A village at a distance of 14 km from the headquarters of Baglung, a district in the western hills, has been practicing an extreme form of exclusion where dalits and non-dalits do not attend each other’s social functions, including weddings and funerals. Dhamja of Kathekhola-3 rural municipality, a community long reputed for its religious diversity, is now completely divided. Local resident Bhabilal BK says that in the past two months, the dalits and non-dalits of the village of Asauje have even stopped talking to each other. The locals trace the origin of the problem to a wedding ceremony of a non-dalit family. Some members of this family apparently objected to the presence of an inter-caste couple in the ceremony, following which all attending dalit members boycotted the event.
Before that villagers used to attend wedding ceremonies and funerals together. But they have stopped inviting each other now. And even if they receive an invitation from another community, they don’t accept it.
“My daughter got married last week. I’d invited the whole village, but no one from the so-called upper caste Bistas attended the wedding,” says BK. “In fact they made a collective decision not to accept a dalit’s invitation. I had made a special request to the elders of that community and had told them that I would make a separate dining arrangement for the non-dalit community. Still no one came,” rued BK. Despite claims that caste-based discrimination here is on the wane, separate dining arrangements for dalits and non-dalits at feasts and festivals are now common.
Not only during celebrations, but the two communities have begun shunning each other even on sensitive occasions like funerals. When the wife of Rana Bahadur BK passed away, no one from the non-dalit community attended the funeral. Another local Amar Bahadur Srisha says that caste-based discrimination has wrecked social harmony and unity in the village. “Our ancestors lived amicably with each other, but now there has been a decisive rift in social harmony,” argues Srisha.
Buddhi Bahadur BK, another local resident, asks heatedly who’s going to speak up against such injustice. “The dalit community has been oppressed for years. We won’t stay silent anymore,” says a visibly angry BK.
“At a time when there is widespread talk of the decline in caste-based discrimination, such cases shock us,” says ward chairman Yam Bahadur Srisha. “Discrimination is firmly entrenched, and taking on a more insidious form,” says Srisha. “Discrimination won’t be stamped out by laws only. A change in attitude is necessary.”