UN “shocked” at Dalit Killings in Rukum, calls for independent probe

Dalit killings in Rukum

GENEVA, May 30: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday said he was “shocked” at the killing of five men belonging to Dalits community by opponents of an inter-caste relationship at Soti village in Chaurjahari Municipality of Western Rukum last week, as well as slammed several other incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence that have taken place in Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 21-year-old Nawaraj BK of Jajarkot, accompanied by his 18 his friends, had reached Chaurjahari in Karnali province to take Nawaraj’s girlfriend belonging to a so-called “dominant” caste group as bride on 23 May, allegedly at her request. But the locals of the girl’s village had attacked Nawaraj and his friends and chased them away.

The bodies of Nawaraj of Beri municipality and Tikaram Sunar of Chaurjahari were found in the riverbank of the Thulo Bheri river next morning. Ganesh Budha and Lokendra Sunar and Sanju BK of Bheri were also found dead lying in the bank later while a search for Gobinda Shahi of Bheri is still underway.

“It is distressing that caste-based prejudices remain deeply entrenched in our world in the 21st century, and I am filled with sadness for these young people who held high hopes of building a life together despite the obstacles presented by their accident of birth,” Bachelet said.

“Caste-based discrimination remains widespread, not only in Nepal but other countries, and often leads to serious harm and, as in this case, even loss of life. Ending caste-based discrimination is fundamental to the sustainable development vision of leaving no one behind.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs has formed a high-level five-member investigation committee to probe into the Rukum incident. The committee, which began its work on Friday, has been given a mandate of one month to submit its report.

Three days after the incident, the victim’s kin filed a complaint against the 20 alleged perpetrators including the girl’s father and mother and Chaurjahari municipality Ward 8 Chair Dambar Bahadur Malla. They have been taken into custody for investigation while eight other involved in the incident are still at large.

Bachelet also drew attention toward other “extremely disturbing reports” based on caste discrimination.

A 12-year-old Dalit girl who killed in a separate attack in Devdaha village of Rupandehi district. She is said to have been forcibly married to her alleged rapist from a dominant caste. The girl’s body was reportedly discovered hanging from a tree on 24 May.

Bachelet called for an independent investigation into the attacks. She stressed that the victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.

“Despite constitutional guarantees, impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remains high in Nepal,” the UN human rights chief said. “Nepal has taken big strides to address this scourge, but so much more can and must be done to eradicate this blight on society. This is especially the case when the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their vulnerability.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, Dalit activists and journalists have reported several cases of caste-based discrimination, incidents of rape, assault, denial of funeral rites and discrimination at quarantine sites.

On 25 May, the Nepali Parliament’s Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to investigate all incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence during the COVID-19 lockdown. The parliamentary committee asked authorities to immediately investigate two cases of gang-rape of Dalit women, as well as other caste-based cases involving murder, enforced disappearances and forced abortion.