Last week I visited the Tarai as part of an assignment regarding the mechanization of grain harvesting. Interestingly, community women said mechanization has indeed reduced time spent in the fields. But by reducing that time, men spent longer gambling and drinking, with a resulting increase in domestic violence. It would seem with every step forward, there is a partial step back.
Same can be said about the cause for equality among all Nepali people: one step forward, one step back. Take untouchability. On paper it is eliminated but in practice it is still very real, particularly in the rural areas. Look around: how often are Dalits invited into the kitchens of the so-called “upper caste” people? How many times are casual insults flung about, even in offices and schools?
Expats often struggle to understand this discrimination so I was excited to know that a friend was ‘walking the talk’, literally. I had a chance to catch up with him in Kohalpur to find out more…
Nepal Padayatra 2019 is an initiative started by a small team of three people—Reeta Pariyar, Ashok Darnal and Homraj Acharya—who are walking across the country, West to East, Mahakali to Mechi, through the Tarai, with the aim of ending all forms of untouchability. “Today untouchability has become more like a silent discrimination. It has been ended on paper but not in reality. It is now like a cancer—no longer visible like a fever, but deep-rooted like a cancer,” explains Homraj Acharya.
“Around 14 percent of the population, which is Dalit, face discrimination, adding up to a loss of economic advantages to families and the country as a whole. So we decided to march on foot to meet communities, connect with the people, record their feelings and stories, and document the process. Acharya informs that the marchers were also meeting municipal officials as this was the time—with new municipalities being formed—to get concrete plans from them—and from schools, private businesses, and government offices—on how they are prioritizing Dalit communities and removing roadblocks.
I asked why Acharya, a Brahman, is participating in this march, along with his two Dalit co-marchers?
I asked why Acharya, a Brahman, is participating in this march, along with his two Dalit co-marchers? “It’s not enough for so-called upper caste people to say, ‘Well, I’m not personally prejudiced.’ We from the so-called upper caste need to own the reality that discrimination exists, and work to make a difference. A personal action can be as simple as accepting a cup of tea in a Dalit home. Or adapting the hiring practices in your company. Perhaps it will be talking with your school to figure out how to teach about the incredible contributions by Dalit people to Nepali culture—blacksmiths, tailors, musicians, artisans, etc.”
Having been told they will spend around two months on the road, I wondered how the march is being funded. “Civil society is helping us to organize community talk programs, and also inviting us into their homes to sleep and eat. Businesses along the way are also helping us. We want to do this entirely without NGO funding, which we feel would be missing the point of this initiative,” explained Acharya. After the march, what happens next? “We will end the march in Jhapa then drive back to Kathmandu where we will use our documented experiences as a dialogue platform with Province leaders and others,” replies Acharya.
I met them on Day 11: 251 km/300,012 steps into their march. How were they themselves holding up? “We started out-wearing our boots, but three days ago we switched to slippers,” explains Reeta Pariyar. “Look at the blisters on my feet! But the people we are meeting and our aim outweigh the personal hardship.”
I noticed from social media that many locals were joining in along the way. Can just about anyone march? “Sure. We welcome individuals and organizations to express their commitment and solidarity. Anyone is welcome to march, provided they recognize that marching is only a small initial step. The most important actions take place in our daily lives.” For further information see the Nepal Padayatra 2019 Facebook page.