When I arrived in Kathmandu I began digging under rocks to find the places where the undercurrents of discrimination lay. I engaged people in conversations and would occasionally move from the topical to the substantive to understand the powerful generalizations that contribute to exploiting the Dalit.
One such conversation about educational opportunities led to the declaration of my friend that “Dalit children don’t want to go to school, they’d rather work.” I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. It sounded like such a poorly informed stereotype. Surely this was someone who simply believed Dalit children were somehow different – incapable or unwilling to pull themselves up through perhaps the only means of providing opportunity. I wouldn’t believe let myself believe this claim and was disappointed my friend would even say it.
My recent trips have led me to the sad realization that this is true in some cases. One of the Dalit children I met with the opportunity to attend school preferred washing dishes in a roadside restaurant to attending class. But there is so much more to the story that my friend did not tell me.
Schools are perhaps the chief place where Dalit children experience discrimination in Nepal. In addition to their books, many children must bring a separate mat to sit on so that they don’t contaminate the place where they sit. They are recent cases where Dalit children had been sprayed with cow urine for purification, and others were not included with non-Dalit children in cooking courses. Dalit children also suffer general neglect from instructors. One Dalit man I spoke to in a village didn’t send his children to school. Citing the neglect of his children for being Dalit, he complained that his children had been in class for 3 years, but didn’t know a single word of English. This is problematic as English is a large part of Nepali curriculum and a very important skill.
Facing such great obstacles, why would these children prefer to go to school? Many are forced with the decision of earning money to help needy families, or face a daily battle of discrimination. This complicates the idea of education as a means of eradicating caste. If the gatekeepers of knowledge subscribe to exploitative beliefs, how can schools do anything but strengthen beliefs that should be challenged? Education is an incredibly important means for empowering Nepal, and organizations should continue to do everything possible to enable children to attend regardless of caste. But there are so many facets of the educational experience that need to be addressed. Perhaps core curriculums could explore caste and its role in Nepal. Perhaps Dalits could be provided with incentives to teach. I don’t know the answers, but I’m continuing to find that this rabbit hole is very deep, and sadly, very real.
Posted By Devin Greenleaf
Posted Jul 28th, 2007