Almost a year ago I wrote about the Nepal Padayatra 2019, the brainchild of Homraj Acharya to help bring social justice to the millions who suffer from caste discrimination in Nepal. In March last year I met Acharya along with fellow walkers Ashok Darnal and Reeta Pariyar in Kholpur on Day 11 of their 54-day journey. This week, I caught up with Acharya again.
In a brief recap, Acharya explains, “In my earlier work, I came across a lot of caste discrimination in labor-intensive work places. I wanted to find out if this was still the case at the household and community levels: What were the drivers behind continued, although legally outlawed, discrimination and what were the blocks to ending this discrimination? Hence Nepal Padayatra.” And what are some of these drivers and blocks? Overall, the Padayatra team saw that while on the surface equality tends to be practiced, caste discrimination still exists. They witnessed many excuses for this continued practice. Acharya gave the example of grandparents passing down their prejudices to grandchildren, and of social pressure from neighbors and other family members; which perpetuates the system.
As caste discrimination is a touchy and potentially volatile topic, I asked whether there were any incidents on the road. I was told there were threats in some areas and they were aware that if they fell sick naysayers would use this as an excuse to say ‘look what happens when you go against tradition’. Thankfully there were no serious problems and no one got sick.
I wanted to know about the positives of the journey. According to Acharya, meeting and connecting at a personal level with different communities—being welcomed and offered food and accommodation—was the highlight of the actual journey. “Wherever we went, people would come out to listen to us or walk alongside us. We had no real expectation as to how many people would turn up. But by the end of trip the vibration rippled out and over 5,000 people came to meet with us at Baglung,” says Acharya.
Last year Acharya told me the walk was organized entirely without NGO or other funding. To accept funds would be missing the point of the initiative. It turned out the generosity of communities and individuals was enough. Many of those who came to listen were open-hearted enough to give Rs 10 or Rs 20 to this self- and community-funded walk.
Any negatives? Blisters! The least pleasant part of the 54-day walk were the blisters (yes, I saw those blisters even on Day 11). And the permanent damage done to two of Acharya’s toes with all that walking. Sometimes 40 km a day.
What comes next? Acharya tells me he expects the momentum to be kept up. Having reached out to Bipin Sharma, chairman of the Suchana Chautari Sanchar Cooperative Society Ltd, Sharma will be working to galvanize the cooperative machinery in the country. “We need community-led change, whether it be through cooperatives, user groups, cottage industries, clubs, etc. Hopefully a conglomerate of them all,” says Acharya. To ensure this, over the next four years, a ‘compliance fellow’ will be selected, motivated and trained within every municipality. This fellow will then connect the community to the government through talks and discussions, to bring social justice at all levels.
And what of the walkers themselves? Acharya will be involved in working with the potential compliance fellows on social justice, climate change, and local entrepreneurship. Ashok Darnal continues to write about social justice through his journalism and Reeta Pariyar is continuing her social activism.