Inclusive Federalism for Dalits

Overview 

D.B.Sagar Bishowkarma

Nepal became the youngest federal democratic-republic country in the world as the result of the Second People’s Movement (SPM), Janaandolan ii of 2006. Federalism was then officially declared on January 15, 2007 by the Interim Legislature Parliament under the pressure of Madeshi movements. The nation is now engaged in a dialogue on potential federal mechanisms to restructure the state and distribute resource from a unitary towards federal state mechanisms. In the context of Dalit movement, federalism is a process of equally and respectfully sharing power, authority and resources with self-dignity and identity regardless of caste, ethnicity, regional and gender biases. It is also a process of devolution of those powers, authority and resources from the central to grassroots and from the elite/upper caste to socially excluded caste-ethnic-minority groups like Dalits.

As a social science student, I notice that political parties have problematic approaches toward inclusive federalism and Dalits. This problematic approach is not a surprising issue because political parties themselves are still not inclusive. Their leadership is dominated by the same ruling caste groups. Obviously the ruling caste will not want to mislay control over the state mechanisms, authorities and resources whether it is unitary or federal. In light of this, Dalit leaders must push political parties or ruling caste to ensure proportionate representation and secure inclusive representation without a forceful movement, which could be securing proportionate candidacy in the upcoming Constituency-cum-Parliament election, 2013.

Let us reflect and review some fundamental dynamism of federalism and inclusive democracy, which should be principle guidelines to guarantee the proportionate representation of Dalits and other socially excluded groups while demarcation of federal boundaries, authority and resources.

Proportionate Representation for the Inclusive Federalism: 

Though Nepal is a multi-caste, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-religious society, it’s socioeconomic, political and state mechanisms have been controlled by a single minority caste group under a unitary system, for example – current Regmi-led government. Majority groups of people including Dalits, Janajati, Madhesi, religious minorities, women and people from the Karnali zone have always been oppressed and excluded by feudal upper-caste groups in the unitary system even after the historical transformation from the monarchy regime to federal nation.

The caste-based sociopolitical system blocks the inclusiveness or participatory state mechanism, diversity, positive image and identity and creates difficulties for Dalits, women and other socially excluded groups to sustain in the changing political process. As a result of these exclusion and domination, the country suffers from a decade long Maoist rebellion and is still high chances to grow-up communal insurgency. In this sense, proportionate representation within ethnic-nationalism or regionalism should be a common solution for every caste-ethnic and minority or regional groups to share equal power, resources, authority including ‘right to self-dignity’, ‘right to self-determination’ and right of ethnic-linguistic and religious freedom to respect and promote multi-diverse and prosperous Nepal. Let us discuss the pros and cons of inclusive and classical federalism.

First, classical federalism does not ensure the proportionate representation for all caste-ethnic and minority groups. In fact, it declines the right of minority and always favor of majority. In this situation, Dalits and other minorities would be more dominated and suppressed by the federal, provincial and local governments, and it would not be hold together people. This is a high potential source to invite conflict and communal insurgency against majority hegemony and suppression in all level like Nigeria and Yugoslavia. A way to hold diverse caste-ethnic groups together is the proportionate representation system (PR system) with an affirmative policy but there is a lack of real debate on the dynamism of PR system. The fundamental question is still not answered how the forthcoming federal mechanism will equally share power, authority and resources, especially with Dalits without an affirmative policy in place.

History witnessed Dalits as more landless, dominated and oppressed by Madhesi upper-caste people and feudal landlords in Madhes-Tarai. Madhes-based political parties are dominated and formed by feudal landlords and so-called upper-caste to promote their communal interest. Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) and its leaders rarely emphasize the issue of Dalits, Muslim and indigenous. Similarly, there are several incidents occurred between Janajati and Dalits also regarding a practice of untouchability and oppression. Last year (2011), a headmaster from Janajati woman of a government school, publicly oppressed and physically assaulted to a Dalit woman nearby national capital in Lalitpur because of her caste position. It shows that without addressing the natures of social and political dominations, the demarcation of federal boundaries might indicate a dark side of nation. A central agenda is still missing: how could Dalit population secure from the ruling caste groups (Bahun-chhaitri-Newal), regional groups Madhesi and ethnic groups Janajati within their understanding of federalism, regionalism, or ethno-nationalism? Could right of self-determination, regionalism or nationalism address rights of human dignity and freedom or it will be like ‘big fish eat small fish.’ The government and political parties should guarantee dignity and identity of all caste groups through the state restructuring processes.

Second, the inclusive federalism means to share power, authority and resources with recognition among all caste, ethnic, sex and minority through proportionate representation while formulating government, constitutional mechanisms, policies and implementing programs. In other terms inclusive is a participatory, consensus or non-majoritarian democratic process (David Held. 1987 and Arend Lijphart. 1981). In Nepal, inclusive federalism refers to share equal power, authority and resources through Special Electoral Constituencies (SEC) for Dalits and other socially excluded groups for securing proportionate representation based on population. It balances power, authority and resource among the caste-ethnic and regional community as well as control corruption and human rights violation, promotes diversity, positive identity and empowers people from the bottom up. Similarly, inclusive federalism is a progressive state restructuring process which promotes social justice, freedom and true democratic practices with emphasizes socially excluded groups to secure their sovereign from political vote-bank to strength and transform communal bullets over democratic ballots.  Constitutional theorists tend to emphasize the inclusive attributes of sharing power, authority and resource, proportionate representation and multi-party system. Similarly, Dr. K.B. Bhattachand, a prominent sociologist, describes (inclusive) federalism as, in essence, a remedy of and respect to diversity but he did not describe clearly about proportionate representation of Dalits within ethno-autonomy. How decentralization and devolution of power and authority through ethnic-autonomy or Ek Madhes Ek Pradhes (One Madhes One province) can guarantee to sociopolitical rights and proportionate representation of Dalits? What could be the electoral system to elect the proportionate representation of caste-ethnic, regional, women and minority groups in the upcoming national election? The existing data shows that there are 25% Dalits, 37% plus Janajati, significant number (9% approximately) of minority and Muslim and  29 % other ruling caste groups (Madhesi are 41%, however this number combine together Dalits, Janajati, Muslim, other minority and ruling caste groups).  In this sense, no one single caste, regional, ethnic groups are in majority and every caste, ethnic or regional groups have to understand and develop an inclusive or consensus democratic federal mechanisms, which can be proportionate electoral mechanisms within federalism – for instance, United States could be a model.

Conclusion:

Securing inclusiveness is a major challenge for upcoming national Constituency Assembly-cum-Parliament election, restructuring state mechanisms and formulating the New Constitution of Nepal. Dalit movements have been demanding special electoral constituencies (SECs) to guarantee the proportionate distribution of power, authority and resources with positive image, identity and self-dignity among the all ethnic-caste groups. However, political parties are just focusing on reservation or affirmative programs for Dalits and minorities to empower and increase their number in education, job and social systems. Political parties have already misled a spirit of inclusive democracy and federalism, and break their promises to assure progressive restructuring of the state by resolving prevailing problems related with caste, class, ethnicity, gender and regional differences. Dalit rights issue is not a central agenda in the contemporary political dialogue and demarcation process of federal boundaries. A disgraceful practice had been started when first elected republic government, led by UMCP (Maoist) declined to share power, authority and resources with Dalits while composing government. This was an attempt to mislead the spirit of inclusiveness of the Interim Constitution of Nepal and aspiration of Second People’s Movement. The same practices have been continuous; political parties and  government proved that they are not sincere to apply the spirit of interim constitution on inclusiveness. In this existing situation, Dalit Organizations has more challenge to advance their agendas through the upcoming national election and secure fair and inclusive election.

Auther: D.B. Sagar Bishowkarma

DB Sagar

DB Sagar

[1]. Mr. Bishwakarma is the President of International Commission for Dalit Rights (www.icdrintl.org), Washington, D.C. and former National President of Dalit NGO Federation of Nepal (www.dnfnepal.org).

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