Rights activists hail sentences against upper-caste Hindus in high-profile social discrimination case
Nepalese woman Dana Sunar, a member of the Dalit caste, carries firewood in Simikot, the headquarters of Humla district, some 430km north-west of Kathmandu in this file image. A court has sentenced 24 upper-caste Hindus to life terms for murdering six Dalit youths in 2020. (AFP)
A court in Nepal has handed down life sentences to 24 people for murdering six youths from the socially ostracized Dalit community, a verdict hailed by rights activists.
The West Rukum District Court handed down the sentences on Dec. 5 against upper-caste Hindus.
They were accused of murdering the six youths on May 23, 2020, in Chaurjahari Municipality, in West Rukum district, theKathmandu Post reported.
Those convicted, along with two others, were also ordered to each pay a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$375). The two other accused were sentenced to two years in jail.
The sensational murder shocked the nation, prompting the government to form a high-level parliamentary committee to investigate.
The committee found the murders resulted from caste-based discrimination against downtrodden Dalits by upper-caste Hindus, which is still prevalent in the Himalayan nation despite a legal ban against it.
The murders were crimes against humanity, the Kathmandu Post reported the committee as concluding.
Police arrested 20 people are prime suspects and another eight for additional investigation.
Lawyers and Dalit rights champions hailed the judgement.
“There were several attempts at manipulation. However, the court has reinforced that the judiciary always stands in favor of justice,” said Dinesh Tripathi, a senior lawyer.
“The district court has passed a mature decision for the heinous crime triggered by caste-based discrimination,” Tripathi added.
Local media reported in 2020 that the crime occurred after 21-year-old Nabaraj BK from Bheri Municipality in Jajarkot district traveled to Soti in Chaurjahari Municipality of West Rukum to take his 17-year-old “upper caste” girlfriend home.
Nabaraj was accompanied by some 17 friends when locals attacked them with homemade weapons and stones.
Nabaraj and five others were killed while the other 12 were injured.
The police said evidenced pointed to the killings being premeditated and organized by the girl’s family.
Nabraj’s father Munlal Nepali filed a criminal case against 34 people. However, 11 accused including the girl’s mother and two minors were acquitted.
Dalit is an umbrella term for members of lower-caste Hindu groups who are not included in the four-tier caste-based Hindu social system.
Rights groups have documented scores of cases of discrimination and abuses of Dalit people by upper caste members in both Hindu-majority India and Nepal.
Maheshwar Jung Gahatraj, a former minister, welcomed the judgment, saying that the court ruling proved that the parliamentary committee was correct and gave hope to the ethnic minorities in the region.
“The judgment has given hope to the entire marginalized community that at least the judiciary stands in their favor,” Gahatraj said.
Despite declaring itself a discrimination-free country on June 4, 2006, Nepal still struggles to ensure Dalits receive equal status, surveys and government reports show.
Around 39 cases were recorded between July 2021 to July 2022 and 30 cases between July 2020 to July 2021, according to Nepal Police.