Raksha Ram Harijan (Chamar)
Officer of the Supreme Court of Nepal, Writer
Raksha Ram Chamar (Harijan) is the first recipient of the inaugural Darnal Award for Social Justice. Only 28 years old at the time of the award, he had already reached remarkable achievements in education, journalism, and law.
Born into a family of tenant farmers from the highly marginalized Madhesi Dalit community, Raksha Ram fought tenaciously not only for his own education, but for justice for Dalits and other marginalized groups. He was the first Dalit from his village in Kapilvastu district to complete high school. Determined to pursue higher education, Raksha Ram worked as a road construction worker and a temporary policeman during elections to pay his college fees. He now holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and a degree in law.
While pursuing his own studies, Rksha Ram fought tirelessly to expand educational opportunities for other members of his community. With the help of local leaders, he established a community school in his village while he was still an undergraduate. At 19 he became the school’s principal, a position he help for four years. Over time Raksha Ram grew increasingly determined to directly combat severe social and political barriers confronting Dalits and other marginalized groups, and began working as a reporter for a paper in Kapilvastu. Later he became the editor of a weekly newspaper, Pradeshik Samachar, which aimed to raise awareness about the Dalit situation and agenda. There were no other prominent Dalit or Madhesi journalists in Kapilvastu at this time, and Raksha Ram became an important voice in the local media. He got involved in human rights work as a volunteer for Mahuri Home, a human rights organization, and in 2012 came to Kathmandu to work for the Tarai Human Rights Defenders Alliance. From this time onwards, law became his primary instrument of struggle.
Raksha Ram has filed numerous writs at the Supreme Court to expand opportunities for the marginalized. His first major success came in 2014, in a Supreme Court case against the Public Service Commission. The commission subsequently changed its regulations to allow for reservations (affirmative action) for marginalized groups. His greatest legal victory involved the case he filed together with Rita Sah and Vijay Kant Karna in June 2015, in which they argued that an agreement by the top three political parties to promulgate a constitution leaving details on federalism for future resolution was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor, and the parties were forced to bring out a constitution that included a map of the federal structure.
Raksha Ram believes that the situation of Dalits has improved somewhat in recent years and is optimistic about the future. Nonetheless, he says that there is “a long way to go,” and is ready for the ongoing struggle. He hopes to build a wide network of Dalit youth across the Madhes, and having recognized law as a powerful tool in the fight for justice, he urges greater numbers of Dalit youth to study law.