Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Nepal - Inclusion With Vision

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's commitment that “All marginalized groups would be included in all the organs of state machinery on a proportional basis.” However, translating a political speech into viable affirmative action programs that will ensure the actual empowerment of marginalized groups through proper representation may not be as easy as it seems.
The challenge ahead is to construct just affirmative action policies that can adequately and efficiently administer compensatory and distributive justice, but at the same time have very little room for abuse by free. One of the most important roles of a state that strives towards inclusive democracy is to reach out to marginalized groups that have been bypassed either by choice or by default. This will ensure that public service system is inclusive and representative. We, as a nation, will be better off by ensuring inclusion of marginalized groups rather than exclusion, which in itself is undemocratic. Thus, inclusion of all marginalized groups bypassed so far, in all of the organs of state machinery on a proportional basis, is necessary to inculcate a feeling of belonging and to make state machineries more responsive to the needs of everyone's need.

One of the ways adopted to correct past mistakes is through affirmative action policies to ensure empowerment of the marginalized groups. However, there is a fine line between effective administration of compensatory and distributive justice through affirmative action policies that ensures empowerment of marginalized groups and the reverse discrimination. In South Africa, after the African National Congress took power in the early 1990s, they tried correcting past indecencies by offering a severance package to white civil servants did not serve as a good omen as a majority of the experienced white civil servants left government service. This had a tremendous negative affect on bureaucracy and the overall development of the nation.

Thus, the burden lies on the government to ensure that the group that was privileged in the past does not become a victim of reverse discrimination and withdraw its contribution to the society। An abrupt withdrawal and flight of this section of society that is well-educated, relatively wealthy, and politically enlightened could prove to be disastrous for development of the nation. For empowerment of members of a marginalized group to take place, it is important to identify the individuals within the marginalized groups that are actually deprived and in need of the state’s intervention. Thus, preference should be given to only those castes within the officially declared marginalized groups for their upliftment, enhancement, and subsequently empowerment. For example, the members of backward caste Madhesis and Madhesi Dalits such as Lohar, Sonar, Dom, Chamars, Musahars and others who actually face discrimination on a daily basis, are at the bottom of the economic ladder and do not have access to social goods and opportunity should be the ones to benefit from the affirmative action policies, but not to the whole “Madhesi group” which they are part of. This is mainly so because some members of the “Madhesi group” such as those belonging to upper castes- Brahmins, Rajputs, and Bhumiyars- are actually more successful and financially well off than the lower caste Madhesis, Dalit Madhesis and even lower caste and Dalit Pahades. If they, along with lower caste and Dalit Madhesis, are made entitled to affirmative actions, the well-educated upper caste Madhesis that are better educated and financially well-off will quickly learn to hop opportunities and reduce affirmative action policies to “affirmative auction.”

So, instead of blindly allocating opportunities to the people within the certain group, a combination of factors like wealth, education level, income, occupation, and geographical disparities should be used to identify truly needy people among the officially classified marginalized groups. The resources and opportunities thus saved can be distributed among those who are that are needy but are born in the upper castes by default, not by choice.
The government should learn from the Indian experience। Despite having the public policy of affirmative action in India in some form or the other for more than five decades now, approximately 25 percent of total population is still languishing below the poverty line. The people that make up this 25 percent are mostly backward castes and Dalits. So, merely having policies in place does not ensure empowerment and emancipation. For real empowerment and emancipation to occur, policies should be able to deliver to those who need the most. In addition, affirmative action policies should be auditable. It should be audited from time to time to see if it is really addressing the issue that it is suppose to address or just enhancing dependency and the sense of entitlement among the recipients.

Our success lies in devising affirmative action policies that are unique, workable in the sociocultural context of Nepal and which reach those who deserve it the most। The policies should be time-bound rather than open ended. Failure to do so would result in a situation like in India, whereby the hope that reservation would be abolished after the catching-up by the marginalized groups, has not yet been realised. In the absence of a strict time frame, the very notion of catch-up will be defined to suit the political needs and will be subjected to political manipulation. As in India, there will be a consistent and concerted effort to extend reservation to cover more and more groups. It will be impossible to get rid of politically expedient policies of reservation in the absence of a time frame, even if it is a generation or two later. Thus, having a timeline in place is extremely important to prevent preference from turning out to be an entitlement. Failure to do so will eventually constrict opportunities for upper castes and ignite social tension. The formation of upper-class militia such as Ranvir Sena in Bihar in future cannot be ruled out altogether.

The overall goal of affirmative action policies that are to be implemented in Nepal should be to make discriminated and bypassed members of marginalized group become more competent and help them to emerge as natural competitors rather than enhance intergenerational dependency.

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