CAMPAIGN TARGET 1: THE THREAT TO INTER-CASTE MARRIAGE (2009)
This first thematic issue focuses on the intimidation that faces Dalit and non-Dalit who marry. This strikes at a fundamental freedom – the right to choose one’s marriage partner. It has not received extensive coverage. Yet mixed marriages provide a strong foundation for peace in a diverse society. Countries with an ethnically mixed population ignore this at their peril.
This bulletin is written by six Dalit reporters: Milan Pariyar (Doti district); Bhim Nepali (Nepalgunj); Mahesh Kumar (Khati-Baglung); Harinandan Ranjan (Sarlahi); Umesh Bishwokarma (Biratnagar); and Shanta Nepali (Dharan). They were helped in their research by the JMC district representatives. The JMC journalists interviewed just over 200 inter-caste couples.
The material for this issue was collected in six of Nepal’s 75 districts (Doti, Baglung, Sarlahi, Banke, Morang, Sunsari). The reporters drew on information provided by local village (VDC) councils, Dalit activists, members of the political parties and couples themselves.
Although Dalit make up 22% percent of the national population, the JMC investigation found a very small number of inter-caste marriages. The highest number was found in Banke district (84).
JMC reporters identified four specific examples of abuse that face couples that marry outside their caste.
Harassment: Inter-caste couples face violence and harassment from their community, and often end up living in isolation from friends and neighbors:
- Bhabilal Dhakre, a non-Dalit from an indigenous community, and his wife Tika Sarki, a Dalit from Baglung District chose to live in the same village as Bhabilal’s family. They were completely ignored by his family. Bhabilal was unable to attend his parents’ funeral.
- Kamala Wali, a non-Dalit bride from Banke District, was forced to file a case against her own mother at the Area Police Office (Naubasta) after she married Ram Singh B.K., a Dalit. Her mother abused and then attacked her with knives and a sickle, causing serious injuries. The police fined her mother NRs. 18,000 ($228).
- In Morang District, Krishna Paudel, a non-Dalit teacher, was banished to Pathari when he married Anita Sundas, a Dalit. The marriage has not been accepted by his family, and his Dalit wife is not allowed to visit her in-laws home.
- Ganesh Nepali, a Dalit man from Doti District, fled to India leaving his non-Dalit bride, Tuli Khadka, after the girl’s family attempted to kill him.
- Sanjay Ram and Babita Kumari Yadav (Salempur community) were forcefully separated by Babita’s parents. Sanjay could not bear the separation, and left his village. His whereabouts are still unknown.
- Pheku Yadav, a non-Dalit boy from Sarlahi District, married Uma Kumari Ram, a Dalit girl. After Kumari gave birth to his child, Pheku succumbed to the pressure from his family members and left her.
- Asha Shrestha and Mithun Bagchand, from Doti District, left to Rajput-Doti after their lives were threatened by the girl’s parents.
- Sundas, a Dalit woman from Dharan, Sunsari District, married Ekraj Subba from Taplejung. Because the marriage is not acceptable to Ekraj’s family, the couple has been living at Dharan.
- Meghnath Sharma, a non-Dalit from Baglung District, married Nanda Kumari Harijan, a Dalit woman in 1962. The couple was forced to flee to India after Meghnath’s family and the villagers refused to accept their marriage. They returned after twelve years. Meghnath Sharma is now 70 years old, but his family will still not accept the marriage. “My family did not accept our marriage even when we came back to the village after twelve years. I am seventy years old and not allowed to enter my relatives’ place and touch the food,” he said.
- Bijay Giri, a non-Dalit, and Suntali Pariyar, a Dalit from Sarlahi District, married in 2006. They left for India, and nobody knows their whereabouts. Bijay’s mother anxiously awaits her son’s return.
Institutional discrimination: Inter-caste couples face discrimination from authorities and officials. Dalit, inter-caste couples, and their children are regularly denied citizenship, even though they are born in Nepal. Without citizenship, they are unable to vote or move to another village. Their children will not be able to register for school:
- Ram Sharma, a human rights activist from Baglung District, complains that the police administration does not help the couples and the state does not encourage inter-caste marriage. Almost all non-Dalit people with social standing (politicians, teachers, and officials in government service, and even human rights activists) discourage inter-caste marriage. One honorable exception is the Acting Chief District Officer of Baglung district, Ram Bahadur Nepali, a Dalit, who has offered to help inter-caste couples if they need assistance legalizing their marriages.
- Raja Ram Paswan, a leader of Dalit Janjati Party in the Sarlahi District, argues that the state should protect inter-caste couples to encourage their marriage and guarantee employment to the inter-caste couples. The Maoist party has a similar view. “Those who interfere in the inter-caste marriage should be given severe punishment, only then inter-caste marriage will be common” said Shyam Dahal, leader of the CPN Maoist party.
- Many Dalit interviewed for this research agreed that the local government and police can do much to encourage inter-caste marriage by protecting inter-caste couples, providing education allowances, and guaranteeing employment. In Morang District, Madan Acharya, a District Administrator Officer, said that the administration is ready to help the couples who request a court marriage. So far, his district has provided fifteen married couples with 5,000 Nepalis ($65) to help them start a new life and pursue higher education. The police in Morang are also ready to punish officers if found guilty of discrimination. Such support is available throughout Nepal, but very few couples know of it.
- Those interviewed argued that the right to inter-caste marriage should be explicitly protected in Nepal’s new constitution. Some also suggested that inter-caste marriage should be used “strategically” and that young Dalit and non-Dalit should be actively encouraged to pursue inter-caste marriage.
- 40 inter-caste married couples
- 30 marriages between non-Dalit women and Dalit men, 10 between non-Dalit men and Dalit women.
- Dalit girls in a marriage are much more threatened than Dalit boys. Non-Dalit girls are acceptable to Dalit families. But Dalit girls are hardly ever acceptable to their non-Dalit in-laws.
- Almost all couples were excluded from their families and society
- To date, not a single inter-caste marriage has been easily accepted by non-Dalits in the district.
- “Doti in the far west and has more Dalits than non-Dalits. The illiteracy rate is very high. Non-Dalits consider it their responsibility to practice discrimination. Dalits of the rural areas of Doti are treated as if they are from another planet.”
- 20 inter-caste couples identified
- 10 non-Dalit women married Dalit men and 10 non-Dalit men married Dalit women
- Considered ground zero for caste-based discrimination
- Non-Dalit parents do not accept inter-caste marriages.
- “Sarlahi district lies in the Terai region where 80% of the total population belong to the Madheshi community, which very strictly follows the caste system. Daughters are prohibited from talking with boys and going out alone. Women use a veil to cover their faces. This closed social system means that inter-caste marriage is not acceptable in this area”
- Older inter-caste married couples did not want their identities revealed
- Many of the couples fled from their villages and from Nepal when their lives were threatened
- Local authorities do not help the married couples.
- 84 inter-caste married couples
- 81 couples still together
- 29 non-Dalit men married Dalit women and 55 non-Dalit women married Dalit men
- All of the couples have either been displaced from their villages or deserted by their non-Dalit families.
- 30 inter-caste married couples
- Most are from rural areas
- Only 7 couples have parents that accepted the marriage
- The rest of the couples have been facing caste-based discrimination
- 26% of the partners have a university education
- The district government has assisted 15 inter-caste couples and provides support services to inter-caste couples.
- 57 inter-caste marriages
- 20 married couples are from Panchkanya VDC, an Untouchability-Free Zone. These marriages have been accepted by their families
- Elsewhere in the district, mixed marriages have faced “social blockades, economic hardships, and societal disrespect.” They have been excluded from religious and cultural events, banned by their families and village, and faced difficulties in obtaining birth and citizenship certificates.”
- Even the children of mixed marriages have faced discrimination from the society.