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Women, Dalits in local polls

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
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Women in Gurvakot village of Surkhet take part in a meeting to choose candidates for local elections last week. Photo: Laxmi Bhandari

Women in Gurvakot village of Surkhet take part in a meeting to choose candidates for local elections last week. Photo: Laxmi Bhandari

From the Nepali press

Himal Khabarpatrika, 23-29 April

Kamala BK is a candidate for the Gurvakot village council election in Surkhet. She has been a social activist, and says she is excited about joining local government after years of working with a non-government group.

Sita Devi BK is also standing as a ward council member, from Barahatal village. She also worked for a non-government group and predicts that little will change if she enters government. “I will be doing what I have been doing, struggle for gender rights, by standing in elections.”

Across Nepal, there are many women – most from minority groups like Dalits – who are going to have a chance at governing because of quotas for women candidates in local government units. Nepal’s first election under the new Constitution mandates that municipality and village councils must have a woman in at least the post of chair or vice-chair. The councils themselves should have at least two women members, of which at least one must be from the Dalit community. In Surkhet alone, the five municipalities and 99 wards will have at least 207 women; 99 will have to be Dalits.

In the Tarai, too, there was already considerable enthusiasm for local elections even before the Madhes-based parties decided to unite and take part in the second phase of polling. The interest is especially palpable among Dalits and women. Pasi Devi Rajbansi of Dhanpal village of Morang is standing for vice chair from the UML party. She says: “We are really excited. There is now a certainty that we will be represented in local government.”

Kala Devi Sah of Kathari village is from the NC and Devkala Yadav of Sunbarshi is standing for ward chair: both are actively campaigning door-to-door. Whatever their party affiliation, candidates’ campaign promises are all the same: education, health, jobs, better roads and no discrimination.

Sangita Darji, 38, is from the tailor caste and would be considered ‘untouchable’, but today she is standing for ward council member of Kamal village of Jhapa district, from the RPP, and has already started campaigning. Darji had actually decided to go to the Gulf to work as a domestic, but abandoned the process after hearing that it would be possible to stand in local elections. Kopila Nepali is also a Dalit from the same village. A member of the Maoist-Centre party came to her house to convince her to stand in the council election. She is not a member of the party and makes ends meet with a small tailoring shop, and money her husband sends home from the Gulf.

Dalit women candidates from Morang: Anita Thatal of the NC, Sangita Darji of the RPP, Kopila Nepali of the Maoist-Centre (from clockwise).

Dalit women candidates from Morang: Anita Thatal of the NC, Sangita Darji of the RPP, Kopila Nepali of the Maoist-Centre (from clockwise).

Anita Thatal (pictured right) was also approached in her own house by a member of the NC who convinced her to run in elections. The quota for women and Dalits in local elections has put a lot of pressure on political parties to find candidates, but the fact that women outnumber men in rural areas has made that job a little easier. However, many of the candidates recruited are not members of any party.

Even though caste discrimination has been outlawed for more than 55 years, Dalits are still ostracized. But the local elections, with their quotas for Dalits and women, are expected to go a long way in removing the stigma. Says Rajendra Diyali of the Maoist-Centre in Damak Municipality: “We Dalits are finally being inducted into mainstream politics. Maybe now we will get more respect in society.”

The 131 wards of Jhapa Municipality will be getting at least 524 Dalit women candidates from the NC, UML, Maoist-Centre and RPP. “The gates to state power have now been opened to our community,” says Tikaram Bayalkoti of the Dalit Empowerment Forum.

However, the other community that has been excluded from past elections — the roughly 5 million Nepalis working abroad — may have to wait some more years before they can vote. Because absentee ballots are not allowed, migrant workers (half of them in India) have been unable to cast ballots. However, there has been a noticeable influx of Nepalis crossing from India at the Sunauli border in the past week, mostly locals who are returning to vote.

Khumlal Thapa from Bamgha of Gulmi district works in Haryana, and is headed to his village. So is Ganesh BK from Argakhanchi, who works in Punjab. “If there are local elections, there will be development and jobs, and we may not have to migrate anymore,” says BK. The organisations of Nepalis in India are affiliated with various political parties back home and these have been actively mobilising to bring back voters for the elections.

Dip Gyawali in Butwal, Gopal Gartaula in Jhapa, Laxmi Bhandari in Surkhet and Mukesh Pokhrel in Morang.

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One Response to “Women, Dalits in local polls”

  1. East West | Travel Blog by Kunda Dixit | Nepali Times | nepalitimes.com » Blog Archive » Federal Feminine Republic of Nepal on Says:

    […] many new villages, municipalities and cities will be governed from now on. This election is putting Dalit women not just in policy-making positions, but also making them responsible for implementation. Nowhere […]

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