The plight of untouchables (Giri Bahadur Sunar Op-ed in My Republica).
I still remember that bad day when I took part in the puja ceremony along with other kids near my house. Suddenly some people started kicking, slapping, and rebuking me with abusive words while sparing other kids. I did not understand the reason behind the abuse and ran home with fear.
I approached my mother and cried, holding her hand. My mother asked me what had happened. "Who beat you?" "What mistake did you commit?" "Who tore your clothes?" She threw questions at me like missiles. I was robbed of speech and had no idea how to answer. Even my mother started crying along with me after seeing my swollen face and bleeding nose.
I told my mother that I had gone to the village along with kids to participate in a special worship ceremony and to offer the flower to the god as other kids did but I was beaten black and blue. My mother then explained to me that we belonged to the untouchable caste. We are neither allowed to participate in the puja ceremony with them nor allowed to hear the holy mantras uttered by the Brahmins during the puja. We are outsiders and pariahs, she told me.
I did not understand my mother at that time. Some months later at school, I was beaten up by some upper caste fellow students when I inadvertently touched their tiffin box. I went to the principal to complain about their misbehavior but he told me that I should not touch their Tiffin box because they belong to the upper caste. I should sit on a separate bench and avoid such a mistake in the future. I should not even drink water from the same jar available in the office room. Since that day, I have realized that I am an untouchable who is not allowed to participate in a social ceremony along with the upper caste people.
I want to share another secret. A girl from the upper caste fell in love with me and I had a live-in relationship with her. We gave birth to a baby but now I have no rights as the father of the child. I ask for my rights but my partner threatens of charging me in the case of woman abuse. How can I be an abuser of women by asking my rights as a father? She knew my caste and family background before having physical relations with me but now she has a problem in giving my surname to the baby because my surname belongs to the untouchable caste.
Sometimes I ask myself why some people are regarded as upper caste whereas I belong to the lower one. Doesn't similar blood run in our veins? Personally, I have saved many lives of upper caste people by donating my blood. But see their hypocrisy; they don't accept the water that I have touched whereas they are happy to sip cow urine for their holy business. They buy household products built by untouchables but they wouldn't allow an untouchable to enter their houses.
Because of constant humiliation at the hands of upper caste people, I am filled with hatred and anger toward them. Sometimes I feel like changing my religion. Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar (an untouchable who drafted the Indian constitution) had converted many Indian untouchables into Buddhism. But I have no interest in organized religion. Rather I opt for individual spirituality.
I frequently debate with my upper-caste colleagues regarding the issue of untouchability. They tell me, "Caste discrimination exists within the untouchables. First remove it and then talk with us". To this I reply, "Who made the code of conduct and enforced the law? It's the upper caste people. They planted the seed of discrimination and now it's their responsibility to uproot it."
These days everyone talks about new Nepal. What novelty is there, I ask! Still, I am not allowed to enter a temple if upper caste people know about my caste. Still, I have to clean my plate and cup if I have to eat or drink in the restaurant owned by an upper caste in my village. It is hard to get a room or flat in Kathmandu if the house owners know that the tenant is untouchable. I haven't seen any priest in a Hindu temple from the untouchable group. Still, there is a nominal representation of the lower caste group in bureaucracy and politics. Social inclusion and positive discrimination are there only in paper.
I want to love everyone equally without any discrimination based on color, caste, ethnicity, religion, and geographical boundaries but deep down I harbor intense hatred against the upper caste people as they have negative attitudes toward untouchables. Educated untouchables are deprived of opportunities. Untouchables are not promoted to a higher position as if a higher position is secured only for the upper caste people.
I don't mean that all upper caste people are caste supremacists. There are some liberal people too but they are worth nothing because they believe that untouchables have to fight their problem themselves.
Because of age-old discrimination, Dalits like me have developed an inferiority complex. We believe that we are good for nothing. Upper caste people can't feel our pain because only the wearer knows where the shoe pinch. I request all upper caste people not to discriminate against us. I expect them to treat us as fellow humans. We are as capable as you are and need the opportunity to show our caliber.
The author is a martial artist, meditation practitioner, and sociologist girithejorba@gmail.