For Dalits in many areas, the liquid necessity has also been refashioned into a highly exclusive commodity to which they do not enjoy privileges. Think about how much water you use in the course of a single day for various perfunctory activities, such as bathing, cooking, drinking, and washing household items. Imagine how toilsome it must be to have to spend hours every day lugging extremely heavy jugs of water from a community pump back to your home – which is sometimes miles away and at the top of ominously steep and rugged terrain – in smoldering heat and stifling humidity, just so that you can struggle to make do with your limited supply for the day until repeating the arduous process the morning after.
Sound rough? Now imagine having to live in a similar situation of impeded water access and poverty…but to also face the threat of torture and possible death if another villager catches you using the local tap (a likely scenario, given that such taps often provide hydration for the inhabitants of entire communities), because your touching the pump will purportedly “contaminate” the full water supply. This truly outrageous manifestation of injustice is endured throughout Nepal on a daily basis, by Dalits merely seeking to fulfill the most basic human need of obtaining water. In fact, Dalits are violently persecuted for water-related events even if they don’t touch the pump at all. JMC’s 2008 human rights monitoring report cited several cases in which Dalits were beaten on the charge that their pigs had touched public water taps used by the higher castes, and so contaminated the water supply.
So, what can be done? Much ink has been spilled and bandwidth consumed with myriad suggestions for improving Nepal’s water situation. Millions of dollars have been spent attempting to purify the once-famed Bagmati River that used to be Kathmandu City’s centerpiece. The “too many cooks in the kitchen” argument comes up from time to time, suggesting that a superfluity of unsolicited assistance coming from outside parties has ultimately fragmented sanitation efforts and further complicated matters. The importance of indigenous self-determination in the extremely controversial and contentious realm of “development” is palpable throughout Nepal, and rightly so. As aptly articulated by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Gehlek Rinpoche: “If aid comes with strings attached, the recipient becomes a puppet who has to dance according to the pull of the puppeteers.”
At the center of the self-determination issue, however, is the importance of Dalit participation in all aspects of Nepali affairs. It’s possible that one of the primary reasons why nationwide water-related issues persist is that the populations most adversely affected – i.e., Dalits and other oppressed groups – have not been given an adequate say in addressing said issues. How will it be possible for Nepal to resolve its festering social and political dilemmas without the full participation of all affected individuals? The JMC has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in this crucial debate, pushing for the increased involvement of Dalits in all aspects of the political transition and peace process – particularly the drafting of the New Nepal’s constitution.
The pressing issues of health, water, sanitation and the like highlight the importance of the democratic participation of ALL societal groups, especially at such a pivotal time in the country’s history. The recent pro-Dalit budget initiatives announced by the Finance Minister (including free education for Dalit children up to the secondary level, benefits for inter-caste married couples, and more) are an excellent start to improving Dalits’ social, economic, and political inclusion. However, strong implementation measures must be enacted to ensure that Dalits are enjoying the fundamental human rights to which they are entitled, as well as their full involvement in the administration of vital social services and public goods.
Now that these concerns are finally being debated on a public scale, new windows of opportunity are opening – and it is becoming ever more irrefutable that a cleaner, safer, better Nepal for Dalits will translate into a better Nepal for all.
Posted By Jessica Tirado
Posted Jul 23rd, 2009