Indian minister to visit Nepal for Dalit rights campaign

February 26th, 2009 - 3:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 26 (IANS) India’s Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers and Steel Ram Vilas Paswan is arriving in Nepal next week on a one-day visit.

However, Paswan, who belongs to the Lok Jan Shakti Party, will be visiting Nepal not on the invitation of the Maoist government of Nepal but to address a gathering of a party for the underprivileged in Nepal.

Paswan will address a meet of the sister units of the Dalit Janajati Party (DJP), a platform for the Dalit community who stand at the bottom of Nepal’s social hierarchy. Despite Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s public resolution this year to eradicate untouchability, Dalits are still treated as untouchables.

“We invited Paswan to address the two-day convention that begins in Birgunj town (in southern Nepal) on March 3,” said Thakur Chandra Gahat Raj, vice-president of DJP.

“We chose him because of his role in the Vishwa Arakshan Manch, an organisation that is campaigning worldwide for reservation for the underprivileged communities to lift them.”

Paswan is expected to speak on reservation at the convention of Dalit women, labourers and student organisations. He arrives at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu Tuesday morning and heads for Birgunj town in the Terai plains along the India-Nepal border.

The DJP, that has a single lawmaker in the newly elected constituent assembly, is demanding reservation for Dalits in all government organs on the basis of proportional representation.

“We want a constitution like India’s where there is reservation on the basis of population,” Gahat Raj told IANS. “Unless that happens, Nepal’s disadvantaged groups like Dalits and Muslims will not be uplifted.”

At the convention to be addressed by the Indian minister, the DJP will flex its muscle by making public its own army.

The Mulbasi Dalit Force is a band of about 5,000 volunteers who, Gahat Raj said, are unarmed at present.

“It will depend on the constitution whether they will remain unarmed,” he said. “If the new constitution addresses our plight and heeds our demands, we will honour it.

“But if it fails to do so, we will have to rethink our strategy.”

Nepal witnessed an end to its 10-year Maoist insurgency three years ago after the communist guerrillas agreed to lay down arms and participate in an election.

However, now that they are the ruling party after winning the April election, their success with the gun has inspired more than two dozen groups to clamour for their own rights, with some of them forming armies or youth bands that are armies in disguise.

Since the installation of the new government, Paswan will be the third Indian minister to visit Nepal after Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee and Minister of State for Commerce, Industry and Power Jairam Ramesh, who resigned Wednesday.

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