Ethnicity has taken the central stage in the debate on federalism. Languages and regional criteria have also been mooted.Janajati are pushing for ethnicity-based federalism while the political parties and Bahun-Chhetris argue this will lead to fragmentation of the country and have proposed a federal system based on topography. But what about Dalits?
Various proposals to include Dalits are:
1. Separate state: As the ethnic groups, Tharu, Madhesi and Khas Chhetri of Karnali region have been demanding separate provinces, Dalits also have realised the need for a separate province. Various Dalit groups have proposed Siraha and Saptari as 'Sahalesh' province, Parbat and Baglung as 'Sarbajeet', combined province of Surkhet, Dailekh and
Kalikot and far west districts Bajhang and Achham will be sub-provinces.
2. Non-geographic province: If provinces are created on the basis of ethnicity and Dalits do not get any geographic state, they should be given non-geographic states. The Maoist-affiliated Dalits have demanded a non-geographic province, which they believe can guarantee Dalit representation. This can be relevant if provinces are created on the basis of ethnicity.
3. Sub-autonomous region: Sub-autonomous provinces should be created
no matter how the provinces are created and the ethnic groups, minorities, lingual groups and Dalits within a province should be given separate sub-autonomous region. Even if the provinces are not created on the basis of ethnicity, sub-autonomous regions should be created on the basis of ethnicity.
Since the country has already been declared a federal republic, the political parties are working on state restructuring and the federal system. There are some parties who are against this idea. Those who favour federalism have understood it as decentralisation, devolution of power and allocation of rights and responsibilities to the people. And those who are against it say that federalism leads to fragmentation of the country. But the basic principle of federalism is to give people their rights uniting them to strengthen as a nation.
The Maoists have proposed 13 provinces and sub-provinces based on ethnicity that gave rise to debate on this issue. They have understood the state structuring based on ethnicity can ensure Janajatis opportunities and allow their language and culture to flourish and help build unity. But there is significant difference in understanding between the Maoists and others regarding state restructuring on the basis of ethnicity.
Some Madhesi and Janajati leaders believe they can rule the region forever while the Bahun- Chhetri, Dalits and minorities fear that they would be driven away from such provinces. Before we decide on federalism, therefore, the issue raised by Madhesi, Tharu and Janajatis should be taken into account and analysed to clear doubts.
Dalits think there is no need for a federal system as there seems no possibility of creating provinces for Dalits. They were exploited by Bahuns and Chhetris for centuries, it makes no sense to replace them with new Janajati or Madhesi rulers in a federal republic.
Whichever way the provinces are carved out, Dalits should be represented in them proportionately. Since they were exploited by the state for centuries, they should be given certain privileges as compensation.The new constitution should have provisions to end all kinds of discrimination and social ostracism. A mixed election system should be
followed in all regions and levels. It should be 60 per cent proportional, 30 per cent direct voting and the remaining 10 per cent seats should be allotted for Dalits, women and marginalised communities as compensation. Dalits should be given dual voting rights in the proportional election.
The constitution, provincial statues and laws should guarantee secularism.All citizens should be given freedom to choose or discard religion or simply remain atheist. Similarly, all kinds of exploitation and oppression in the name of religion should be outlawed.
Kisan is a member of the Dalit Commission.