Weaknesses and flaws of anti-discrimination law should be removed

Article 28 (1) of the Constitution clearly states that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the basis of religion, race, caste or place of birth. Our Proclamation of Independence also calls for ensuring equality, social justice and human dignity. But in reality, the relatively weaker sections of the society are constantly being discriminated, sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes on the basis of gender, ethnicity or so on.

In this context, civil society and human rights organisations have been calling for anti-discrimination law for more than a decade. Despite the delay, the government has accepted that demand and raised the Anti-Discrimination Bill, 2022 in parliament on 5 April. The bill was later sent to a parliamentary committee for review. According to the bill, a citizen can seek redress in case of any discrimination in any government or private office, public meeting place and educational institution. The law calls for the formation of monitoring cells at district and divisional levels.

We appreciate this initiative of the government. At the same time, we would like to draw the attention of the concerned people to the objections raised by the civil society and human rights organisations regarding the bill. It needs to be noted that the bill does not categorise discrimination as a criminal offence. If not identified as a crime, it will be difficult to try or punish those responsible. The anti-discrimination laws that have been passed in India and Nepal have identified discrimination as a crime. Second, the victim has to go through a long process to get the remedy. First the victim will have to go to the district monitoring committee. If they cannot resolve the issue within 30 days, the case will be transferred to the divisional committee. If they cannot give remedy within 30 days, the victim will have to approach the National Monitoring Committee. If it fails there too, a case can be filed in the court and the final solution must be drawn within 90 days.

It is important to keep in mind that the most vulnerable segments of society, especially women, religious or ethnic minorities and marginalised sections of society, are more likely to face discrimination. And those who discriminate are the strongest sections of society. In order to get the remedy for the victim in this situation, the legal agencies of the state have to come forward.

At present, if someone is a victim of injustice, he can call 999 and seek redressal from the law enforcement agencies. In the case of discrimination, same must be ensured. Apart from this, the government officials who have been asked to form a monitoring cell remain busy with other administrative work. It is advisable to reduce the number of government officials in the monitoring cell and take more private representatives.

We a need a law for our country, where people are constantly being victim by injustice and discrimination, that will play an effective role in eliminating discrimination. Therefore, the bill can be finalised taking into account the objections and suggestions from the civil society. No weakness or flaw should remain in the law.