Events like Education Minister Krishna Gopal Shrestha dropping the landlord who allegedly refused to lease a room to Rupa Sunar due to her caste need no explanation.
One can understand the society being divided about how big a mistake the landlord's refusal to lease the room on the basis of caste is, and how some have taken this as a minor incident. One can also understand how some are angry that the woman, nearly 60, was locked up for three days and others sympathize with her. One can understand all these things in a society that has been mired in caste system for centuries and also understand arguments of some that it takes time to change the society.
The police had submitted the investigation file to the District Government Attorney Office which could have decided whether to take the case to the court or not if it were allowed to do its work fairly. The court could have then found the woman guilty or acquitted her. We all would and should have accepted the verdict.
But the government hijacked the case that was in a judicial process. The District Government Attorney Office did not move the case forward citing lack of evidence and sent it back to the police for further investigation. Minister Shrestha went to the police station for release of the accused and dropped her home in his official vehicle fluttering the national flag.
It's the words of Sunar against that of the woman in the case for now in lack of evidence and people are free to choose which side to trust. But the woman has not been acquitted by the court and the District Government Attorney Office, under pressure from the government, has only sent the file back for further investigation. And she still remains accused of the offense.
The Constitution has explicitly prohibited any kind of discrimination on the basis of caste. Minister Shrestha appointed in accordance to the Constitution cannot use that position to solicit release of a person accused of an offense prohibited by the Constitution that he has sworn to while taking oath as a lawmaker and minister. He also cannot use the vehicle he got in capacity of the position as minister to drop the accused home. He also cannot flutter the national flag recognized by the Constitution to provide official endorsement for his abominable and unpardonable act.
It is not hard to see why Minister Shrestha did that. The accused is a Newar woman and many naively say he stood for the Newar community. But we firmly believe that he did that for votebank politics and not for the Newar community. He would have stood for dozens of families who were rendered homeless in the name of road expansion in Balaju if he stood for the benefit of Newars. He was nowhere to be seen when the indigenous people in the Kathmandu Valley suffered from glottophobia for years. Where does he stand in the ongoing movement to conserve the culture and heritage of the Valley, and revive the Valley to its glorious ancient form? His action has once again revealed the age-old nature of opportunistic politicians to try to cash in on social disputes.
Minister Shrestha going to the police station in this manner is tantamount to the state, that should have stood up for the victim, standing against the victim. This is not just a question about Rupa Sunar but about caste discrimination that has dragged our society down for centuries. Many have similarly been denied rooms in the Valley. But this is still not an issue just of the Valley or a certain community. This is a representative story of the discrimination that dalits have faced for centuries. Around four million dalits across the country were looking at the issue with hope that they would for once get to experience that the equality granted by the Constitution is not merely an empty promise but actual right that can be exercised without any fear or retribution. Minister Shrestha has added insult to injury of these millions of dalits. The woman may be pardoned using myriad of arguments or acquitted by the court in lack of concrete evidence. But the crime that he has committed in capacity of the representative of the state cannot be pardoned. He deserves punishment for that.
We urge the prime minister and ruling CPN-UML to either fire Minister Shrestha or formally swear allegiance to the caste system. There will be no need to make noise expecting democracy and social justice from this dispensation after that. The dalits will also have no illusion about equality or expectation about social justice, and may perhaps disabuse themselves of the rosy interpretation of the Constitution.