Tuesday, July 14, 2020

My ramblings on caste-based discrimination in Nepal: We can and must do more to eradicate this poison of our society.

One of the most astonishing images I have seen  is the "pale blue dot" picture of Earth that the Voyager 1 took from Pluto's orbit before leaving the solar system to march into the unknown, the deep space. It take's 4.2 years for the light to reach us from our nearest neighbor. We are a small blue dot in our own solar system, I can't imagine how insignificant we are in the universe, or the multiverse. I am not a believer by any means, and even if there is a Creator and God (or Gods in our Hindu mythology), imagine the wait for justice to George Floyd. The human species that populate this pale blue dot may not mean much to the 'God(s)', as the centuries of injustice still grapples the human species.

From Republica


Color of our skins. Our Genders. Our Religions. Our Castes. How many more ways do we need to separate from one another, feel superior, humiliate each other, kill each other. As the world unites in the protest against the murder of George Floyd with the chants of "Black Lives Matter", I can't help but think about the centuries of discrimination that has marginalized and suffocated the people of "Lower caste" in Nepal. I don't really know how and when the discrimination began in our society to be exactly sure, probably 'Manu Smriti' as it often is with all the things that is wrong with our culture. Discrimination based on the Jobs people did was the basis of all. Now, the Jobs are traditionally laden to certain surnames, and so is the discrimination. Almost 50,000 years of human civilization, and we are just learning to be tolerant of another human. Or at least some of us, hopefully, many of us.


The last month or so, two incidents from Nepal on the same day were atrocious : Nabaraj Bika and Angira Pasi.  Caste based discrimination, violence are so endemic in our culture that a lot of these atrocities barely stay in the newspapers for more than a side column inch until it happens again not to many days later. I always considered myself as someone to not discriminate human being based on race, ethnicity, caste, religion and all other things that divides us. However, those incidents, especially after the awakening of the world following George Floyd's murder, made me question myself "is this enough?" Is being tolerant and not discriminating people based on differences in the race, color of our skin, religion and cast enough? Why can't I do more, why can't we do more, so that we don't have to hear any more stories like that of Rukum and Rupandehi?


"Everyone says your curd is delicious, I wish I could have some", Thuldidi said to my Grandmother. I was a little kid and remember asking my Grandfather,"Why can't she have the curd, you give it to everyone in the neighborhood". I couldn't comprehend why a "Darjee" couldn't take curd from a "Khatiwada's" house. I hated that every time Sunil came to my house, I couldn't take him to my room. I also remember Gyanu sir having lunch with us, in our kitchen in a few years. Things changed, but not everything. You can fall in love, but don't fall in love with a girl from 'Pani Nachalne jaat', I was surprised when my mum said to me recently. Turned out she was worried more about Priests not allowing her 'daughter in law' in the funeral proceedings and the bad mouth and boycotts form people in the society.   Budathoki Aama still hasn't stopped saying, "that kaami can change his name to Bi ka, but he will always be Biswakarma", and Thuldai still waits at the end to pray in that temple on Shivaratri. Not everyone believes in 'everyone is equal', and just knowing that by yourself just isn't enough anymore.


We have been bound with this the deception of discrimination for all these years. Nabaraj and Angira, and so many of us are still preyed like second class citizen., a stupid stupid sense of false narcissism.  I can't be afraid to follow what my heart wants just because an aunt or a priest might decides so. Sunil can come inside my house if he wants to. Thuldidi can taste the curd that we make. I don't have to think of Gyanu sir dining with us as a special occasion. I might have succeeded in changing how my family and friends think, I might even be able to sway Budathoki Aama if I had tried. Will the priest allow 'a lower caste daughter in law' be part of 'upper caste in law's' funeral? Will Thuldai stop standing last in the queue to offer Shivaratri prayers in the temple in our village. Getting root of centuries of discrimination is certainly not easy, and it takes much more than one informed person. For the many of us who strongly believe that all humans are equal to each other, how many us have asserted those beliefs to our family, our friends, our neighbors? How many us have actually stood up to the 'traditionally discriminating' uncles and aunt? Or, been able to tell Thuldai, you don't have to stand last in the line?


It took me one hundred and twenty eight generations of Khatiwada to reach to the point where I am today. What makes a man or women who earns his/her living with her works, be it, sewing, iron-works, cleaning, offering prayers, making shoes, butchering be respected any more or less. Why is allowing the daughter of a tailor in the funeral of a great-granddaughter of a 'used-to-be priest' such a taboo that my mother has to consider what the neighbors might think before considering what I might feel? As horrible as the murder or Nabaraj and his friends was, I was confounded with this terrible sense of normalcy. After all, you keep hearing similar incidents months in, months out in the media. Why does a life of 'Bahun' matters more than a 'Dalit' life till this day?


We have come a long way from the past generations, it is "illegal' to discriminate anyone based on religion, gender, caste, culture or race according to our constitution. Has the law worked? Certainly Not. Will the law work? The society is deep-rooted in centuries of oppression and supremacy that it will take time. How long? Hopefully next generation or soon. Haven't we waited long enough already?  It’s gradual process. My parents were able to invite Gyanu sir for lunch in our place and stopped there. They pushed for the change, and left the onus on us to actually change. I cannot shove the change to the future generation.  Being conscious about inequality is not enough, if we can keenly or rationally  turn a blind eye to everything that is going on around us.


I am not afraid to stand up to my mother every time she brings up 'what society thinks', and you should not have to ask 'what's your religion?' or 'what's your surname?' before knowing whom he/she is. It took all these years to  reach to this generation of us, at the doorstep of an equal, undiscriminating society. We are more informed now than at any point in the human history now, why can't we stand up for what's right? Why do we keep rooting for another year or generation to end all forms of inequality. If anyone can, it's only us. Change begins with one, and ends when things truly change. Let's not wait any more years and generations for the things to truly change. About time we learn how to start fighting for what really matters. Do we really want to stay silent and be the 'discriminating' aunt and uncles that our kids will hate, or do we want to grow in a tradition that treats everyone equally.


To all the mythical and real things keeping an eye on this pale blue dot called planet earth, we are not hopeless. We can be better. Together. Not as Bahuns or Dalits. As Nepali. As Humans.