Based on Hinduism, the society in Nepal (the only official Hindu state) is basically divided into four classes of caste. The uppermost being the Brahmin or the pure; followed by Kshetriya or the warriors and state employees; the Vaisya or the economically active in small or large businesses and the lowest being Shudra or the ‘untouchable’ actually the laborers! The practice of untouchability literally divided the society as the former three as touchable and the latter as an untouchable.
Followers of Hindu religion, the medieval kings of Nepal, one after another ratified untouchability as legitimate in one way or other. Jayastithi Malla, one of the medieval kings, through his royal decree, classified the Nepali society into those four divisions. The state ratified this customary practice in 1843 AD and included in its first written codified law ‘Civil Code’ a provision that legalized untouchability in Nepal. One of the chapters in the code required mandatory untouchability practice against the untouchables and degradation of the touchable to untouchables upon violation of the law.
After a century, in 1963 AD, the state abolished untouchability in writing but by then the practice had itself deep-rooted into the minds of uneducated Nepalese for the generations to come. The state’s only action was repealing the existing provision and replacing it with a single impunity-provision of prohibition on practice of untouchability or illegalizing. However, no procedures were enacted, in order to curb the three millennium old culture, Hindus have been practicing nor to criminalize untouchability. After reinstatement of multiparty democracy in 1990 AD, The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 finally declared ‘practice of Untouchability’ as a crime. Later in 1993 AD untouchability was declared as a crime against the state and not only against the victim alone; but still adequate procedures are yet to be legislated.
Innumerable direct and indirect practices of untouchability continue to foster in the Nepalese society everyday. Usual segregating practice of untouchability include social boycott; ban on economic activities; social exclusion on inter-caste marriage, deep-rooted intra-group discrimination, arson of community habitat, murders, rapes, heinous hate crimes, bar from entering religious, public and private places, prohibition on usages of public recourses like water, community forest, farms and intimidation to conduct degrading activities such as taking care of carcasses, cleaning toilets tanks etc. Even though the people from this community have special occupational skills and have been fulfilling the needs of the society functioning as ironsmith, cobbler, tailoring, pottery, woodcraft and indigenous craftsmanship using locally available resources; on contrary the society has not been treating them equally or even with the least respect. An axe made by an untouchable finds a place inside the home but the creator keeps squatting outside, hoping for the least income! The kitchen if filled with nearly every utensils made by them but one is never allowed to put a foot inside! The public tap foundation and construction is made on their sweat but, their thirst cannot be quenched from the same tap! The statue of a god made by an untouchable blesses all but him! The attire the priest wears is sewed by one but may not receive a blessing from him!
Only few incidents of untouchability are reported or receive media attention. Nearly none of these reach court and even if it does, one is forced to withdraw it on threat of social exclusion. During these 16 years of criminalization of untouchability, one can still count the cases on fingers. Although Nepal has ratified some international instruments which prohibit racial discrimination, the government agencies, civil service and the general public tend to ignore them.