How do you feel when people ignore and discriminate you because of only you are born in a Dalit family? The word Dalit literally means “oppressed” or “broken” which means "a person immersed in a swamp" that is determine by birth.
Although, Nepal is a secular country, it is said that more than 80% of the total population follow Hindu religion. Hindu practices two “untouchabilities”, one is Dalit, the most outrageous, and another is woman. Dalit is determines by the cast and known as “untouchable” whereas women are also treated as “untouchable” during menstruation and child birth in Nepal. Alike, the conditions of Dalit are more miserable than women. They are oppressed by higher caste people. According to Nepal’s census (2001), the total population of Dalit are 2,962,591 (13.05%); where female and male population are 1,496,622 and 1,465,969 respectively. At present in Nepal, Dalit women’s are facing sexual exploitation, crisis of identity among all of them. On the other hand, if you go through the revised Muluki Ain which is a legal code or legal document of Nepal, you will say “untouchability doesn’t exist in Nepal.” This is because it clearly mentioned that “No person shall, on the basis of caste, be discriminated against as untouchable.” I remembered our former prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" saying “A man who considers a fellow citizen an untouchable can neither be a civilized man nor a democratic person; he can only be a criminal” on January 2009.
Social Ostracism and Continuous Domination
In Nepal, there are four main castes. They are ranked from higher to lower cast, according to the people’s ritual purity and their professions, namely Brahmin, Kshyatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. Brahmins is the highest caste who are known as priests, scholars and administer , Kshyatriya are the are the followers of Brahmins. They are known as warriors, rulers, and administrators of the villages. Vaishya are known as merchants, traders and farmers. Finally, Sudra is the lowest caste, and they are known as the laborers and servants. They are made to serve the needs of so-called higher cast people. Dalit are identified in this group. They are considered as inferior than others in the Nepalese society. Dalit group includes Damai, kami, Sharki, Sataar, Bataar, Chamars, Dooms, Mehtar, Pode and Chyame.
According to Nepal Dalit information resources, about 20%, which is about 27 million population of total population are oppressed by higher caste in Nepal. It has total 101 caste and about nineteen caste groups have been recognized as the Dalits (NHDR, 2004) and more than 200 forms of discrimination are based in caste (The World Bank, 2006) in the country. Time marched, government changed, Nepalese got freedom from Rana’s 104 years long dictatorship ruling, but the caste system remains the same in the country. Higher caste people always keep the distance from the lower caste.
The situation of Dalit is wretched, and it differs according to the development regions of Nepal. There are five development regions in the country. In eastern development region, which is also my hometown has 22% Dalits of eastern region population. In our village, we have about 20 Kshyatriyas and only one Damai (Dalit) family. The Dalit family have a terrifying situation. Their family members were prohibited to fetch water from Kshyatriya’s tube-wells, enter into their shops, houses, and cowsheds. Higher caste people will not allow playing their children with lower caste, going to lower caste people’s home and eating together. Sometimes, I feel lucky to be born in a higher caste (Kshyatriya) because people respect me even if my family is poor. People of other casts do not dominate me because of my cast.
On the other hand, there is a Dalit community next to our village that includes Damai, Sharki, Kaami, Sataar, Bataar, Chamars and Dooms. They come in our village to plug fields of Kshyatriyas. They start working from 6am to 10pm, but unfortunately they get only Rs. 70($1) per day with two times food. They do not have proper sanitation. Especially, in Rainy season, Ashad (Nepali month), due to dirty water, Dalit get different types of waterborne disease. They get Cellulitis as well that made their hand and leg skins rash, redness that happens suddenly and grows quickly. But they don’t get any money for treatment from their owner so-called higher caste people. Instead they are forced to leave the work place.
Comparing to male counter partner, Dalit women are like a tame animal. They have to face many torture from so-called higher cast, neighbors, even their family members such as husband, mother-in-law, and children. They are treated as a child bearing machine who gives birth every year to a new innocent child till her forties. It might be surprising to say that they have started to takehelp from family planning from two years ago only. In dalit family, they are not well aware about family planning and they do not feel comfortable talking about it.On the other hand, Dalit women become the victims of their male partners when they use Alcohol. Drinking alcohol is a cultural habit in their community.
I remember a year ago before coming to Bangladesh, I talked about family planning with Kanchi Nepali (dalit) while we were planting paddy in our field. It was raining heavily with cold air, and we had only sack to use as an umbrella to cover our body while planting. She was so embarrass to talk about family planning and sexual accusation from her husband. However, at last she says “if we have more children, they will start working in others field and support us when we are old, so I have already gave birth to six children and again I am pregnant.” I wonder what if her children do not take care of them in the future. Kanchi Didi(sister) faced became pale, red, and surprised and finally she says “We are taking care of our in-laws, so it’s our children’s responsibility to take care of us.” Unfortunately, her two sons died from malnutrition and a daughter died from blood cancer in the same year.
When I was nine years old, I had my best school friend, Dil kumari Bhusal (Damai). Once, I invited her to our home without my mother permission. She was so happy to see our home and meet my parents but… she didn’t expect that. Immediately when my mother knew about my friend, she scolded me saying that my friend is an untouchable caste. I should not mix up with her or stay together. Dilkumari and I, along started crying after hearing my mother’s scolding. When my mother saw our tears like a drops of water, she stopped scolding. I felt sorry to her. Moreover, there was nothing I can do and I was scared to convince my mother.
After class 10, she dropped out from the school. She was forced to marry someone whom she didn’t know. It made me sad when I remembered her dream to be a feminist and bring equality in the country. While I was studying in class 12, I met her on the way to my college. We shared our feelings and talked about our past life. After a month of Dil kumari’s marriage, her husband went India in search of better opportunities, but he never return back. Shewas working as a servant to feed her children. While talking about her future to be a feminist, she said “My children are my world. If I start writing, how will I feed my children?” It’s not a single story of my friend. Instead, it is a story of all dalits’ daughters.
I remembered one of my cousin, Sabina (name changed) marry a Dalit boy two years ago. Her parents denied the marriage and called her back and insisted her to marry another boy. My cousin got second marriage because of only her first husband was Dalit. This year realizing various discrimination against Dalit, Nepal’s government legalized inter-cast marriages. Inter-cast marriage couple will get Rs. 100,000 about $1270 thinking that this amount will be helpful in earlier days of their marriage. Manoj B.K, an activist and Dalit himself, says that the government grant has helped to ignore Dalit rather than helping them. Sangita Rayamajhi, a researcher and a professor of Asian University for Women, says that “Sometimes people say that they are against discrimination among cast, but they are born with caste psyche and somehow it shows in their behavior.” Therefore, it has to come from individual. For this, the government has to bring awareness and consciousness program to the people rather than incentives program.
In Central Development Region of Nepal, Witchcraft and other various forms of violence against Dalits are more common compared to other regions. A research has found that Dalit made 27% of its population. On March 23, 2009, Dalit NGO Federation (DNF) posted a press released mentioning that Kaali kumari B.K. (Kami) was forced to eat stool by the educated and upper class woman in Lalitpur district Putar VDC 7. Bimala Lama, principal of Gadi bhanghan primary school, called B.K. in her home six months ago and was forced to eat stool.
Anjana dhakal from Phutung which is only 4km far from Gongabu, Kathmandu, said that in Phutung, Dalit women have to wait long in the public water taps and wells until so-called higher caste women are ready to serve water for them. If in case, the Dalit women try to get water together with so-called higher caste, they become the victim of violence. Further she added, many Dalit students from Phutung Mavi dropped out from the school. They have started to work as agricultural labors under the upper caste. Besides, they work in informal sectors as labors to carry bricks in their back more than their weight. They get different kinds of heart, skin and bone disease. According to Dalit welfare organization, Dalit women have only 48.3 years life expectancy compared to Average female life expectancy which is 58.9. Unfortunately, they get very low payment which is Rs. 40. ($0.57) per day. Some of them get married after they dropped out from the school.
Last week, I talked with Gopal Nath Yogi, Secretary of NGO federation of Nepal, on Skype about the dalit situation in western Nepal. I found this region more wretched than the others regions in the country. In western development region, Chamars, Metaar, and Dooms are supposed to clean septic tank, throw away dead animals and sell skins of animals. In return, they get very less amount from so-called higher caste people. The most important thing is, even in untouchable caste, Dom Chamar, mehtar, Pode and Chyame are known as untouchable caste by other untouchable caste such as Daamai, sharki and Kaami. He also said that Dalit make 24% of the region population which is not a small number.
In mid-western and far-western development region, Dalit women do not haveany rights on their own bodies. They are forced by the society to involve in prostitution as their profession because of their poor economic condition. They are involved in prostitution by forming a group, Badi community. Badi women’s children have the problem of identity. Badi women have hardship of getting citizenship because of their unknown father. It is said that—are involving in prostitution by forming a group in Kathmandu. Children especially girls are also used in prostitution. As a result many Badi Women are more vulnerable to transmitted disease like AIDS. It is said that there are if 14% and 13% dalit respectively of the Mid western and far western development regions.
Immediate Action and Solution
Only higher caste people control national resources and other sources. They have enjoyed the fruits of all development. Thus In our country social exclusion to the dalit has been supported by religious, cultural and political process. They are exploiting even by their husband so it might be challenging to empower them. In this fiscal year 2066/2067 B.S. Dalit are demanding various program for Dalit upliftment by forming various groups such as Madhesi Dalit Community and Dalit bonded labor. They are demanding for “equal representation in policy making, reservation in implementation, ensuring the justice for Dalit, immediately bring special law for the elimination of caste discrimination, implementation of the proper law, rule, national and international convention and the declaration of nation for Dalit upliftment.” Furthermore, the government has to bring special program to eliminate discrimination such as witchcraft accusation, and special focus for Dalit community to develop their social, economic and political condition. Just writing in a poster “Untouchability is a grave crime against humanity” isn’t going to uplift Dalit.
Although the Maoists approach was violence, it has brought certain level of awareness and practice of equity in the Nepalese society. Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, has become the activists centered and some NGOs’ are just opened in the name of “Dalit empowerments.” Grass root levels are out of this program. Social, economical and political development is incomplete by excluding Dalit. The government have to bring the program where all Dalit whoever are born in Nepal can issue a citizenship certificates either from a father or a mother name. Thus, there is an urgent need to eliminate disparity both in principles and practice.
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