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Expert’s Insight on Caste System of Nepal

The murder of Nawaraj B.K and four young men from Rukum shook the country. The caste- based violence that led to their deaths angered many, especially the young generation. In order to understand the issue better, a much-needed dialogue on caste-based discrimination was organized by Thames International College as a part of our Expert’s Session series.

Expert’s Session is a series where each month experts from their respective fields provide insights that allow students to learn about significant national and global issues. The first session on 12 th June 2020 was joined by Ms. Sarita Pariyar, addressing the caste system in Nepal. Ms. Pariyar is the founder of the Darnal Award for Social Justice and a board member of SAMATA Foundation, a think tank that works for the rights and dignity of Nepal's Dalits. She was born and raised in a Dalit family in Basamdi village in Makwanpur. We were also joined by political analyst, Mr. Ujjwal Prasai, columnist and former sub-editor at Kathmandu Daily and the former editor of Record Nepal. Both speakers are well known in the field of journalism and are well informed on the prevailing caste system in Nepal.

Both the experts defined the caste system in Nepal as a severe form of Human Rights violation. Recognition and respect are basic needs for every human being. Casteism denies humans the basic right to be seen and respected. A person belonging to a certain caste is bound by strict rules policing who they can touch, where they can go, who they can marry, and the jobs they can do. Growing up, Ms. Pariyar couldn’t understand how the practice of untouchability worked because the practice is hypocritical. It’s acceptable for a person from a so-called dignified caste to touch someone from a so-called lower caste if they need to, she said, but the same action has consequences if the person from the so-called upper caste had nothing to gain from it. The hypocrisy arises when people benefit from the unjust practice.

The session proceeded with an interesting question asked by one of our students, Ms. Iva Maharjan, “Does casteism happen only in rural areas?” Mr. Prasai replied, casteism happens everywhere. For instance, when eligible young people are arranged for marriage, the first thing their families from either rural or urban areas seek is caste validation. Rukum, the village where the young boys were killed, is labeled a rural area but has access to education and awareness. People have internet access, access to schools, political awareness, and have laws in place against caste-based discrimination. Why is it that we question the upholding of the caste system in urban areas, when in reality the system is set in our minds? Both experts gave examples of casteism in Kathmandu.

“What are the privileges of being a brahmin man in our society and when did you realize one could benefit from it?” was another interesting question directed to Mr. Prasai. Mr. Prasai said he was born with two privileges, being a son to a high caste Hindu family, which helped him achieve the third privilege, being able to speak and write fluently in Nepali. The education system in Nepal was and is not inclusive, especially in terms of language, he added. But his education and his friends played a significant role in helping him in recognize his privileges. It had been out of curiosity that he started reading a lot about the Dalit movements in Nepal. He learned that the label given to a certain caste as Dalit is something to be proud of, as it is not just a label but a name of a movement and a struggle. A huge part of the influence had been the protests. Had there not been any protests, the masses would’ve never been aware about the Dalit movement, so in order for us to be aware discourses, debates and discussions are a must.. Towards the end of the session, Ms. Pariyar talked about how growing up in a Dalit family affected her in both negative and positive ways. While her journey and experiences dealing with the practices of untouchability and casteism were harrowing her will to become a writer and an activist, spreading understanding about Dalit matters were positive. She wanted the public to know her side of the story. It is high time for the society to realize that each and every voice matters, especially the voices of the suppressed. A discussion on Ms. Pariyar's article – Untouchable Stories of Touchable Vaginas – was another important part of the discussion, where she further explained how the bodies of Dalit women are abused and how their sexuality is controlled. Both experts emphasized how important it is for the citizens to discuss the caste system. Emphasis should be placed on bringing about courses related to the topic into our education system, exposing students to these issues at as early an age as possible.

To conclude, the session highlighted the root causes of casteism and how they can be addressed through educational institutes that inculcate caste issues in their curriculums. The overall session was thoroughly enjoyed by the faculty and all the students, as they were able to gain insights from experts regarding the current scenario of casteism in Nepal.

Watch full video of the session