Dalit activist Mana Bahadur BK drinks water as a non-dalit pours it in this recent picture taken in Pades village situated near Chainpur, Bajhang’s district headquarters. Photo: Republica
BAJHANG, Aug 6: Mangal Aauji of Masta Rural Municipality - 1 still remembers several bitter incidences from his childhood, where he was discriminated on the basis of his caste. He remembers how people belonging to the so-called higher caste would treat him lowly but he would fail to understand for doing so.
“I would wonder why they refused to touch us. Why they would not drink the water we touched. And why we were considered untouchables,” said Aauji. As he grew up, it dawned to him that it is not just a few people but the entire village, which believed in the caste system and classified some castes as pure and some as impure. And he found it simply ‘not acceptable’.
“I felt like rebelling against such injustice. I would feel very bad when we would be barred from entering temple or fetch water from public water taps. That was an utter injustice, inhuman. But they would not allow us to feel equal,” he reminisced.
Several years have passed since. Aauji is now married, has grown a family and living in the same society. A lot has changed in the village since then but caste discrimination remains.
“As a child, that would anger me. With time, it was something I started taking normally. But there came a time I stopped taking it normally,” he reported. “The country has been through several revolutions. There was conflict for years. Many things happened and yet if you hesitate to touch the other human being in the name of caste, that is not acceptable,” he adds.
Aauji and other people from so-called lower caste have their grievances against politicians even more whom they accuse of being hypocritical.
“Politicians act differently during elections. They show a very liberal side while canvassing for votes. But when the elections are over, they continue being rigid on adhering to caste system,” Aauji states. “Their behavior and opinion influences the behavior of the society. If they change, others will follow. But if they continue to discriminate us, caste discrimination is never going to end,” he added.
Political party leaders and cadres continue to follow the caste system and in doing so hurt the sentiments of the so-called low caste people, Aauji said. “Cadres carry their party’s flag and root for their leaders. In public speeches, politicians talk like great saints, they call for equality. However, when they step down from the dias, they continue discriminating people on the basis of their caste,” Aauji lamented.
“And once they reach their village, they are more stubborn on such things. Their attitude towards caste-discrimination is very much evident,” he noted. Locals share that caste discrimination is still very much in practice in local communities. And politicians have never kept their promises of helping eradicate the practice, they claim.
“We don’t have our say. Generally, people from the ‘upper castes’ are in the decision-making positions in politics as well. We have always remained Dalits,” Aauji said, while adding that caste discrimination is not going to end unless the Dalits are given equal share of power in politics. “They do not drink water served by members of our community. Still, they call themselves leaders,” he said adding that there are rarely any Dalits in powerful positions.
According to him, the practice of not drinking water touched by the Dalits is still widely practiced in the villages. “And that is very humiliating,” he said.
Big and small parties including Nepali Congress, Nepal Communist Party, RPP and Naya Shakti, among others, organize public awareness programs. In public, leaders from these parties preach equality citing rights guaranteed by the constitution and availed through several acts. However, their words and deeds never match, Aauji stated.
“It has been clearly written in the constitution that caste discrimination is a criminal offense. However, the leaders who share that information with their listeners while speaking on the stage, simply do not care to abide by it the moment they get off the stage,” he said. “We have always been made feel that we are the second class citizen of this country,” he added.
According to Aauja, people like him cannot do anything about the inhuman treatment they have been subjected to by the so-called upper caste people, because political parties guard them.
“We are not allowed to use public tap or enter temple. The situation is just as it was when I was a kid. We are aware that it is severe injustice, yet we cannot do anything about it,” he said. “When political parties themselves have no sense, what could be done?’ he wondered.
Caste related disputes are common in villages around here, Aauja said. When they touch public tap or visit temple, ‘lower caste’ people are verbally abused and sometimes even manhandled. According to Aauja, such matters are never settled in a justified manner.
“Two years ago, a person from my caste was beaten so severely that he nearly died. He had touched a public tap. Villagers reconciled and suppressed the issue while not even realizing that it was wrong to practice caste discrimination,” he said.
Mana Bahadur BK, another ‘low caste’ villager meanwhile added that he has never ever fetched water by himself from public taps. He has always depended on some ‘upper caste people’ for pouring water in his hands.
“Even in social gatherings, we are not given water in utensils. Water is poured on our hands so that we can drink it without touching them or the vessel,” he said. Interestingly, BK himself is a social activist and has been fighting for equality for the last 23 years. “I have been fighting for the cause for so many years, not even once I have been treated without bias by the so called upper class people,” he said.