Friday, March 15, 2002

A question of identity: To be or not to be a ‘Dalit’

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, March 14 [2002] : Dozens of underprivileged communities known as "Dalits" have been fighting for their basic rights since a long time, and this goes back even to the Panchayat era.

But in this long drawn fray, it seems like some powers-that-be want to bring in those subjects who do not even want to be called Dalits, leave alone even being known as one.

A recently tabled Dalit Commission Bill of 2058 defines 24 marginalised communities as Dalits. Among them, four Newar communities - namely the Khadgis, Kasais, Podes and Chaymes - are also included in the list.

However, these communities deny that they are Dalits. They say they prefer to compete in society rather than ask for reservations from the government. Community leaders from these groups have now warned of stern protest actions if they are not withdrawn from the list.

Shyam Krishna Khadgi, the general secretary of Nayaa Khadgi Samaj Nepal, said they have been asking the Dalit Committee to eliminate their names from the list but nobody seems to bother.

"If some like to take advantage of being Dalits, we don’t mind. But since we don’t want to be so, we strongly demand that the government take out our names and let us live and be a part of the competition with life," Khadgi urged.

He said that though there are complicated divisions within the Newar system, it is different from the system of casteism and untouchability, so they must not be treated on the same terms.

"Where the goldsmiths in the Hindu system are untouchables, they are like priests in ours. Those that the government consider as Dalits are priest in many temples of the Kathmandu Valley. They cannot be taken as untouchables who are not allowed into temples," said Khadgi.

Khadgis, Chayame (or the Deulas) are priests of many temples like that of Taleju, Guheshoari, Bhadrakali, Maitidevi, Indrayani and many more.

Similarly, Shiva Hari Deula, the Chairperson of Deula Society Nepal, said that all citizens have obtained equal rights after the restoration of democracy in 1990, and the whole concept of Dalit itself is illegal.

"We thought that all citizens are equal in democracy but still, there are people who want to keep the idea of discrimination alive and the term known as ‘Dalit’ is their own creation." he said.

The four communities have united to continue their protest and other community organisations have expressed their solidarity to have the names of Khadgis, Kushles, Podes and Chaymes withdrawn from the list of so-called deprived communities.

Chairman of the Nepal Bhasa Mankaa Khalaa, Padma Ratna Tuladhar said that the voice of the concerned four communities are the biggest evidence that they are not Dalits.

"In democracy, nothing should be imposed upon anybody. It would have been something different if they agreed, but the voices are coming from their side, the government must listen to them."

The vice-chairman of the Committee for Upliftment of Deprived Communities (CUDC), Prof. Man Bahadur BK said that the Committee does not have any rights to change the list at the moment, but he said he could empathize with the issue.

"All people in a democratic state have rights to name themselves as they like. If the whole community thinks that they should not come under the banner of ‘Dalits’, they can stay away," said BK.

Joint-secretary at the Ministry of Local Development, Surya Sharan Regmi said that any community should not be called Dalits against their will.

"Some delegations have visited me. We will certainly withdraw their names after we are convinced that it is really the voice of the whole community," he said.
[Kathmandu Friday March 15, 2002 Chaitra 02, 2058. ]