Yesterday marked two-weeks in country and it is not lost on me that I’ve yet to blog at length about the very reason I am here – Dalits and caste-based discrimination. The fact is I don’t quite know how to approach an issue that is all but invisible to a foreign eye. Sure I’ve read extensive reports documenting how so many provide proof of their antiquated view that Dalits are second-class citizens, by denying them basic human rights… but part of me needs to gain personal entrance into the problem.
What’s more, I live in Kathmandu – a large city where social divisions based on caste becomes even more difficult to detect. Though I work at an organization that is comprised almost completely of Dalits, I cannot grasp how this group of people could be categorized differently than anyone else I’d meet on an average day. They cannot be grouped according to physical characteristics as they have many, they don’t share religious norms at odds with the majority, and they have not moved here as immigrants from far off lands. Instead, they are extraordinarily normal apart from their individiual talents, exceptional intellect, and incredible devotion.
I am picking up on subtle differences in Nepali culture. For instance, when meeting someone for the first time they give you their first and last name in even the most informal of settings. Last names are demarcations of caste and therefore part of the introduction process. But I get the feeling that the system is so engrained in the culture that it is impossible for those that I meet to know or be able to impart on me every facet of life to which it pervades. Maybe I can’t understand… But I want to and I really need to.
Truthfully, as an outsider my distance from the heart of the issue has been a source of apprehension since I arrived. I’ve been wracking my brain on how I can get closer so that I can begin to comprehend what it is I’m supposed to be fighting. But do you need to witness something to know it exists? Do you really need a personal connection to know something is inherently wrong? Perhaps I’ll never get as close to this issue as part of me feels I need to right now… only time will tell.
Posted By Devin Greenleaf
Posted Jun 19th, 2007