As I read through the profiles and bios of the people I will soon be working alongside in Nepal, a surreal sense of admiration overwhelms me. As a student and advocate of human rights, I have a tendency to gravitate toward reading and watching material that showcases horrendous atrocities, civil strife, and the like; as such, I’m frequently baffled at the truly monstrous way in which some human beings inflict suffering on others. However, I live for the moments that shift that bafflement in the opposite direction – moments that leave me in awe at the level of strength and resilience that humans are capable of displaying, despite the most unimaginable circumstances of adversity. This is one of those moments.
The Dalit journalists with whom I’ll be working at the JMC have been through hell and back. Here’s just one example: a former teacher was brutally attacked – and nearly killed – merely for being a Dalit in an important professional role. After this terrifying experience, he decided to become a journalist and work to fight human rights abuses within the caste system, despite the risky and highly taxing nature of the work. In addition to suffering from economic marginalization and physical/violent abuses, Dalits are subjected to an acute level of humiliation, insult, and general dehumanization. Being forced to live a life of shame – when their only crime committed is being born into the wrong caste – is what I’d imagine to be the hardest aspect for outsiders to empathize with.
Discrimination, which can seem to be a universal human value in itself, has an unfortunately ubiquitous quality in the world (albeit with nuances in form and degree), but it is rare to find circumstances as extreme as Nepal’s in this day and age. This deeply entrenched oppression within the caste system has persisted for more than 800 years, yet Dalits continue to put up an unrelenting fight in the form of civil society activity. Given these onerous circumstances, my respect and awe of the tenacity in these individuals is inexplicable. I can only imagine how this distant admiration will solidify when I have the privilege of witnessing the JMC journalists’ courage and strength translate into action.
This trip will be my fourth major visit to a developing country, and my third to an area affected by armed conflict. By now I’ve learned to stop myself from having any expectations, or even a modicum of confidence in anticipating how life in the country will be – regardless of how much pre-departure preparation and frantic studying I do. One thing I am certain of, though, is the sensory upheaval (Kathmandu is notorious for its “sensory overload” factor) that will come in the form of new sounds, smells, tastes, sights, and in this case air pressure – as well as the brand-new perceptions, emotions, and reflections that I know the experience will bring.
I’m finding that the standard sense of feeling lost, small, insignificant, and generally awkward in a spanking-new location is growing on me. While I previously regarded this requisite initiation process as equal parts daunting and exciting, I now find that the latter outweighs the former by a long shot. The uniquely sobering and humbling effects that only fieldwork can yield have become oddly addicting – and I can’t wait to be thrown into the disorienting microcosm of this mysterious little country.
Posted By Jessica Tirado
Posted May 31st, 2009