The following is a translation of a profile of a Dalit–belonging to the Dom community in Southern Nepal–which originally appeared in The Record Nepal. It’s a little long but, spanning pretty much his whole life, it details the life-long discrimination and humiliation Pandav Mallik faced and his struggle for personal recognition for who he is and what he has become through his own efforts. The story lays bare some of the worst aspects of our Caste System.
Dichha Chamling, a fellow Nepalese UWCer helped me greatly with the translation. Click here for an image of the orginal article.
Description of Dalan
When a leader like Raghubir Mahaseth, someone who has already been the UCPN Bureau In-charge of Madesh and who has also been a minister a number of times, won’t shake hands with me, what can one expect from others?!
Pandav Mallik| November 22, 2014
My name is Pandav Mallik. I have been a member of the Communist Party since 1988. In the past, I have also been Chairman of Liberation of Oppressed Caste Community.
I am a member of Dom community, whom our Nepalese society views as untouchables. In the Party, therefore, I am seen as an untouchable. I am not ‘dirty’ but my friends even within the party refuse to shake my hands.
My home is Machi Jhitakaiya-7 in Dhanusha district. Dom, both amongst the Dom ourselves and other Nepalese, is associated with being dirty and “untouchable”. Being from this community, from when I could understand all that, I have been seeing–and have been a victim of–an extreme form of caste-based discrimination.
Our community’s traditional work is raising pigs. In addition to that, the Doms have been engaged in the small cottage industry of making bamboo products. They make fans for example. In the Terai, people use fans made by us to get relief from the unbearable summer heat. Objects such as bowls, baskets, vase and a number of others are also produced from bamboo. These products are absolutely essential at weddings, festivals and other religious functions in our Madesh society.
In earlier times, our ancetors were used to collecting and wearing discarded clothes once worn by dead people and also used to collecting firewood from funeral pyres for home use. Our community had the traditional role of collecting and disposing of feral and/or unclaimed dead animals in the village.
The Doms were used to collecting the plates of guests at feasts in the villages and eating the leftovers in them. The Doms were prohibited from doing anything other than these traditional jobs. There wasn’t even a tradition of putting Doms to work as day laborers nor as farm hands. It’s fair to say that our ancestors did not have any means of making a living.
The historically assigned traditional ‘job’ Doms carried out, resulted in everyone else perceiving of them as “untouchable.” What’s more, there were a large number of people who, for fear of being touched by a Dom’s shadow, refused to walk alongside them! Dom’s were forbidden from setting foot on the pavement of a non-Dom’s house. We were forbidden from touching communal taps, wells, ponds.
Our community was not even aware of the need to send our children to school. Even now, many aren’t aware of that. When I was very young, one of my brothers, Ramaji Mallik, who, at the time was in grade 6, died in an accident. Because of the prevalent belief that Doms shouldn’t be going to school, all of my family members blamed his death on his attending school. For that reason, initially, I was also prevented from going to school.
One day the village school teacher, Sukdev Mairawaita Yadav, helped me to go to school by telling my father, “Your son Pandav is smart. If you educate him, he will be a important man and will have a better life.”
By that time, I was already eight years old. My dad got me enrolled in grade 1. I attended our village school until grade 5.
I faced considerable harassment and discrimination at the school. I was the only kid from Dom community. None of my classmates would share a bench with me. And so, even when I was the first to enter the classroom, I had to sit in the last bench at the back, alone. The teachers, saying [using the pejorative and therefore demeaning form of the pronoun you], “If you want to study, you still have to follow the tradition of the village,” would send me to the back. Some teachers refused to grade my notebooks.
At hotels, forget about being able to order and being served tea, I didn’t even have the right to enter the premises and sit inside. If I did go for tea, I would have to produce own glass. These kinds of discrimination prevalent in villages were perpetuated in the name of tradition.
Graduating from grade 5, around 1983, I was admitted to KHH Middle School located at Khadahari Mauhuwa. The school was 4 km away from my home. But, due to poverty, my family couldn’t even buy me a bicycle. I faced considerable difficulties traveling between home and school.
The school, however, had dormitory facilities. So, my father pleaded with the school to put me there promising, “To cover the costs by begging for money from villagers.” He had hoped to make it easier for me to continue my studies. But at the time not a single teacher at the school agreed. They refused on the grounds that having a Dom child in the dormitory would ‘defile’ the whole place.
The Principal of the School was Okhan Jha. The head of the dormitories was Dayanath Jha. Both of them were adamant about not allowing me to stay in the dorms. But Sukdev Mairawaita believed in communism. He, on the other hand, was adamant that caste is not relevant, and that I belonged, “to the working class and he should be given the opportunity to live in the dorms and study.” His insistence that just because I came from the Dom community should not be a reason to discriminate against him convinced the school administers.
But the teachers put two conditions. The first was that I find my own roommate–the dorm rooms were double occupancy. What the prejudiced teachers had counted on was no one agreeing to share a room with a Dom.
The second condition was that instead of the usual monthly ‘fees’ of kind consisting of 22 kg of rice, 4 kg of lentils and Rs. 40 [about 40 US cents], I would be required to pay the equivalent in paper money. “How can we take rice and lentils from an untouchable,” had been their justification.
My father agreed.
Sure enough, no one was ready to share a room with me. In the end, Lakshmeshwor Shah, another student from my village, agreed on the condition that I sleep on the floor.
I faced other humiliations and discrimination. At meals, while all the other students ate together in the dining area, I was segregated—I was made to sit in a far off distance on a grassy ground.
What’s more, I would be served last. That even via someone else’s plate. My food would be served on a Khatwe student’s plate, which he would then transfer to my plate. There was fear amongst the non-dalit students that the ladles and spatulas might touch my plate should the food be served directly! The Khatwe student was also a Dalit who also faced discrimination, but the kind and extent was different.
Deprived of Private Tuition
The dormitory supervior Dayanath Jha used to provide private tuition. But not to me. He refused to tutor me in math and science on account of my being a Dalit. Even when my father told him that he was willing to pay however much it cost, he refused saying, “Under no circumstances will I teach a Dom child.”
But there was an Indian teacher named Mauje who would do anything and everything. He assured me that he would provide private tuition, and he did in English, Math and Science. He used to encourage me constantly saying, “You’ll be a role model to your community. You are facing all these injustices because your father is not educated.”
In 1991 I passed SLC examination. (For the next 2-4 years not even a single Dom student from Danusha district passed the SLC.) At about the same time, my father had cancer. Looking after and providing for family fell on my shoulders; I wasn’t able to continue my studies. I had wanted to study law and fight the injustices my community faced as a lawyer. I wasn’t able to fulfill that dream. It was only much later that I completed my I.A. [final two years of high school] from India.
Involvement in Politics
In 1988, as political parties were banned, all of them operated underground. Leaders of the Communist Party would visit villages at night to recruit members and expand the organization. In Mudewa village Madhav Nepal, Jogindra Shah, Iswor Pokhrel would come. The father of Kuldev Marewaita (Yadav), the teacher who encouraged and motivated me to study, had become a martyr in 1980.
When in grade 8, I became the President of Student Communist organization. As a student I used to be one of the better football players of the area. That made it relatively easy for me to organize and mange the group. I was active in the group until 1989.
In the 1989 mass movement against the monarchy, I became president of the village chapter of the Communist Party. Soon after, I was promoted to the post of regional president in recognition of my commendable work.
On February 18, 1990, during a protest in Janakpur, following an encounter with police, the authorities issued a warrant for my arrest. I fled to India. In 1990 March 6, a decision was made to strike against the railway system. I placed the first stone on the railway tracks.
The toppling of the monarchy and the introduction of democratic form of governance in 1990 was followed by general elections in 1991. However, the large number of monarchists in my village made my life very difficult attacking me and waging a campaign to discredit me, unable to accept a challenge from someone belonging to the Dom community.
Following elections, in 1991, Girija Prasad Koirala became Prime Minister. In June 9 that year, a case of armed robbery was filed against three friends of mine to settle a political grudge. There hadn’t been any robbery. Monarchists had been responsible for filing the bogus case. However, they all jumped ship and joined the Congress Party. By that time, the two communist parties—MaLe and MaSal—had merged to form Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN).
During the mass movement of 1989-90 I spent forty-seven days in jail. Thirty of those I spent in ‘Number 1 Cell”; meaning I was locked up in the room next to the restroom. I was tortured every day. When I would entreat them saying that the policies require a prisoner to be fed, they would instead beat me up.
Other communist party friends of mine were also in jail alleged to have committed a variety of crimes. I would organize them and raise the issues of lack of services and police aggression. I would incite my fellow prisoners to revolt against the system. We would demand that we be fed by the jail instead of with food brought by our relatives, that there be provisions for us to shower every day. All that would anger the wardens and they would beat us up.
There was an Inspector named Gobindaraj Joshi. When he was interrogating me to take my statement, he tortured me a lot. When at one point he was torturing me by peeling off a finger nail, unable to bear it, I hit him hard with my left hand. A tooth fell out! After that, he did not spare me!
I have devoted years to politics; I have struggled a great deal. And yet, when elsewhere at programs organized by the Party, some friends don’t discriminate against me, the same friends when they come my village still view and treat me as an untouchable.
I still have to put up with the prejudices some of my other political-party member friends. When a leader like Raghubir Mahaseth, someone who has already been the UCPN Bureau In-charge of Madesh and someone who has also been a minister a number of times, won’t shake hands with me, what can one expect from others?!
Even if some friends don’t, their family members openly discriminate against me. My guess is that leaders like Mahaseth don’t shake hands with me because I am a Dalit. I have raised the issue of discrimination within the party but maybe because Mahseth is a ‘contributor’ to the party, there has been no hearing. People still don’t listen to the voices of us Dalits!
Based on a conversation with Bhola Pasawan
Cover photo: Bhola Paswan
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Added after the publication of the blog post.
The Himalayan Times (June 14, 2018). Appointment of Dalit cook halts mid-day meal programme. The cook in question was a Dom, like Mallik. [Added on Oct. 8, 2018.]