Dalit leaders in Baglung give speeches next to a bonfire on Friday night. Their demands were simple: proportional representation in the Constituent Assembly and electoral system.Similar events were held around the country.
Two nights ago, Dalit leaders and activists marched through the streets of Baglung carrying torches and shouting slogans. It was a powerful sight and one that was repeated across the country, as Dalit organizations throughout Nepal were calling for proportional representation in the Constituent Assembly as well as a proportional electoral system. It is a frequent demand by minority groups, and given the particular socio-cultural context of Dalits (and other groups) in Nepal, a valid and necessary one.
For those of us unfamiliar with the Hindu religion, it is the oldest of the major religions and grips the lives of more than a billion people, almost exclusively in India and Nepal. In the west, religion is practiced on Sunday, forgotten for 6 days, and magically revived the next week at church. For Hindus, gods are personal, active in everyday life, home temples are common and most everyone has their favorite deity to whom they pray for luck, love and wealth.
Within the broader society, Hinduism divides people into castes, of which there are four. At the top are Brahmins, the priest caste representing centuries of elite; then the Chhetri (Kshatriya in India), the soldiers, who share top positions in government and jobs with the slightly elevated Brahmin. The next two are the Vaisyas or tradesmen and farmer, and then the Sudras, which do menial work or are craftspeople.
So you must be asking yourself, “Ok, then where are the Dalits?”
Below these four divisions come the Dalits or “untouchables”. They are, in fact, so low that they are outside of the caste system and are tasked with the most demeaning jobs. In some villages, more prevalent in India but also in Nepal, upper classes will not even walk in the shadow of a Dalit and much more commonly will not accept rice or water from an untouchable.
Born into their plight, Dalits, like the castes above them, are not able to transcend their position, at least not in this lifetime. If you’re karma is right, perhaps the next. But in this life, you’re born into a slot in society out of which you cannot move.
The caste system was officially abolished by the government in 1963, but in rural areas (where 80 percent of Nepalis live) it continues unfazed.
Downtrodden for centuries, the least Dalits can ask for is proportional representation in the new Nepal. They, like other disadvantaged groups, deserve nothing less.
For more information on Dalits and the amazing work that AP Fellows are doing to bring attention to the difficulty of Dalits in Nepal, direct your attention to the blogs of my two colleagues, Devin and Ted. They are working at the Jagaran Media Center in Kathmandu. You can access their blogs by clicking their names to the right.
Posted By Tassos Coulaloglou
Posted Aug 12th, 2007