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DALIT!! DON'T TOUCH ME

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.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

Comments

jadefrank's picture

Equality for the Dalit peoples

Sunita,

This is an excellent article. Over the course of the VOF program, I have learned so much from you about Nepal. This piece goes even deeper into the causes of societal discrimination within the caste system, and the obstacles for moving forward and leaving this practice behind. Your personal insight adds so much to this piece, with your experience in befriending a Dalit girl in your youth, to discussing family planning with a young Dalit mother in the fields.

It is difficult to imagine the suffering and inequality that Dalit peoples of Nepal face, especially the women who fall even farther down the social ladder. What do you think it will take for the government to shift their focus on equality and issue these citizenship papers for Dalits, so they can be recognized as equal members of society?

Thank you so much for exposing the truth about this minority in Nepal. I love your writing Sunita!

Hugs,
Jade

sunita.basnet's picture

My thoughts

Dearest Jade,
I am very happy that you have learnt many issues in Nepal from my writing. Thank you so much for your effort you made every time to read my post. Your words are very inspiring.

Regarding the government issues, I think the government also have to start providing citizenship in the name of mother to bring equality. Women are also the human beings, only saying "women and men should be treated equally" will not bring the equality in the country. The government have to give equal right to women as men. Women are strong enough to solve the problem. Here, as strong, I mean to say that women have more thinking problem solving capability than men but if there is no way to use their skills what can they do? Therefore, providing equal rights in law as well as in practice is one to bring equality. I will it will take time but still one day we will succeed to remove this caste system. Many problems related with Dalit will also solved.

Thank you so much.
Big hugs

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Maria de Chirikof's picture

Very interesting!

It is a bit funny since it reminded me of growing up a native (Aleut) in Anchorage and visiting my one white friends home and her parents wanting me to leave since they were afraid I would see all their "good stuff" and come back and rob them. I was amazed since most parents were very happy that I was friends with their daughters and considered me a good influence on them... So I can sure understand, a tiny bit, what they are going through and how hard it can be to change things. How the answers can seem so obvious on how to fix it yet it seems to take way too much time to happen.

I agree that it is a great experience to read of your country and see it through your eyes! I imagine that it is hard to separate the religious teachings from the ones made up (for political reasons possibly) as time went by since I find it hard to imagine a religion forming and becoming popular that started off with this idea... I would love to hear more about your country so please keep writing!

Love,

Maria

sunita.basnet's picture

Dear Maria, I am sorry to

Dear Maria,

I am sorry to hear that you were ignored in your friend house by her family. I can understand how you feel at that time. I do agree with you that unless we are able to remove individual Psyche regarding discrimination, equality is impossible. To remove the psyche, it will definately take long time and in this case, it has to come from people rather than government.

Yes, still there somehow politics is influenced from religion even the politician themselves say that religion should not interfere politics. Sure I will be writing about this.

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Tina's picture

Happy Diwali!

Dear Sunita,
I think you have done a really great job on this topic!

Have a fabulous time at Diwali. I shall be celebrating too!- at a friends house. I look forward to it every year. All the beautiful lights on the outside of her house and lining her path, lots of yummy Indian food, great music and dancing and lots of great company.
Enjoy your celebrations. And congratulations on finishing your feature and this program so well.
Best wishes
Tina

sunita.basnet's picture

Same there

Dear Tina,
Thank you so much for your comment. It's really good to hear from the correspondent after a long time.

Once again thank you so much for wishing me Diwali and same to you dear. I am sorry to say that it has been two years we haven't celebrate diwali. We, Nepalese students at Asian university for Women, missed alot this festival. I am celebrating my Diwali by doing homeworks and preparing presentation for tuesday. After joining the university, I am really so busy that I have not got chance to enjoy friendly visit with our friends. I am also doing part time job in my university as a IT supervisor so that I can earn myself for my personal expenses. The job makes me little busy.

Yeah I hav finished the feature article but I am thinking to write another article about correspondent. I am doing brainstorming about how to start.
Anyway dear, please keep in touch and all the best for your feature article too.
I am looking forward to read your post too.
big hugs

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

misscarly's picture

A clear voice

Dear Sunita,

I read your plea for readers and am happy for the chance to give you feedback on your writing. I am an Editorial Midwife for some other women in the program. First, your article was a pleasure to read. I found it very engaging, well researched, and strongly written.

A few specific comments:
- I would suggest that you rethink the headline. You want something strong, that explains the central idea of the article and captures the interest of people. Embracing the Untouchables...first came to my mind, but you can play around with some of your thoughts :)
- Perhaps you can add a few word description so the reader will know what the Muluki Ain is, without having to leave the article to look it up. I'm not sure if 'Nepalese constitution' is right. Perhaps 'official Nepalese legal document'?
- I appreciated that you divided the article into several sections with headers, this always makes long articles easier to approach. In the main section 'Social Ostracism and Continuous Domination', you started by giving a background of the situation. This was very well done and set a clear framework for the points your made throughout the article.
- As I continued reading, I thought you did a wonderful job of balancing information with your personal perspective and the experiences of people you know.
- In paragraph six, you mention the Dalit community that includes Damai, Sharki...are these also other castes? Perhaps before listing them add 'includes the castes Damai, Sharki...' just to make it crystal clear.
- In paragraph seven, I wondered what the average number of children is for Dalit women. Do you think it would be fitting to add this statistic?
- In the paragraph that begins "In Central Development Region of Nepal", you begin to discuss witchcraft, but I didn't find this very clear. What was the reason the women were forced to eat stool? Cruelty or was there a connection to witchcraft?
- After stating the average female life expectancy, there is a % sign after, this should be deleted.
- Your conclusion was very well written. I especially appreciated the sentence: "There is an urgent need to eliminate disparity both in principles and practice." I did think that the final sentence seemed a bit out of place "Instead of Dalit, an untouchable man should be a criminal." Perhaps this isn't necessary to include?

You have a very clear voice that is easy to read and stirs up excitement that change is not only necessary, but also possible. I hope my comments are helpful and supporting your final draft. Please ask me if you have any questions about any of the points. Again, it is a wonderful article and clear that you have put a lot of work into it!

with kindness,
Carly

sunita.basnet's picture

Thank you

Dear Ms. Carly,
Namaskar,

Thank you so much for your valuable time and wonderful suggestions. I am sorry for replying you late. After reading your comment, I go through my post and have editied some mistakes. Still I am thinking about the headline. I searched the average number of Dalit but I was unable to find but tonight again I will do some research. Moreover, I will work in my eight paragraph.
I have also worked in my conclusion. What do you think now? Please free to comment, I am looking forward to hear from you.

This is the first time, I heard from you, please continue to provide me feed back. your comment will not only improve this post but will also help to improve my writing. Your words are our inspiration. Iwill be thinking about you.
Thank you so much

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

misscarly's picture

Dear Sunita, I very much

Dear Sunita,

I very much enjoyed reading your article and I hope the small suggestions helped you with the updated version. I think it reads even stronger, especially the conclusion. Perhaps it is not necessary to find the average number of children for Dalit women, it was just something that came to my mind while reading. Sometimes it is good to make the reader curious and want to know more on her own!

I am happy to have been able to read your writing and will continue to give you feedback in the future. Good luck as you continue writing!

with kindness,
carly

sunita.basnet's picture

My Pleasure

Dear Carly,
Namaskar,

Thank you os much for your friend request. It is my pleasure to be your friend and learn about each other. It's good that we, Women, start to think and question because we are very curious to know about new things and through this we are helping each other to support too.

I will be waiting to hear you in the future.

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

JaniceW's picture

Hoping you enjoyed Dawili

Bahini,
Namaskar. I am sorry for not responding to your post earlier. I have learnt so much about Nepal from you and am now so much more aware of the situation for Dalit, and especially Dalit women. It seems so tragic that today, women suffer from indecent and inhuman treatment solely because of the family they are born into. Around the world, women still must fight for their rights as fellow citizens but it seems particularly tragic when your birth denies you any rights at all.

It seems that Dalit women particularly are victims of public humiliation, assault, rape, and the dispossession of land. Even when there seem to be opportunities for them, such as you reaching out to Damai, the door is closed on them further down their road towards recognition and respect. I read that Mayawati Kumari is the first Dalit woman chief minister in India, which given what you have written about, seems a huge accomplishment in your region. I hope that through women such as Mayawati and yourself, the world will become more aware of this oppressive situation and work towards a more just society where caste is a thing of the past.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention and for casting light on the Dalit. Your writing improves with each assignment and I see you grow in confidence. Hardik Subhakamana,
Didi

sunita.basnet's picture

Happy diwali to you too

Dearest Didi,
Namaskar,

I am so happy to read your comment after a long time. Yesterday there was some technical problem and I was unable to post comment after I comment Miss Carly. When I opened world pulse page, it disappeared after some time. I hope you understand me. Thank you for wishes but we, Nepalese and Indian students, were so busy with our today's presentation that we were unable to celebrate dewali. Tomorrow, we have debate between karl Marx and Emma Goldman.

Reading your comment, Yes I do agreee with you that women are oppressed by men however dalit women are triple subjugated by so-called higher caste people, patriarchal system and as well as their counter male partner. That is one region that they are always behind than others. I hope one day the discrimination will remove from every corner of the world.

On the other hand, I don't have any words to thanks world pulse family. I have improves my writing only because all of your comments and the place that world pulse provide me.

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Greta's picture

Lovely Sunita

A very insightful, powerful and educational article. I am very pleased to see the changes that were made from your draft to this posting. With each and every assignment, your writing has become more concise, and your message more potent.

As with all the writings from the VOF correspondents, I find myself with so many mixed emotions. You all have shed light in so many dark corners, and certainly have made this reader so much more aware of incredible obstacles remaining on the path for global women's equality. So far to go...

I think that your expression of your own personal experiences here gives the piece even more power. You are an inspiration. For me, the thought you express of - "Just writing in a poster “Untouchability is a grave crime against humanity” isn’t going to uplift Dalit." says so much. We can no longer look away..

I am so proud of you and your effort to raise awareness,

With Love and Kindness,

Gretchen

Dear Gretchen,
Namaskar,

I have no words excepting thanking you. Your support being a midwife has played vital role to make my piece more stronger. I think it will be unfair if I also didn't mention my mentor, Carol Anderson. I have learned much more from your support. I hope to continue our relationship after the VOF phase too. We all the VOF correspondent are able to speak out because of world pulse ans with the support of our mentors and midwives.

Thank you so much for helping me to raise awareness.

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

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