Stifled Aspirations: Dalits in Contemporary Nepal
In the past two years, I have visited Dalit communities in 30 districts across the length and breadth of Nepal, from Taplejung in the far east to Dadeldhura in the far west. I have interacted with thousands of Dalits in both urban and rural areas. Based on on-site observations and interactions, I present an analysis of Dalit’s current socio-economic situation and the status of their freedom struggle. Dalit lives have been changing quite fundamentally in recent years, and two issues stand out as crucial contributing factors to that change: 1) The impact of international labour migration; and 2) The spread of Christianity and its proxy, Sachchai. Growing numbers of Dalit youths, like others, now work in Gulf countries and Malaysia, and their remittances have not only lifted their families out of absolute poverty, but also reduced their dependency on upper castes for livelihood. Moreover, the church has, to some extent, challenged the traditional Hindu beliefs and practices of untouchability. This has been achieved silently, through radically different religio-cultural traditions that do not value caste separation. I argue that these positive changes, among others, in a democratic republic have increased Dalit assertion at the grassroots level. But political parties, that once proclaimed to have fought for caste equality, have stifled Dalit aspiration for dignity and equality.