On 15 February 2012, a government cabinet meeting decided to table a revised version of the Bill on Inclusion before the Parliament. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned that the provisions of the bill, as it stands now, fail to guarantee an equal participation of all castes, genders, and indigenous peoples in the public service of Nepal. On the contrary, they serve to sanction existing discrimination against the most vulnerable communities, in particular the Dalit communities, indigenous peoples and women.
The AHRC recalls that this bill is part of a process Nepal has been on since the end of the conflict, aimed at guaranteeing greater participation of traditionally excluded groups and communities in state and political structures. It was expected to reduce the strict structural inequalities in income or human development which have persisted between castes, genders or indigenous peoples. As early as 2004, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its Concluding Observations on Nepal had expressed concern “over the under-representation of disadvantaged groups in government, legislative bodies and the judiciary”.
Inclusion measures, guaranteeing equity and equality, are crucial in the realization of fundamental rights of groups who have traditionally been more exposed and vulnerable to abuses. One of the root causes of the perpetuation of abuse and structural inequality has been the lack of representation of these groups; in the administrative and political systems that have the power and resources to design and implement policies to improve the socio-economic equality in Nepal and realize the fundamental rights of all, and in the judicial and policing systems responsible for ensuring equal protection for all. In a report on “Access to Justice for Dalits in Nepal“, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal identified “under-representation of Dalits in the justice and law enforcement system” as one of the reasons accounting for Dalits’ lack of access to the justice institutions and difficulties in claiming their rights. Inclusion measures are therefore necessary not only for socioeconomic uplifting, but also to guarantee vulnerable communities’ access to legal remedies and protection of their fundamental rights.
It is therefore very disappointing to note that the provisions of the inclusion bill have been dictated more by political considerations rather than concern for the reality of exclusion. In its current form, the bill leaves 52 percent of the posts in the civil service open to general competition, and reserves 48 percent for quotas targeting specific groups. Of that 48, 33 percent are reserved for women. In other words, women will only be reserved a meagre 15.8 percent of the total civil service posts. Similarly, Dalits, who remain the most excluded and discriminated community in the country, have been reserved a 7 percent share of government jobs, down from 9 percent in a previous version of the Bill. Indigenous people are awarded a reservation of 25 percent of the posts, down from 27 percent in the earlier version. On the other hand, the Madeshis, all castes included, have obtained an increase to 26 percent of the civil service jobs, under the general label of “Terai dwellers”.
The changes are the fruit of a political bargain and were introduced following a four-point electoral agreement reached between the Unified Democratic Madhesi Front and the Maoist party on 28 August 2011, prior to the election of Baburam Bhattarai as Prime Minister. Those quotas are blind to the socioeconomic reality of Dalits in the country, and reflect the relative political weight of each group, rather than their actual needs. Once more in Nepal, concerns for human rights and equality have been sacrificed in the name of a political decision.
A policy of inclusion, especially on an issue as delicate as quotas, should be based on an accurate survey to identify the socioeconomic situation of the targeted groups and their relative importance in the total population. This has not been the case here. A preliminary report of the 2011 population census of Nepal was published, but disaggregated data in terms of communities and socioeconomic conditions have not yet been made public. The latest population survey with such data dates back to 2001. Its results have been contested, notably by the Dalit civil society for not presenting an accurate picture of the weight of their community. Even going with the 2001 figure of 13 percent of the population belonging to the Dalit community–although unofficial estimates go up to 20 percent–the 7 percent reservation would fall short of guaranteeing their proportional participation.
The quota set up for the Madeshi/Terai community does not include distinctions for the different castes comprising that community, although it is one of the communities in which caste-based discrimination is the most deeply entrenched in Nepal. It further reportedly includes indigenous peoples such as Tharu, who are also facing high levels of discrimination within the Terai community. This lack of distinction may result in the quota allocated to the Madeshi community being monopolized by men from upper castes, embedding rather than uprooting the existing discrimination.
The United Nations Development Programme Nepal Human Development report 2009 draws a clear picture of the structural inequalities of the Nepali society and of the persisting socioeconomic divisions between castes and indigenous people, especially in the Madeshi/Terai community. It reveals that in 2006 the Human Development Index (HDI) of persons belonging to the Brahmin/Chhetri communities -considered as high castes in Nepal- reached 0.552 while it was only 0.424 among the Dalit community and 0.494 among all indigenous people, excluding the Newars. The HDI takes into account three indicators: educational attainment, health measured through life expectancy and income. The gap among the HDI of the different castes is therefore mirrored by a parallel gap in those different indicators. For instance, according to the 2006 population survey, the life expectancy of a Hill Brahmin was 68.10 years while for a Hill Dalit it was of 61.03 years only. The average income of a member of the Dalit community, USD 977, was less than half the average income of all Brahmins/Chhetri at USD 2027. Last but not least, those figures also show that structural differences in access to education decide the Dalit access to economic, social and political opportunities, with only 38 percent of all Dalit adults literate, in contrast to 63.65 percent of Brahmins and Chhetris.
The contrast is sharper if we focus on the Madeshi/ Terai communities: the Madeshi/Terai Brahmin/Chhetri community has a HDI of 0.625, corresponding to a life expectancy of 63.89 years, an adult literacy rate of 83.80 percent and a per capita income of USD 2333. However, the Madeshi/Terai Dalits’ HDI is 0.383, corresponding to a life expectancy of 61.26 years, a literacy rate of 27.32 percent and a per capita income of USD 743. Similarly, the Terai Janajati’s HDI is 0.470, with a life expectancy of 61.55 years, a literacy rate of 48.11 percent and a per capita income of USD 1224.
All of this data speaks at length to the inadequacy of the provisions of the bill as it stands. The most disadvantaged and isolated groups, which should be the prime target of a bill aiming at inclusion, are left behind. It makes little sense to reserve 26 percent of the jobs to the Madeshis/Terai dwellers, without ensuring that this would equally benefit all castes and indigenous peoples falling under that term. The AHRC therefore urges the government and Nepal lawmakers to revisit the methodology used to draw these quotas, by relying on a thorough assessment of the reality of the exclusion in Nepal rather than on a politically-motivated settlement.