“Sure the other hotel is cheaper, but after a week of all the others being there, they found out it is run by lower caste people. I mean, now there was no point in them moving hotels since they had already been there a week, but had they known before they definitely would have stayed with us.” – Friends of mine at my hotel.
I am surrounded by NGO workers constantly discussing rights for the lower castes. Most of these conversations, I believe, have been with people of the lower castes themselves, and they have generally been pretty abstract and non-specific in terms of the current injustices. This often makes it hard to understand what it really feels like, and what the day-to-day impacts really are from an unbiased perspective.
For a couple of weeks now, Baglung has been hosting train-the-teacher classes for government school English teachers, so I’ve been lucky enough have two English speaking Nepalis staying at my hotel with me. I’ve had conversations about everything I can possibly think of before I lose this simple pleasure after they are gone. Last night, we were discussing how they came to stay in this hotel (the main hotel was full). Our hotel costs a bit more, and the service is worse (but the view and patio makes it worth it), and, they told me, the other hotel is owned by a lower caste. It is always a shock to find out people you are friends with, people you respect, are discriminatory. But it is interesting to realize that even these upper caste people, originally from villages but having lived in Kathmandu for a long time, have these feelings etched into their psyche. They admit quite freely that their thoughts are morally wrong, scientifically unfounded, yet, they say, the feeling is so strong in them it is quite hard to fight against. So, if even these educated Nepalis, living in the most urban city, can refuse someone their business based on caste, then how hopeless does it seem in the villages where there isn’t even an acceptance that their thoughts are possibly irrational?
Myself as someone whose family is from a high caste in India (I believe unnoticed by those I work with), I’m acutely aware of the anti-Brahmin sentiment that seems to exist in the circles I frequent. It makes me skeptical that an effort to achieve equality can be fought for by emphasizing the existing divide, for example by having a quota system. But even my seemingly prejudice hotel friends have pointed out that if you have a Brahmin decision maker in the government, he will ultimately only hire other Brahmins whether consciously or not, just as they themselves have these feelings worn into their bodies that are impossible to erase. They said that the next generation of minority castes in quota positions will most likely seek a sort of revenge and only hire from within their caste, but then after a generation of that, things will start to even out and people will start to become simply Nepalese. I wonder what India will look like then, in 20 years time?
I’m reminded of how little I know of how discrimination has been handled in America when they start to make various gay jokes making me cringe. It reminds me of my first corporate culture experience, an organization composed of mainly young people, where I happily observed that with my generation, in urban centres, it is finally worse to be labeled homophobic than it is to be labeled homosexual. We also have far to go, but change can happen, albeit very slowly.
(Note: For those who haven’t heard of this and want to be shattered by their own subconscious discrimination, visit implicit.harvard.edu)
Posted By Shubha Bala
Posted Jun 28th, 2008