Advocate Bhim Rai
Treasurer, Lawyers' Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP)
Your organization has been advocating for constitutional recognition of traditional customary laws of indigenous peoples. What are these laws and why are they important?
Indigenous peoples in Nepal have their own traditional customary laws, which govern their societies, cultural practices and values. These laws are an integral part of their traditional justice system. These laws help bind them as a close society, and this is why it is important to preserve these legal practices. In Nepal, some laws introduced by the state have now become obsolete. Yet, these laws are still in effect. But indigenous people's customary laws undergo revision periodically, and they never become obsolete. For example, Hyolmos revise their customary laws before Dashain festival. Similarly, Tharus review their Badghar laws on the occasion of Maghe Sankrati. If some practices are no longer relevant or useful, they just do away with them.
Are traditional customary laws of Nepal's indigenous peoples still in effect?
Some indigenous peoples like Tharu and Thakali still use their customary laws. But most indigenous communities no longer have their customary laws. Some communities still have customary laws, but they do not follow them strictly. The state has not been friendly to customary laws of diverse ethnic groups. However, even those communities that no longer follow customary laws still have customary cultural practices.
Some indigenous peoples like Tharu and Thakali still use their customary laws. But most indigenous communities no longer have their customary laws. Some communities still have customary laws, but they do not follow them strictly.
Indigenous peoples probably formulated their laws when there were no state laws. Today, we have a constitution and we also have laws. So, is it really necessary even now to preserve customary laws of indigenous peoples?
Helping preserve customary laws is to respect our ethnic diversity. If the state takes pride in Nepal's ethnic diversity, why should we not preserve these traditional laws? Diversity is a beautiful gift. We luckily have this gift. We need to preserve it. Customary laws are part of our diversity. Traditional customary justice system of indigenous people is linked with their history, civilization and existence, too. And it is also their human rights to practice their customary laws. These customary laws do not harm the mainstream justice system developed by the state. These laws just help indigenous communities to live in harmony. It also helps reduce burden on mainstream justice mechanisms.
Has Nepal's new constitution addressed indigenous people's aspirations for traditional customary laws?
Not really. The constitution has given rights for indigenous people to practice their religion. But the cow remains as our national animal, and consumption of cow meat is still a criminal offense. So, indigenous peoples have not been able to follow their religions and cultural practices in real sense.
Presented by Jagat Dong