Once again, the issue of caste discrimination is dominating national conversation.
Amid an uproar over a journalist being denied a room in rent because of her caste and the subsequent intervention by a minister to get the landlord accused of such discrimination released, ideas and proposals on how to break away with such violations of national and human rights laws have been hitting the headlines.
A national campaign has been urged to end discrimination against Dalits and this is surely something worth considering but we need to reflect about the details, the contents and the overall goal of such proposal.
Should such campaign just be focused on the stigmas faced by citizens belonging to the Dalit community or instead have an enlarged “radar” and bring in also an attention on other groups within the society that have also been object of a pattern of discrimination on a consistent basis?
Think about many marginalized indigenous groups in the country. Think about members of the citizenry discriminated and abused because of their sexual orientation. Think about members of disability community or members of Muslim community or citizens from Madhes that have been often perceived as strangers.
You surely also have sections of the so-called dominating groups with grievances as well.
The more you think, the more you realize that discrimination in the country has been a constituent part of the old system that in many ways is still pervasive in so many aspects of daily lives.
Many positive changes happened but they are not enough.
It is important to recognize this reality but inevitably this also brings about the issues of the so-called perpetrators, those who are perceived and seen as holding on to the ancient discriminatory status quo.
This is an extremely delicate and sensitive issue and to better understand how divisive it can turn out, I spent considerable time reading about Critical Race Theory (CRT) and all the divisions that this subject, unintentionally or, for some, intentionally, is creating in the United States of America.
CRT is a broad area of studies that tries to understand how racism has permeated many aspects of the life in the United States, offering to explain how the ongoing discrimination against minorities there must be read through the prism of a system that for so many years was structurally designed to favor the white majority while intentionally leaving behind all the rest.
Acknowledging past historical injustices, recognizing how certain groups were discriminated in the name of a very limited and selective concept of freedoms and justice, principles applicable for so long just to certain members of the society, makes sense to me.
Yet the process must be driven toward reconciliation and centered on a will to deal with the past without indiscriminate blaming of present and future generations belonging to certain groups that are accused for past injustices.
The problems start when such attempts are, intentionally or not, used to create a wedge in the society, pitting whites versus African Americans, Latinos or Asian Americans or other members of minorities like native Americans who have been historically discriminated.
You read about “weaponization” of the concept of race as many white Americans are strongly pushing back CRT teaching because they feel that such studies are portraying all whites as inherently racist.
On the other side some members of the minority groups might be instead keen to ask not for reconciliation or healing but for revenge and this is extremely dangerous.
A reckoning with the past has become, at least for those pushing back against it, about group identities where individuals are risked to be judged not for their personal actions and behaviors but are considered as member of a certain racial groups.
In a way, for many, the entire issue has not been about reconciliation but about white oppressors versus minorities being perennially oppressed.
The issue is extremely complicated and inflammable as extremes on both sides of the equation might further polarize the issue, sowing more divisions.
I think that this long introspection in what’s happening in the USA is important for Nepal as well.
As the country is extremely diverse and with many layers of discrimination still thriving in many people’s mindsets, it is essential to have a national conversation about diversity and discrimination faced by many citizens.
It is about reflecting on hidden privileges and it is about realizing and admitting that a citizen’s status and position could have been influenced by certain norms and patterns that enabled one’s privileges at the expenses of others.
It is true that the Constitution and laws are now strong enough to formally punish any acts of discrimination but this is not enough. Incidents like the one experienced by citizens being denied a room or apartment, would not happen if it were.
That is why we need to have a national discussion centered around the issue of discrimination and injustices with the overall intent to ensure that such reckoning does not bring further division and bitterness as is happening in the USA.
For sure it is something that would make someone uncomfortable and uneasy but this would be part of a process of national healing.
We should not forget that after all, the Maoist insurgency here was initiated in the name of a better and more just country for all.
It is essential that all members of the traditionally dominating groups realize that the game was not fair for many other members of the society that in the past could not even imagine themselves as equal peers.
Only together, in the spirit of understanding, reconciliation and healing, a new pathway can be found for the country to emerge stronger and more just.
Dealing with the past does not necessarily mean keeping on blaming some members of the society for the ways the system was structured in the past but it certainly implies an acknowledgement of it.
Any divisive issues like stronger quota systems and other positive discrimination measures should be discussed in a spirit of healing certain fault lines that do exist in Nepal as well.
Such mechanisms should be decided and accepted wholeheartedly by those who might lose something out of them because they can be indispensable in creating a real level playing field in the country.
As emotional as such conversation might be, a certain detachment will be needed to listen to each other and better understand all the sides of the equation. Only an exercise centered on deep listening and reflective silence will do the job.
We need to create a multi-stakeholder coalition to fight against all kinds of discriminations but we need to make sure that the highest number of citizens, including those from the traditionally predominant groups, fully embrace such efforts.
Dealing with discrimination starts with understanding, and understanding leads to reflections, and reflections bring to a process of self-realization.
As a consequence, consciously or unconsciously, patterns of thinking and behaving might change and if this process is properly done, the changes will not cause a pushback like in the United States but a new beginning instead.
Nepal can come up with its own way of dealing with the past and present injustices.
A prosperous nation can only thrive if the grievances of many and the concerns of others are discussed and wisely dealt with.
In the United States the discussions are turning more and more divisive but in Nepal it could be an entirely different story.
(The author is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE.The opinions expressed here are personal.)