Nepal ignores PM’s ban on dowry, untouchability

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who won a battle against the nation’s powerful royal family, is now finding it far more difficult to reform society and create the “new Nepal” of his vision.

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The former guerrilla chief’s public pledge last week to ban dowry and untouchability in a bid to spruce up his tarnished image has come a cropper with his people turning a deaf ear to it.

Prachanda, who is floundering in his attempt to run a ruling coalition and provide good governance, promised Jan 25 that the tradition of grooms receiving money and other costly gifts from their bride’s family during weddings would be banned within a week.

However, the man who abolished Nepal’s 239-year-old revered institution of monarchy may be fighting a losing battle against a practice that is even older and stronger, especially in the Terai plains along the India-Nepal border.

Nepal’s official media Monday reported that the head of a primary school in a village in Terai district Sunsari has thrown his wife out for her parents’ inability to gift him a motorcycle.

What’s more, his move has the support of the village council.

Bishudayal Mehta, the 30-year-old principal of Arya Primary School in Gautampur village, assaulted his wife Rambati, 22, two weeks ago and forced her to return to her parents’ house.

The Arya Primary School is a state-run institution and Mehta’s demand for a motorcycle from Rambati’s parents has been deemed fair by the local community.

The wedding took place five years ago. At that time, the groom received cash worth NRS 51,000 and other valuables. Unable to gift a motorcycle immediately, the bride’s cash-strapped father promised to rustle up the money in future.

The village elders, who were asked to arbitrate in the dispute, ruled that since Mehta was a government employee, he enjoyed a high status and had the right to demand a two-wheeler from his in-laws.

As the dowry case hangs in limbo, the state media has also reported that untouchability is flourishing as well.

The latest incident was reported from Sankhuwasabha district in north Nepal.

A villager, who had led a movement against caste-based discrimination in Khandbari village, is being ostracised by the high-caste Brahmins, the state-run Gorkhapatra daily said.

Four years ago, Dhan Bahadur Khanal, 88, had organised a community feast in which he had invited people from all castes, including the Dalits. Despite various anti-discrimination laws, Dalits are still regarded as untouchables, who are not allowed to enter temples or people’s houses or draw water from community wells.

The Brahmins of the village began ostracising Khanal after the feast. Even four years later, they have continued the boycott, the daily said.

A week ago, when Khanal’s wife Dambarkumari died, Brahim priests refused to perform her last rites, it reported.

In his address to the nation last month, Prachanda had promised to bring in laws to end untouchability.

However, such announcements were made regularly by the earlier governments and remained confined to documents.

Three years ago, after a pro-democracy movement ended the reign of Nepal’s last king Gyanendra, the revived parliament had also proclaimed an end to untouchability. But Khanal and others continue to bear the brunt of the social injustice.