A sloping piece of land by the roadside in Chinnamasta Rural Municipality-5, Saptari, is inhabited by a Dom community. Eleven families of the impoverished community, considered ‘untouchables’ by ‘higher castes’, live here on a public land. In a neglected corner lies Juktidev Marik’s ‘house’.You have to enter the three-foot square house on four limbs. This shack is permanent home for 65-year-old Juktidev. He squeezes himself to sleep every night, his feet tucked under his chin. The floor is covered with hey, which is Juktidev’s bed. A dirty blanket doubles as his bedsheet. A black plastic sheet forms the roof.
Long ago, Juktidev had a little bigger hut where he raised two daughters and three sons. Both the daughters—Pramila and Susheela—were married before they were 16. The sons separated as they grew up. The shack was left to Juktidev. Fed up with abject poverty, his wife then left him 20 years ago. Juktidev’s survival depends on the food people give him out of pity.
Juktidev, however, is not alone in this hardship. All 11 families sleep on the cold floors of their bamboo shacks. According to Jayaprakash Thakur, former chief of the ward, these families don’t even have enough to eat two meals a day.
Rita Marik lives in a similar shack, which shields her from neither wind nor rain. Ditto for Pinki Devi Marik. Likewise, Gola Marik’s five-member family lives on a shack built over a pig pen. These families live with constant fear of being drenched during rains, getting charred in summer fires, or of their homes being blown away by wind.
Landowners next to the settlement want to see these families go away. They have dug big holes near the settlement where water pools, creating the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Doms are Dalit people who go by the surnames of Mallik in Jhapa district, Bansfore or Marik in places east of Saptari, and Marik in Saptari. In Siraha and Dhanusha, they call themselves Mallik or Dom, and in Parsa they are known as Malli or Raut. According to the 2011 census, there are 13,268 Dom people in the country, and Saptari district has the largest Dom population of 1,871.
In terms of skills, all they can do is make bamboo crafts like supali, dhala, koia, and dhakiya. Although they are ‘impure to touch’, things they make are considered good enough to offer to the gods.
Manilal Biswokarma, author of ‘Condition of Dom and Mestar Castes in Nepal’, says the Dom community lags in all sectors of life. They are socially ostracized and jobless. Their traditional skills find no market. They are denied access to the country’s political process. Although there are laws to protect their rights, they face all sorts of discriminations. Lack of public awareness is largely to blame.
Devnarayan Marik of Chinnamasta-6 says: “Doms face the worst kind of caste discrimination. Treating us like other Dalits cannot solve the problem.”
The Dom people are unhappy that their issues are never debated, unlike those of other indigenous and Madhesi communities. “While people from these communities are ministers and parliamentarians, we don’t even have a ward chair anywhere,” rues Naresh Marik of Rajgadh Rural Municipality-2. “The government never thinks of this community although it is socially, economically, and politically most backward.”
As they don’t own any land, they don’t even have access to government support to build their own houses. “We have been living here for generations and yet we cannot build a house,” Juktidev says. “Our worth is less than that of a street dog”