Less than a week to go until I arrive in Nepal and I’m very excited, as well as a bit nervous and intimidated. I am going to Kathmandu to work at a local non-governmental organization, the Jagaran Media Center (JMC), that works on caste-based discrimination issues. The organization advocates on behalf of Dalits, also known as Untouchables, who are persecuted and discriminated against on the basis of their status in the caste system.
So who am I and why am I going there? I am a graduate student at Georgetown University, working towards a Masters degree in International Affairs and Development. I am going to Nepal this summer so that I can learn as much as possible from these amazing human rights advocates who have been doing such incredible work in the midst of extremely difficult and challenging circumstances. In the process, I hope to be able to contribute to JMC’s work and the fight for equality for Dalits.
Before leaving for Nepal, I’m working hard to identify and acknowledge my own biases and prejudices so that I can approach my time and work in Nepal with as much of an open mind as possible. I’m far from an expert on Hinduism, but my perspective as an outsider instinctively tells me that the caste system is wrong.
This is something I am working hard to acknowledge from the start, because even if this is true, I know that as a young American women I don’t fully understand the complicated nature of the caste system. If I’m not careful, my bias will only cause me to jump to conclusions and judge others. Despite my own personal beliefs about the caste system, I know that approaching any problem or issue with an attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong,” will not get me very far.
It’s important to remember that the caste system is religiously based, making the issues extremely complicated and highly sensitive, with no simple solution. As such, my first challenge in Nepal is to try and understand the subtleties of the caste system and the complicated and ingrained beliefs that are a part of it. Solutions won’t be found by judging and dismissing those who believe in the caste system, but rather by working to understand both the history and foundation of the caste system. This is vital to fighting a system of belief that has been around for thousands of years.
So, wish me luck as I undertake a new adventure. Contrary to my father’s recent comments to me along the lines of “it’s been nice knowing you,” I will be in touch, so come back and read my blog if you’re interested in seeing how everything turns out.
Posted By Stacey Spivey (Nepal)
Posted May 26th, 2006