his leg pressed against his neck. This lead to his death from heart attack. People all over the world have raised serious concerns about the underlying racism in the USA. On top of that, US President Donald Trump released a tweet favouring the officer who killed George Floyd. This has led to an uproar outside the White House, which led the President to hide in his bunker for about an hour. The police officer has been arrested and is scheduled to be brought to court. This incident is seen as the biggest racial killing after the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Alliance against racism
Both these incidents seem like a cry of the unheard and oppressed during recent times. A man, each from a country like Nepal and the USA, died because of the ingrained mind-set of caste and racial discrimination. While the issue in Minneapolis has become an international protest, the Rukum incident has managed to create uproar within Nepal.
There is now a need for citizens all over the world to unite to end discrimination based on caste and race with a zero tolerance approach. All need to join hands and take up the issues of discrimination of people based on their origin, colour, caste, class or creed seriously and take action against the perpetrators and bring justice to the two victims who died within a difference of two days in different parts of the world.
(Namrata Sharma can be reached at email@example.com Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)