A 21-year-old ‘low caste’ youth is lynched by an unforgiving mob for trying to elope with his lover. Nabaraj BK, a Dalit from Jajarkot, loses his life along with five of his close friends, because he dared love someone from an ‘upper caste’. Another 12 of his friends are injured in the brutal attack, some of them so severely that they are still in trauma and in need of medical attention and psychological counseling.
The incident on May 23, when villagers of Soti in Chaurjahari Municipality, Rukum (West) chased and set upon BK and his friends, was widely misreported at the start, making the intentional murder sound like an accident. But as truth unfolded, it got clearer that young men aged 18-23 did not die by accident.
In the ongoing police investigation involving 34 suspects, some of those detained have admitted to intentional murder and caste-based discrimination.
And what did we do about it? We were outraged. We were distressed. We were embarrassed. But for how long? We shared photos and graphics on social media. We posted #DalitLivesMatter on social media, and we complained of how our society is still casteist and racist. Then we forgot all about the lives lost, the grieving families, and the hurting survivors. While justice is yet to be served, the survivors of this horrific massacre reel under financial burden and live in constant fear.
“We know there is an ongoing investigation, but we also fear evidences might be tampered with or the investigation might be relaxed if we are not vigilant,” says Pradip Pariyar, executive chairperson at Samata Foundation Nepal, who also identifies as a Dalit Lives Matter activist. “Our team of lawyers and rights activists has visited the incident site and made our own observations. We conclude that this is a premeditated murder fueled by racial discrimination.” There are also other reports that speak of evidence tampering and gross negligence on the part of the police and local authorities.
Keep up the pressure
While Pariyar asks for a fair trial and corresponding punishment to the perpetrators, he stresses that Nepal’s legal system is slow, and the “bureaucracy running the show lacks empathy.” In this situation, politically influential sources could favor the perpetrators and influence the decisions of the legal bodies should the trials extend for long.
As it is, ruling party leaders, including Janardan Sharma and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, have said that “BK and his friends died when they tried to flee,” without waiting for investigation reports. Dalit rights activists are not satisfied with how the ruling party, supposedly a party of marginalized communities, failed to address this incident in the parliament.
Pariyar urges the supporters of Dalit Lives Matter to keep up the pressure on the government and the judicial system. “We should make this a representational incident that shows that caste-based discrimination still exists in our society and press forward against all kinds of discriminations,” Pariyar adds.
Says entrepreneur and social media activist Shree Gurung, “While we continue to show our displeasure against this incident on social media, we should also start talking about racism and casteism in our own families. Gurung, who is facilitating a support group to help the cause of Dalit Lives Matter in coordination with Samata Foundation Nepal and other Nepali individuals living in Nepal and abroad, adds: “Be it your parents or elders or relatives or seniors, if they discriminate against other people, call them out.”
The group, which has both Gurung and Pariyar, has decided on a plan on continued advocacy against racial discrimination. Along with collecting and facilitating relief for victims and their families, the group will continue to disseminate information on the case, create platforms for discourse among the young generation, produce multimedia including music, videos and documentaries for awareness, and archive important information for further use.
‘Fake news’ abound
Bhim Bahadur Singh, a Kantipur journalist and activist based in Khalanga, Jajarkot, also stresses the importance of collecting and disseminating correct information. Singh has been a major source of information and relief distribution facilitator for this scribe. On their first conversation on June 8, Singh pointed out how local media as well as influential people had diverted the flow of information to suit the perpetrators’ narratives. ‘Fake news’ and rumors had spread across the region and then the whole country, dividing people’s opinions on the matter.
“The police have taken 34 people into custody and charged them with homicide, attempted homicide and caste-based discrimination and untouchability,” Singh informs over the phone from Jajarkot. “As of June 17, nine of them have already been interrogated.” Singh speaks about the ongoing protests by family members against the victims’ autopsy reports that show drowning as the cause of deaths. Family members are accusing foul play and tampering of evidence. “The protests had taken a violent turn yesterday when the police charged at the families and supporters with batons. Even I got hurt in the scuffle,” Singh adds. “The protests are to be peaceful today.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic creates new problems every single day, the issue of racism might not get the priority it deserves. But as most activists say, identifying and addressing these issues at home might be a good start.