After the Rukum massacre, which resulted in the lynching of six Dalit youths, caste-related questions are again getting space in our public forums. Literates, illiterates, scholars, youths, old-age people, everyone is debating them. This is good as it will help more people know about the society’s bitter reality.
Following the killings of Navaraj BK and his friends in Rukum, I conducted a small survey of around 150 college-going youths to find out their views on caste. All seven provinces were represented. They responded via email, Facebook messenger, and Viber. I asked each: ‘What is caste?’, and ‘Are you going to have an inter-caste marriage’ (as BK wanted to do)? To the first question, the majority said caste was an artificial construct and that all men and women are equal. The second question, however, seemed to confuse them. They didn't answer spontaneously.
After a few minutes they said they would not go against their parents’ wishes. In addition, they would by themselves opt for intra-caste marriages over inter-caste ones. Now we can see the real face of our youth. They say all humans are equal and yet they are reluctant to marry out of their caste. They would rather happily stick to their old castes, creeds, and traditions.
Dalits and non-Dalits may be boyfriends and girlfriends, but when it comes to marriage, it’s still a no-no. This is the thought process of our revolutionary youths. It indicates a big gulf between their words and action; it is easy to lecture but difficult to practice what you preach. Rather hypocritically, our youths are simply not interested in fighting a noble cause they supposedly believe in.
Generally, the introductions in our society start with first name, and end with caste and clan. People love this process, as others are quickly categorized as mama, dai, bandhu, or whatever their caste conventions dictate. In Hindu, society caste is your primary identity.
It doesn’t matter whether you are educated or not. Most people continue to deeply identify with their castes. Even our prime minister is obsessed with his caste. That’s why he appends two high-caste surnames to his name. Apparently, the communists have no religion, but clearly not here in Nepal. They give speeches on casteism as a debased system and yet they continue to practice it. The prime culprit of the Rukum massacre is also a communist.
Renowned scholars have written many poems, stories, novels and books on social equality and cultural emancipation. In the western world, James Baldwin has done a lot to champion the cause of Black folks. Similarly, in Nepal the great poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota wrote about caste in his play “Muna Madan”, where he says people become great through their deeds and not through their castes. But who listens to wise men like him?
Everybody in Nepal read this play during their school college and university days. They even wrote long essays on it, denouncing the caste system, in their exams. But, again, very few of them would have practiced what they wrote.
Sadly, our people, society and our lifestyle in Nepal continues to be dominated by a caste-based thinking to a large extent, hollowing out the concept of common humanity we all like to espouse. The Hindu Varna system divides people. As a result, even though all of us are made of the same flesh and blood, we continue to be arbitrarily labelled and discriminated against. Nor, as we see, is this kind of outdated casteist thinking limited to old folks. Today’s youths are as infected by it.