Monday, August 2, 2021

Room for Dalits

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Jayalal Budha, 60, of Natikhola in Himali Rural Municipality-2, Bajura has been residing outside the village for the last six years because he had offered drinking water to a Dalit guest inside his house. A Dalit family at Sirampati in Panchkhal Municipality-7, Kavre district did not get shelter in Kriyaputri Bhawan (dedicated mourning public place) because of her caste. Kalu Devi Bishwokarma, Member of Parliament at the lower house, representing Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal from Kailali district, did not get rented apartment in Koteshwor, Balkumari, New Baneshwor, and Shantinagar in Kathmandu. According to her, most of the house owners asked her name and caste and finally rejected her with different types of excuses.

Such news is frequently appearing in national newspapers. Dalit people experience difficulties finding rented shelter in the capital city Kathmandu. The case of Rupa Sunar, a media worker, and Saraswati Pradhan, landlord at Babarmahal, Kathmandu is becoming a hot issue.

Why do so-called upper caste people not want to have any connection with the untouchables? Why are untouchables compelled to sit at a distance from the higher castes? How did such a discriminatory system emerge? To answer this question, I had some theological reading for my research proposal and came to know that such a system does not emerge automatically in Hindu society. The mastermind to establish such a system was Manusmriti and other Hindu religious scriptures. I still give benefit of doubt to Manu because I found some good kinds of stuff as well in Manusmriti. How could Manu-like mind go against Shudra (untouchable)?

According to Manusmriti, chapter-II, verse: 2: “The Brahmin should never invite persons of other varnas for food. In case the latter begs the Brahmin for food, the Brahmin may give them some left-over. Even these left-over must be served not by the Brahmin but by his servants outside the house.” To know more in detail, I conducted some discussions on the topic and the scientific reason for discrimination and the issues of shelter (rental room) with the so-called upper caste respondents. Most of the so-called upper caste respondents told me that Dalits are not neat and clean so Dalits do not deserve to eat and drink with them and sit together.

The answer sounds very illogical to me. I have observed many dirty Brahmin priests in the yard of Pashupatinath temple with long nails, stinking socks, and dirty dress offering tika and smoking cigarette with the same hand, and offering prasad to the spiritual seekers. Most of the Dalits were found cleaner than the so-called upper caste people. Despite that, Dalits are always treated as untouchable and unclean. Yes, Dalits could be seen unclean when they were in their workshop, working with metal, leather, and cloth stitching, and so on. There is no point in cleaning and it will not change anything.

I am an untouchable, it was not my mistake to born as untouchable. I got this tag of untouchable from my birth. I am an educated and clean man but still I am regarded as a Dalit by so-called upper-caste people. Still, I am not allowed to get into the upper-caste house in my rural home, not allowed to touch the water jar even if mistakenly.  

Let’s have a look at how Muluki-Ain 1854 (then legal code of Nepal) had conditioned the Nepali society. According to the heading under “Madyapan Achhuti” (Chapter: alcohol drinking and untouchability) under Article 13, Page no 170, “If an untouchable knowingly enters the ground floor or the attic (tala kotha) of a house where someone of the pure caste is about to prepare a meal, the house has to be purified (Chokyauni); the untouchable is to be fined and is also liable to afford compensation for whatever he has touched (Chut lagnya wastuko bigo).”

The Muluki Ain 1854 mentioned that Dalits are not allowed to get into the house of the so-called upper caste people. Why is so? 

To know the answer, I did observe the structure of the houses in rural and urban areas. In the rural area, no matter whether the house belongs to the upper caste or the lower caste, most of the houses have a single entrance on the ground floor. The ground floor is made for multiple purposes like kitchen, dining, guest, bed, worshipping, including study and attic is for storing grains and other things. My observation concluded that household structures of the rural area are congested and it became more complicated to give entrance to untouchable due to the strict guidance based on “Hindu Dharma-shastra”. But what about city dwellers or landlords? They have multiple rooms for various purposes, still they hesitate to give rented room to the untouchable.

According to Mohan Prasad Dhakal, 55, “It is stupidity to blame a Brahmin. Hundreds and thousands of Dalits are residing in Kathmandu city for jobs, higher education, and politics. All those Dalits are getting rented shelter and residing in Kathmandu city. Yes, there could be some exception which should not be generalized to blame the whole upper caste community. If anyone discriminates against the Dalits then it is wrong. Such house owners should be imprisoned based on the state law. Regarding taking to Dalits to my kitchen and worship place, this is my privacy, this is my choice and I am the owner of my house”.

I had an interview with another house owner Deependra Pokhrel, 48, “Yes, I will give rented room to Dalits if they come to my home. I get money from rent-seekers; it is not for free. It is like a business of mine. Anybody can get rented shelter at my home but they must pay rent on time and must maintain peace at home. If I feel good then I will have good relation with the Dalits guest as well, I can eat with them, invite their family to my kitchen, and share food. I will not discriminate against them. It is shameful that some people still practice caste system and discriminate Dalits”.

Similarly, I had an interview with Sumitra Thapa, 36. According to her, “Right now, I have no empty room. Once I have it, I am ready to give it for rent. I do not discriminate against people based on caste. Regarding taking them to my kitchen, I must ask my in-laws. They belong to the old generation and I must respect their choice. My husband is abroad. We both and our children do not discriminate. Hopefully, during our children's time, such question will not be raised anymore”.

I got a mixture of answers from secondary and primary sources of data. The result of the interview shows that so-called upper caste house owners are ready to give shelter to the Dalit people except for some reservations like taking Dalits into their kitchen and worship room. 

When I compare the then social system and present scenario, I can clearly say that change is occurring. The then situation and present situation are not the same. In many cities in Nepal, some house owners are earning their living by renting out their home, room, and flat. It is their business. Where there is business, it is rare to find cases of discrimination based on caste. Few exceptional cases are reported in media. Those who are discriminating against Dalits are not modern people though they use all modern gadgets. The outer modern outfit does not determine the inner modernity.  

Giving rented room or not is the choice of house owner but if it is decided based on the identification of rent-seekers' caste, then this becomes a discrimination. Such discrimination should be punished according to the provision stated on “Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offense and Punishment) Act, 2068 (2011) of Nepal.

The old Hindu social designer Manu is physically dead, but ghost of Manu is still hovering. It must be exterminated scientifically, otherwise it will continue haunting the modern society.

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Published on 29 June 2021

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