UNTOUCHABILITY: HOW LONG WILL IT PREVAIL?

- B. K. Rana Everyone aspires for self-respect, independence, equality, and justice against all sorts of prejudice, discrimination, oppression, exploitation, hatred and insults based on caste, religion, colour, gender etc. But the situation is sadly different for the people of South Asia, and Nepal is not an exception. South Asian countries are beset with superstitious beliefs and orthodox traditions. Many people in Nepal suffer from social evils, and are therefore impelled to live a miserable life. In some situations, they are treated no better than animals. An animal is worshipped on different religious occasions, whereas some humans are treated as untouchables in society. Having remained segregated under different caste names such as Sarki, Kami, Damai, Gaine, Chamar, Dushadh, Halkhor, Mushahar, Pasi, Teli etc. and some other Nepalese untouchable groups of peoples have now realized the need for coming forward and fight against injustice under the banner of Dalits. This has offered them a sense of solidarity in their struggle for social justice and respect. By and large, the case with Dalits in Nepal is different than it is in India. There is an admixture of different people of different origins and cultures in most of the Nepalese societies. The formative processes of these societies have been determined by Hindu ethical values. Having received highest priority and profound admiration from the state, both the people of Indo-Aryan descent and Hindu culture had been and still today are able to gain a firm ground on Nepalese soil resulting in the gradual decline of the people of other origins and cultures. Prejudiced as it has remained so far, the state eventually has promoted a fashion of mono-culturalism and dismissal of other indigenous identities in the country. Hinduism thus became more than a religious faith and practice but it came up as a polity that disfavored human values and social justice. Over the years, several corrections have been made in the Hindu polity only to serve the interests of the socalled ‘upper caste’ people. As the country has quite diverse and extreme topographical and climatic conditions, the caste hierarchy here is even more diverse and extreme. The stratified caste hierarchy

has been the main basis for Hinduism. In caste culture under which one’s own brothers are regarded as Shudras – the so-called ‘lowest caste’ peoples who are also known as ‘untouchables’. The practice of untouchability in the Hindu caste system can be viewed as one of the major causes for underdevelopment of Nepal. Similarly a vaster size of population in other South Asian countries such as India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan has also been facing more or less the same types of problems of discrimination and social injustice either on the grounds of descent or cultural traits. Caste Culture & Its Impact: For ages, Nepal has been a common home to the people of different origins and cultures. Generally speaking, at least three different types of people make up Nepali nation: i) people in four-class Hindu varnasaharam – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, ii) ethnic people speaking their own mother tongues and having their own cultures and, iii) others from different religious beliefs. The collective identity of these people is the ‘Nepalese people’ as stated in the Constitution. Therefore, there should be no difficulty in distinguishing Hindus, whereas ethnic people are known by their origin or descent rather than by their culture and nationality only. These people are also known as Janajatis (indigenous people or nationalities) of Nepal. Dalits fall in the classical Hindu Shudra category and the ethnic people are also not necessarily recognized and placed above Shudras. Psychologically weakened, and with little or no resources of their own, such socially oppressed people have not been able to better their economic conditions. The Civil Code of 1854 recognized nationalities as the ‘pani chalne’ (water touched by them will be acceptable) Shudras and put them above Dalit Shudras on the social ladder. This new stratification also forced Dalits to further suffer from another group of people, apart form Hindus. Slowly but surely, Dalits are coming together and fighting for their rights. This sort of social movement is expected to strengthen solidarity of the nation and promote socio-economic development in the country. So long as this social discrimination continues to prevail, the country cannot develop, socially and economically.

The Kathmandu Post
Kathmandu Magh 07, 2058.

[Sunday January 20, 2002]

http://www.nepalnews.com.np/contents/englishdaily/ktmpost/2002/jan/jan20/features.htm