Sita Pariyar made headlines of the media in the third week of February after becoming the first woman Chief District Officer (CDO) from the marginalized Dalit community. An undersecretary in the civil service, the government posted her as an administrative chief of Humla district on February 16.
Her appointment garnered much welcome from various quarters of the society in terms of empowerment of the unrepresented people of the country. However, it also exposed how exclusive the country’s government service is that it took 70 years since the beginning of the civil service for a Dalit woman to become a CDO.
The inclusion of Dalit males in the civil service isn’t encouraging either. Only two men from the Dalit community have become CDOs so far, one of whom went on to become the first and only government secretary.
The first CDO from the Dalit community was Man Bahadur Bishwakarma followed by Shant Bahadur Sunar. Sunar is currently the CDO of the Bardiya district.
Pradip Pariyar, executive chairperson at Samata Foundation, an NGO that advocates against caste-based discrimination, said it is positive that the people from the Dalit community are getting crucial postings in the civil service. “But it is too little and too late,” he said. “How long will the people from the marginalized community have to wait until to come at par with those from the privileged community?” he questions.
It was the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1991 which for the first time envisioned affirmative actions for the people from the economically, socially, and educationally backward communities. However, much of the constitutional provisions didn’t come into force as the successive governments showed little interest in preparing the laws to implement them.
It was only after the second people’s movement in 2006, the issues related to meaningful inclusivity came to the fore for political, intellectual and public discourses. The Interim Constitution opened the door for the inclusion of people from the backward sections of the society which got continuity in the 2015 Constitution. The constitution talks in detail about positive discrimination, detailing the beneficiary groups.
Article 18 (3) states that the state shall not discriminate against citizens on grounds of origin, religion, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, region, ideology, or on similar other grounds.
“Provided that nothing shall be deemed to prevent the making of special provisions by law for the protection, empowerment or development of the citizens including the socially or culturally backward women, Dalits, indigenous people, indigenous nationalities, Madhesis, Tharus, Muslims, oppressed class, Pichhadaclass [backward classes], minorities, the marginalized, farmers, laborers, youths, children, senior citizens, gender and sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, persons in pregnancy, incapacitated or helpless, backward region and indigent Khas Arya,” it further reads.
As per the Civil Service Act, 70 percent of vacant seats are filled through open competition while 30 percent are filled through promotion.
Starting in 2007, there is a 45 percent reservation in government jobs and government scholarships for the people from different cluster groups mainly formed based on castes.
As per the law, under the inclusion quota, 33 percent of seats are reserved for women, 27 percent for indigenous nationalities, 22 percent for Madhesis, 9 percent for Dalits, 5 percent for the disabled, and 4 percent for backward regions. The remaining 55 percent of seats are filled through open competition.
According to the existing Civil Service Act, while filling the vacancies for section officer positions, 70 percent of the vacancies are filled through competition and the rest through promotions. Under the competition category, 45 percent of the total seats are set aside for a separate competition among different clusters of communities from historically marginalized groups.
After the policy of inclusion was adopted in 2007, the presence of the other communities including women have grown significantly. Government 0fficials and activists working for the rights of the marginalized admit that inclusion policy has helped to grow the presence of marginalized communities in recent years. Particularly, the presence of women in the civil service has visibly grown as they can compete from both the quota of women as well as from that for other marginalized communities.
Women’s representation in the civil service was 11 percent in the fiscal year 2007-08, which increased to around 25 percent in the fiscal year 2018-19, according to the Department of Civil Personnel Records.
But, the composition of the civil service has not changed drastically when it comes to the representation of other marginalized communities. The privileged caste group continues to dominate the jobs in civil service. The Hill Brahmin continue to occupy the largest share in the civil service. As high as 28 percent of positions in the government service was occupied by the group in the fiscal year 2019-20 followed by Chhetris 19.63 percent. Though Magars (7.12 percent), Tharus (6.55 percent), and Tamangs (5.81 percent) have third, fourth, and fifth largest populations, recruitment of these communities stood at 5.03 percent, 3.91 percent, and 1.36 percent respectively in the fiscal year 2018-19.
The representation of Dalits who have a 13 percent share of Nepal’s population is miserably low. A study by Samata Foundation shows that among 88,579 people in civil service, hardly 2.22 percent, or 1,971, are from the Dalit community. Their share in Nepal Police stands at 9.45 percent, 8.14 percent in the Nepal Army, and just one percent in the judiciary.
In order to broaden the inclusion, the proposed Federal Civil Service Act has a provision of 49 percent of the total vacant seats reserved for different ethnic groups by dividing 50-50 percent into male and female. However, it is yet to be approved by the parliament.
Civil service is the most important apparatus of the government to execute the state policy and decision and engage in their formulation. As the bureaucracy is considered the permanent government, inclusion is a must to ensure every community in the society has a role in running the permanent government. “The positive discrimination is a tool to uplift the status of the marginalized community,” said Meena Vaidya Malla, a former professor of political sciences at the Tribhuvan University. “This has to be strictly implemented until their representation comes at par with those from other communities.”