There is one way down into the Dalit settlement. The sun bites the back of my neck and the sweat crawling down my forearm almost causes the camera in my hand to slip. I am nervous; I feel like a trespasser, an outsider who has come to gawk. I descend the rock staircase as two old women with bags strapped across their head pass me going up.
There are six of us today: Prakash, our JMC travel companion and friend; Prem, the Dalit reporter who has brought us here; Suhet Polhara, a local Dalit leader who we picked up along the way; our taxi driver, who for 1000 Rp has agreed to drive us the 15 kilometers to the settlement and then drive us back four hours later, Phoebe and myself. Prakash walks with our Sony A1U, Phoebe and I switch between the Sony Z1U and the Canon XTi, and Prem manages the Panasonic LX2.
Prem, who is close to my age, tells us there are 200 families living here. He is soft spoken and deliberate. He squints into the sun, the lines across his forehead hint of years of intelligent calculation. On the way to the settlement, three men riding on a trash truck yelled out and waved to him. Prakash told us later they were thanking him for an article he wrote a few weeks back. His wife is pregnant with their third child.
We speak to a man who has been here for 31 years. He tells us about the house he built from clay and bamboo, the six children he raised and the crops he grew. But I also catch some words in his diatribe like Dalit Movement, Congress Assembly and New Nepali. I wonder why he answers such simple questions as ‘what are the best crops to grow here’ with such political rhetoric. I look at us: our cameras roll from the firm ground our boots stand on. I look at him: his bare feet are submerged in the rice paddy.
Suhet and Prem take us to meet two older women resting in the shade of their hut. One woman is 80 years old. Her bones have grown old here, she says, and she’s tired. Her face is sunken, but her eyes are sharp. A heap of corn lay out in the sun beside her. She offers us water before we go, but Prem declines the offer with a smile and pressing his hands together. As we walk away, the cow next to her hut shifts in the shade.
Prem is interested in meeting a man who lost his voice a few months ago. Medical coverage, Prakash tells us, is non-existent for most of these Dalits. The man crouches on his porch while his daughter sits next to him. She watches us intently as Prem asks questions and takes notes. I gathered the man had some sort of throat cancer and couldn’t get medical attention. I wonder if his daughter will remember years from now her father talking to us about the sickness that will in all likelihood kill him. A childhood memory that seems too much like a dream. Like it could never happen.
Posted By Therkelsen
Posted Jul 8th, 2008