‘A person is created by their circumstances. It takes time for someone who has always lived under particular circumstances to move into a different set of circumstances, and it is also a difficult process. We must transform our history of always having relied upon begging for a living.’
Dilip Gandharva is a youth leader campaigning for such a transformation. He is engaged in creating a model settlement in Badhaiyatal Rural Municipality in Bardiya district. The chapters of his struggle are tied to this settlement and its inhabitants.
Dilip Gandharva’s parents had migrated from the hills to Badhaiyatal in search of livelihood. But they went through various struggles, from living in public land and sukumbasi squatter settlements to finally building a home and now a model settlement.
Gandharva attended school while his father earned a living by playing the sarangi. Even through a life of poverty he had been able to attend school until the fourth grade. However, he needed a new set of uniform to enroll into the fifth grade. His family didn’t have the means to buy the new uniform.
Poverty is tied to debasement and humiliation. Teachers at the school humiliated him about his uniform. Gandharva stopped going to school out of the fear of being humiliated further. Instead, he began helping out by playing the sarangi with his father and uncles.
He had hoped to play the sarangi for a short while to earn enough to buy a new uniform to return to the school. However, his dream of attending the school in a new set of uniform was never fulfilled.
One day, he wandered away from his uncles to play the sarangi and beg. People from a house chased him away, grabbing him by his nape and forcing him out. He realized that he shouldn’t play the sarangi anymore. He went away to India at a tender age to earn. With his migration to India his dream of obtaining an education also shattered.
During his years working in India he became aware and active – he began organizing to ensure the rights of laborers like himself. He led a workers’ movement.
Upon his return, he began struggling for the rights of his own community. Ever since, he has been engaged in the struggle for the identity and dignity of his community and has become a leader for his community and a pioneer for the next generation.
Gandharva has seen and experienced extreme forms of inequality, caste-based untouchability and discrimination. These incidents pushed him onto the path of social justice.
He has been involved in the cultural campaign for the liberation of dalits since 2003. Since becoming involved with the Dalit Mukti Morcha in 2005, he has been actively engaged at the sociopolitical level for dalit rights.
Gandharva continued to migrate to India to earn a livelihood. Wherever he has traveled to, his capability for leadership has been evident. Labor movements executed under his leadership in India are testament to his leadership abilities. Laborers at the company where he worked were suffering lack of commensurate wages and benefits. He organized the laborers and prepared the program for a labor strike. When, in the course of the labor strike, all activities at the company came to a halt, the laborers won commensurate wages and benefits.
In 2011, Gandharva returned to Nepal for good. Thereafter, he has focused his energy on creating a model settlement. He tried to transform the circumstances of the Gandharvas living in the squatter settlement. He joined the struggle for their land rights.
The Squatters Commission formed in 1994 had provided between 2 and 5 ropani of land to the squatters in the settlement. Land along the highway was granted to non-dalits whereas dalits were given land farther away from the highway. Thus, obstacles were created for the dalits to enjoy the land granted to them and to obtain land ownership certificates. With this, the conflict with the local Tharu community also started.
The Gandharva community was forced to organize gherao protests for land rights and sarangi recital demonstrations against the District Administration. Dilip Gandharva also led symbolic protest programs featuring musical recitations using traditional instruments. Eventually, following a long struggle, the community obtained legal ownership of their land. Although they had obtained ownership certificates, the settlement was in a precarious position. Due to extreme poverty most Gandharvas lacked the means to build homes, which further distanced them from opportunities to obtain education and health services.
It was absolutely imperative to arrange for residence along with legal ownership of land. Therefore, Dilip Gandharva coordinated an effort through the government’s People’s Residence Program to build 47 homes. However, frequent flooding of the settlement created a problem. He then began an effort to build flood barriers to protect the settlement.
In the process, with the assistance of Sahakarmi Samaj, a community building was constructed to develop the Gandharva settlement in Badhaiyatal. Efforts were initiated to improve the state of education and health of the children. Coordination and discussions were carried out with various other organizations and institutions to develop additional infrastructure. He held a leadership role in this process.
He created a program for the promotion of the sarangi instrument which is intrinsically related to the disappearing aspects of the culture and identity of the Gandharva community. In the process, he organized the Gandharva communities of the far-west of Nepal and established the Nepal Gandharva Jagaran Samaj in 2011. Nepal Gandharva Jagaran Samaj has been operating in Bardiya since 2014.
Dilip Gandharva has dedicated himself towards the creation of the Gandharva Cultural Studies Centre to develop the Gandharva community and preserve and promote the arts and cultures of the community. He wants to end the tendency of heaping praises upon musicians of other communities who take up the sarangi even as Gandharvas who play the sarangi are looked at with contempt. He emphasizes the need to commercialize the music and culture of the Gandharvas. He continues to inspire all Gandharvas to organize for the overall improvement and development of the Gandharva community. In this regard, he is a bright beacon of hope for the Gandharvas. His efforts are directed towards realizing social justice.
The discrimination he saw and experienced as a child taught Dilip Gandharva to join and lead the struggle for social justice. Gandharva, who comes from a family background filled with struggles, is active in the campaign for the identity, dignity and equality of his community. His continued leadership of various campaigns despite the challenges involved is testament to his unflinching belief in social justice.