Five Dalits arrested for slaughtering an ox
by Christopher Sharma

The cow is a sacred animal in Hinduism. Although a secular country, Nepal’s old Civil Code remains in effect. Cow slaughter can mean up to 20 years in jail. The carcass was found in the jungle and a public complaint led to the Dalits’ arrest. For activists, "They are an easy target because the poor and illiterate."

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepali police yesterday arrested five Dalits for allegedly slaughtering an ox after its carcass was found in Chitwan district (south-central Nepal).

Speaking to AsiaNews, some human rights activists complain that Nepal’s majority Hindus harass Dalits. Despite becoming a secular country with the approval of the new Constitution, discriminatory practices linked to religion remain.

The five arrested are Sunita Nepali, Shiva Nepali, Jivan Nepali, Kopila Nepali and Sagar Nepali. "We detained them because a complaint was filed against them for killing an ox to eat the flesh,” said District Police Superintendent Basanta Bahadur Kunwar. “The Investigation is ongoing and a case has been filed against the five for cow slaughter."

The cow is considered a sacred animal in Hinduism and is associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, light, and wealth.

Oxen are used only to plough the fields and pull carts, but Hindus still consider cow slaughter a crime, and impose heavy penalties on law breakers.

Last year the Parliament of Nepal approved a new constitution that defines Nepal as a secular and democratic State, removing all references to Hinduism present in the previous constitutions.

Nevertheless, the Civil Code in force under the old Hindu monarchy is still valid. Slaughtering a cow is punishable with up to 20 years in prison. The new code is still under discussion, and the authorities simply enforced the old one.

According to activists defending the rights of Dalits, the later are easy victims of the Hindu majority. “Dalits are always repressed,” said Kaman Biswokarma. “They are poor, illiterate, who cannot defend themselves. They are only victims.”

“The animal was found dead in the jungle. There is no way of knowing if the Dalits killed it or not. For non-Dalits, it is easy to blame the marginalised."

Yogta Rai, activist and lawyer, points out the legal contradiction between the constitutional provisions, which should be above any other rule, including the old Civil Code.

"It is the duty of the State to formulate laws in accordance with the Constitution,” she said. “Dalits are poor and do not have the means to buy goat or other meats. This is not a violation of Hinduism; it is their right to have healthy food."

She is confident that the court will release them, but the police officer insists that all he " did was to enforce the law. We follow the law and uphold it accordingly.”