On a winter morning, Kalawati Bhand was visiting Dadeldhura Bazar. She was studying in the second grade, and was visiting her hometown for the winter vacations. She made a purchase at a shop and took it from the shopkeeper’s hand.
The shopkeeper became enraged because Kalawati had touched him, and in his anger threw his hot cup of tea on her face. She was bewildered by his action. She looked around to seek help, but found herself alone. Later, she learned that it had been a grievous social crime for her to have touched a person from the so-called ‘higher caste’.
Kalawati returned to her village with the wound of humiliation in her heart. Before the power structure of caste, the cost of transactions had little to do with the value of the goods alone. The blisters from the hot tea and the searing psychological wound of humiliation stayed with her forever.
‘I will never forget that injury,’ she says. The wound of insult marked upon her dignity and the accompanying hurt has been the fuel and inspiration for her to continue working for the dignity of her community.
Dalits are at the absolute bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy. The Badi community is marginalized even among dalits. Kalawati faced extreme discrimination because she belonged to the Badi community. Her parents made clay vessels and worked as haruwa-charuwa bonded laborers for landowning families for their livelihood. Since they were reliant upon a barter economy and had to survive ona paltry share of the crops they grew for others, Kalawati’s family faced dire poverty alongside extreme forms of caste discrimination.
She received the opportunity to study at a school in Kathmandu with the assistance of an organization. It wasn’t easy to live in the organization’s hostel and study, but she had an in exhaustible reserve of courage and ambition. She completed her tenth grade education inKathmandu.
Kalawati returned to her village in2000 and enrolled at the Sahashralinga Higher Secondary School and began her journey in student politics. Even though she was good in studies she couldn’t continue her education because of her family’s weak economic condition.
She started a campaign for women’s adult education in her village in 2001. Her campaign for education drew her towards the field of social justice. She began a campaign to educate the local dalit community through informal education.
The Maoist People’s War was at its apex at that time. It became difficult for her to continue living in her village, and she was forced to keep traveling between Kathmandu and her village. During this time, she received training from the Center for Technical Education andVocational Training on printing. But the desire to work for the betterment of her community never left her.
Between 2002 and 2008, from the age of20, Kalawati lead the Community Service Committee in Kailali, Kanchanpur, Dang, Dadeldhura and Bardiya and lead the struggle of the Badi community. She also provided leadership as the Vice Chairperson of the Dang chapter of the National Badi Women’s Rights Struggle Committee.
It was extremely difficult for Kalawati to overcome the stigma attached to being a Badi woman, a group traditionally burdened by the association with being entertainers and ‘sex workers’. But Kalawati overcame all obstacles to provide leadership to the 48 days long Badi Movement of 2007. She determined the program for the Movement in the Far West and provided the momentum for the protests. She participated in the decisive protests in Kathmandu alongside great Badi leaders like Umadevi Badi and Sundari Badi – this Movement wasn’t led by men; instead it was born through the leadership of women of the lowest stratum of the society.
Kalawati worked in the important role of a facilitator in the effort to address the terrifying specter of HIV-AIDS in the Badi community and to establish the health rights of the community in theMid-West and Far West regions of Nepal.
After the Comprehensive Peace Treaty, her campaigns for the rights and dignity of the dalit community at the local level established her as an important political figure. She was included in the list of candidates for Proportional Representation in the Constituent Assembly elections of 2013. Because of her excellent leadership abilities, she received the ticket to contest the Local Elections 2017 for the post of the DeputyChairperson of Ajameru Rural Municipality.
There were rumors that she wouldn’t be given votes because she was a woman, and because she was from the Badi community - even because men would be reluctant to greet her with a Namaskar if she were to be elected. When she went campaigning, her non-dalit colleagues were given shelter in people’s homes but Kalawati, although the candidate, was asked to sleep in the cattle-shed. Despite these acts of discrimination, she didn’t lose courage, and she eventually emerged victorious in the elections. She now lends her leadership at the local level as the Deputy Chairperson of Ajameru Rural Municipality.
The life and struggles of Kalawati, who started as a community leader and now has become a leader within the political structure, are a source of inspiration.