Eruption of Dalit ragePolitical parties have little interest in resolving the pressing problems of the Dalit communities.
In a metaphorical sense, the Dalit community is an active volcano that has remained dormant for hundreds of years. But now, it is likely to explode. Plenty of hot and boiling magma is gathering underneath, and the upper crust won’t be able to suppress it for long. It isn’t sure where and on what scale the lava of immense anger, deep frustrations, and discontents will start spilling out.
People say that Dalits have been fighting for their dignity and rights for over 70 years, but it is a myth. I would argue that Nepal has never seen a Dalit movement—not one that aims to truly liberate them.
I don’t mean here to discredit our brave Dalit warriors of the past decades or disown their accomplishments and achievements thus far. They did what they could under the circumstances, and Dalit lives have indeed changed in many ways. We should thank them for that. The real blame for the current conundrum goes to party politics.
It is ironic that the very political parties that helped Dalits organise and fight for their freedom in the past have now become the citadels of conservative politics that actively promote rigid Hindu cultures and customs, including, of course, caste hierarchy. They call themselves democrats or communists, but their behaviour reflects neither. At the moment, none of the parties thinks about, let alone takes any action for, structural change in society. Nobody seems bothered by the persistent problems faced by 6 million citizens on the basis of the ancient laws of Manu. None of the governments has made a substantial effort to enforce anti-caste laws and free Dalits from everyday humiliation, hatred, and violence.
We often see the unsightly pictures of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal—who in the past destroyed temples and slaughtered cows and fed beef to the Brahmins as an act of resistance on behalf of the suppressed minorities—publicly performing Hindu rites and worships. His attitude toward Dalits today seems no different from that of KP Sharma Oli, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and other upper-caste leaders. Prachanda’s actions can’t be pardoned as a mere attempt to please the voters. As the leader of the country or as an opposition leader in Parliament, he has shown no political will to change the status quo. Notwithstanding the fact that he has achieved so much, it is primarily due to the sweat and blood of the oppressed masses.
Instead, party leaders, including Dahal, have been allegedly protecting criminals involved in caste violence. Few Dalit killers go to prison. The dead body of Ajit Mijar from Kavre, who was allegedly murdered for marrying an upper-caste woman, has been languishing in the mortuary of the TU Teaching Hospital for seven years. His parents and relatives have refused to cremate the body until a proper legal investigation is reopened. But the government takes no notice of their call for justice. Nor does any party or human rights organisation!
Many party figures, including veteran communist leaders of smaller communist parties, vociferously criticise Christian conversion, but they show no interest in eradicating the Hindu beliefs and practices that perpetuate caste separation and hatred. Hindu nationalism has badly corrupted Nepali politics, even Marxist or socialist politics. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that the parties big and small, leftists and rightists, republicans and monarchists, have zero interest in resolving the pressing problems of the Dalit communities.
In the meantime, as alluded to above, the Dalit movement has lost its steam. This is because, invariably led by upper-caste Hindus, mainstream or fringe political forces have effectively appropriated the Dalit movement. Dalit leaders and activists are tightly bound to the upper castes, both organisationally and ideologically. Their role has been limited to serving their upper-caste masters to help them get elected and stay in power. Dalit activists, therefore, lack the independence and resources to rejuvenate their struggle. High-caste politicians have sapped Dalit power.
For instance, the Nabaraj BK murder in May 2020 precipitated impressive street protests in Kathmandu and some other towns. Initially, these demonstrations appeared to raise the hopes of many ordinary Dalits. But soon, their hopes were dashed when the protests collapsed. The leading cause of the failure was, as in other instances, Dalit activists’ allegiance to upper-caste politicians. As the street demonstrations became promising, party leaders pulled out the main players.
In the eyes of many Dalits, including the parents and relatives of the murder victims in West Rukum, as well as Dalit rights activists, the major parties rendered the struggle ineffective. And they, especially the Maoists, apparently played a role in derailing the legal process. Hence, there is no sign of punishing any criminals, even in this notorious case of three villagers lynching six helpless young men.
Above all, I would argue that the Dalit movement’s stranglehold is what Columbia University Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak called “epistemic violence.” The upper-caste elites totally control what Dalits know and how they know it. As a result, Dalits have been unable to generate new knowledge about their history, current situation, and possible freedom routes separate from party politics.
Even some prominent Dalit figures, for example, deny the role of religion in suppressing Dalits. There is no radical thinking on the way forward. Unsurprisingly, most Dalit activists speak the language of upper-caste politicians and simply blame lack of education, poverty, etc., for the persistent plight of Dalits. They have no clue as to how to raise the Dalit struggle in a post-monarchical, post-People’s War period.
But there is hope. This hope of a new wave of Dalit struggle arises not from the educated and relatively well off middle class but from those below. From the population that the Maoists initially sensitised and mobilised during the insurgency, but have now been forgotten by everybody.
Thousands of Dalits continue to suffer separation, verbal abuse, intimidation, beating, and rape every day. They have little experience of dignity and equality stated in law books. Most of these incidents never make it to the media, and the victims do not find support anywhere.
Thus, a potential Dalit revolution is silently brewing at the grassroots. Even many Dalits long associated with parties have been deeply frustrated. They have begun to realise that party politics alone isn’t going to solve their problems. And, importantly, there’s a growing size of young Dalits that have been educated in English medium schools and colleges, that have gained knowledge of the wider world through social media—and that haven’t yet been brainwashed by the upper-caste politicians. Seeds of true Dalit liberty are found among the common men and women.