Born in Mujhung, a small village in Palpa district to Dil Bahadur and Sarita Darnal, Suvash Darnal (1980–2011) grew up with an acute awareness of the inequality and discrimination entrenched in Nepali society. A young visionary and a tireless advocate for the rights of Dalits, he gradually rose to prominence through his passionate efforts to ensure justice and dignity for the Dalits of Nepal. He lived during a period when Nepal was going through an epochal transformation. The decade-long Maoist rebellion, the fall of the centuries-old monarchy, and the establishment of a federal democratic republican Nepal had created an atmosphere where the historically marginalized groups of the country could finally raise their voices and demand their rights. Against this backdrop, Suvash Darnal devoted himself to pushing the Dalit issue to the forefront of national agenda.
Suvash Darnal earned a bachelor’s in mass communication, journalism and political science from Ratna Rajya Laxmi College of Tribhuvan University and was pursuing a master’s degree in political science from Tribhuvan University at the time of his death. He began his career as a columnist and writer in Himal Media, Kantipur and Naya Patrika, where he published over 200 articles, news reports and opinion pieces, mainly on the issues of exclusion and discrimination in Nepali society. His creative spark was visible from his early days as a journalist. He produced a number of radio programs that drew attention to the challenges of Dalits and started Dalit magazines in Nepali such as Jana Utthan, Nepali Manch and Pratibodh.
Although his untimely death was a huge setback for the Dalit community, Suvash Darnal made an outstanding contribution to the Dalit movement and left behind a lasting legacy. Jagaran Media Center, which he founded in 2000 along with Rem Bahadur B.K. Tomata and a group of journalists and activists, has been training and supporting Dalit journalists to document and publicize cases of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Padam Sundas and Binod Pahadi, eminent Dalit leaders and intellectuals, provided institutional and personal support for establishing JMC as the only media hub in Nepal and South Asia run by Dalits for Dalits. The Center has taken the lead role in addressing the under-representation of Dalits in mainstream media. JMC organizes training programs on media and journalism to ensure that Dalit issues get in-depth coverage; it also works with media houses in Nepal and abroad to make them Dalit-friendly. Since December 2007, it has been running Radio Jagaran 93.3 MHz, a community radio station with nationwide coverage. One of the path-breaking productions of JMC was Dalan, a widely acclaimed TV series that was aired by Nepal Television from 2007 to 2008, and that helped sensitize the public on caste-based discrimination and untouchability.
Suvash Darnal clearly understood that the struggle of Dalits was not isolated from the movements of other marginalized groups of Nepal. As one of the founders of Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP), he played a key role in the 2006 People’s Movement that brought down the monarchy and paved the path for a republican Nepal. He actively built solidarity with other marginalized groups, especially indigenous peoples, Madhesis and women, in his pursuit of social justice, peace and democracy.
Suvash knew, however, that the status of Dalits would not improve unless the state implemented appropriate policies to empower them. With this in mind, he founded Samata Foundation, a think-tank that conducts research to support evidence-based policy and advocacy for the welfare, rights and dignity of Dalits. As the founder and managing director he published a timely policy paper on the Dalit question in the new Constitution of Nepal. It was under his leadership that Samata organized Nepal’s first International Conference on Dalits in 2010.
Suvash was rooted in Nepal’s context but driven by a vision for the emancipation of Dalits all over the world. Millions of Dalits in South Asia and beyond continue to face severe discrimination despite the remarkable progress made by the international Dalit movement over the decades. Suvash believed in action but also recognized the power of ideas to unite the marginalized across national borders. During his short lifetime, he travelled to many places, from New Delhi to Washington DC, sharing and sharpening his ideas. In recognition of his commitment and intellectual curiosity, he was awarded fellowships at prestigious institutions such as the London School of Economics, the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, where he was the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, and Stanford University, where he was the Draper Hills Summer Fellow
On August 15, 2011, on his way to Washington DC after completing his fellowship at Stanford, Suvash met with a tragic accident that took his life. He was 31. His death was an irrecoverable loss to the Dalit movement and to the broader movement for peace, democracy and justice in Nepal. He is survived by his wife Sarita Pariyar and daughter, Samana.