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Untouched


NARESH NEWAR in NEPALGANJ



NARESH NEWAR

UNITED: Dalit rights activists from Karnali gather to plan a stronger movement for dalit empowerment.

Balaram is too afraid to reveal his real name and wants to conceal his identity as a dalit Maoist worker. Last month, he watched quietly horrified as local Thakuri and other high caste landlords in Kalikot?s Daha VDC brutally beat up Bachhe BK, a district leader of the Maoist-affiliated Dalit Liberation Front (DLF). The old masters were getting back at BK for his role in promoting dalit consciousness in this caste-driven area.

Ironically, the Maoists call Kalikot district an ?untouchability-free? zone. The reality, it becomes increasingly evident, is quite the opposite. ?High caste people are no longer afraid of Maoists and are now attacking dalit rights workers,? says Parsuram Nepali from Mugu?s Neglected Community Awareness Nepal.

Nepali is one of many activists, dalit and otherwise, who narrated to us incident after incident?all of which took place in the last two months?in which dalits were beaten up, and again denied access to public taps and temples.

While they were around, Maoist cadre took ?action? against landlords accused of caste-based discrimination. Scores of landlords were displaced and their land seized, or they were forced to pay high taxes. Still others were sentenced by ?People?s Courts? in districts like Jumla, Mugu, and Kalikot to physical punishment or were abducted and tortured.

Now the Maoists have stopped their kangaroo courts and jungle justice. And for many dalit activists in the Karnali who joined the Maoists or affiliated special interest organisations such as DLF, life as a dalit has become harder and more dangerous than before.

?Now the party has won a political victory, our issue has been overshadowed by hardcore political matters. They just watched as landlords beat up a local dalit leader last week,? says Hari Bahadur BK, a dalit rights activist and school teacher in Roba VDC, Mugu.

There is a growing sense in the dalit groups here that they have been sold down the river by the Maoists. A Maoist party worker told us, on condition of anonymity, ?Now, looking at the speed with which things returned to what they used to be and, more tellingly, how little the attitudes of high caste cadre towards us have actually changed, we feel that we were used. They wanted numbers, and they found it easy to recruit us.?

In Kalikot alone, nearly 106 dalits were killed during the ?People?s War? and many of their families say they were barely trained as fighters and had been used as human shields. There are few dalits in decision-making positions in the party, and most are in the ?PLA?. Of the 36 central committee members, two are dalit, Khadga Bahadur BK and Tilak Pariyar, who is also a politburo member.

?The Maoists have to account for what they?ve done here. They can?t just give a district a fancy label and leave things at that. And they must finally acknowledge the dalit contribution to the first People Movement and after that to the people?s war,? says an angry Bale BK a dalit rights activist and school teacher from Roba VDC in Mugu.

Illiteracy, caste discrimination, female exploitation, poverty, poor child health, malnutrition, and unemployment are rampant in dalit communities in Karnali, where 17 percent of Nepal?s five million dalits live. The situation is much worse for dalit women?only 1.3 percent in the Karnali region are educated.

The Maoists were our last chance, and many of us gave to the movement what we could. Our hopes are shattered, says Ram Singh Sarki, an activist with Jumla\'s Karnali Utpirit Samaj Kendra.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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