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A Struggle to Overcome Discrimination in Nepal
A Struggle to Overcome Discrimination in Nepal
My name is Dhan Bahadur Pariyar. I was born 35 years ago into an untouchable-caste family. I live with my 65-year-old father Mate, my 70-year-old mother Mangali, wife Suk Maya and Subash, who is 7.
When I was young, my family grew crops on our land, which was less than half an acre and could only meet our food needs for three months of the year. I left school in the fifth grade to earn money so that we could eat for the other nine months.
Because I had been born into a lower caste, I was discriminated against my entire life. When I was 7, upper-caste people scolded me when I tried to drink water from a village water tap. I was surprised.
How had I become untouchable?
What sort of person am I who cannot touch a public water tap? When I asked my parents, they also told me that we should not touch the water tap.
At the age of 17, I went to Kathmandu in search of a job. I joined the army, where I spent almost seven years. I was discriminated against there too. After the army, I returned to my village and then went to India to find a job. There, I worked in a private company for two years. After that, I once again came back to my village, and I took up my ancestral profession, tailoring.
There are many Dalit families, who are known as the untouchables, in my village that are even poorer than my family. Most children in these families do not go to school, and of those that do, many drop out after the fourth or fifth grade.
Our village lacked a sense of harmony and support. It was very dirty, and many people died from disease. Despite being less than a mile from a main highway, the village lacked basic infrastructure. I wanted to find a way to move our community ahead, but I felt helpless.
The Middle Marshyandgi Hydroelectric Project was under construction nearby, but no one, including me, could get a job because we lacked the necessary skills. To make matters worse, we, the poorest people in the area, were also exposed to the negative impacts of the project.
Meantime, CARE had started a program in our area called SAGUN. Its main objective was to help poor communities benefit from nearby hydroelectric projects and mitigate their negative effects. At first, I was left out of this program as well. Then, our village was selected to run a non-formal education course aimed at building the capacity of the poor, including Dalits and women. In April 2004, 30 participants were chosen for this program, which ran twice a week for 24 weeks. After one session, I put forward a proposal to form a community group to ensure the welfare of Dalits. Along with other participants, I helped form an organization called Dalit Utthan Ekata Samaj (Dalit Uplifting Unity Society) in January 2005. A total of 23 people joined the group, and I was selected chairperson!
I had the chance to participate in various capacity-building training programs sponsored by CARE, which exposed me to issues of rights, gender and caste. The organization I helped form was able to raise awareness about discrimination. Now, upper-caste people do not scold me for using the village water tap; instead, we sit together and drink water from the same pot. We can enter the same local temples to pray. Women and girls have learned about their basic rights, and the community is no longer exploited as much by those who are working on the hydropower project.
Our group is now part of a larger group of local organizations that work with communities affected the hydroelectric project. In April 2005, I was selected as joint secretary of this association, and since then I have been working even harder to raise the issue of Dalit welfare. My participation in various forums increased drastically, including a district-level forum organized by CARE to resolve issues affecting the hydropower developer, government agencies and nearby communities. I have also been selected as a Dalit representative to the concern and coordination committee of the National Federation of Hydropower Projects.
I used to be unable to voice my concerns. Now, I can discuss issues very confidently on the local, district or national level. This all is because of CARE.
The organization I helped form has started cleaning our village road regularly as well as performing maintenance work, when needed. In coordination with Nepali nonprofit, we are implementing income-generating activities for 23 members of our group – raising goats and growing ginger – and non-formal education courses. In addition, we've helped form local groups for women and children. We've done a lot. Eight Dalits began poultry farming. Community conflicts have been reduced substantially. And more.
I am very happy to have been able to change the face of our village and to help raise awareness of Dalit socio-economic issues. Today, I have a dream of mobilizing hydropower revenue to improve Dalit livelihoods.
For the rest of my life, I will remember how CARE has helped me.