Parbati Bishunkhe, born in the Dailekh district of Karnali Province was strong-willed even as a child. Her first encounter with discrimination happened at a public water spout while fetching water for the family. Even from an early age she was aware that her community experienced caste-based discrimination.
The space was different and the nature of discrimination was different, but the essence of it was the same – she experienced more discrimination in her school. The awareness that girl children should also be given education hadn’t spread yet, so she was able to go to school only when she turned ten years old. However, she was a bright student.
Despite her excellent academic standing, she wasn’t selected as the class monitor in grade one. The afternoon snack for dalit children was dropped onto a piece of paper to avoid touching the rest of the food. One day, she touched the boy appointed the monitor to distribute the afternoon snacks. He complained to the teacher, who sent them to the principal’s office. She scolded the boy after coming out of the office. She remembers that even at that young age the boy had understood caste and untouchability. The fact that a child in the first grade can be conditioned to practice caste-based untouchability shows the state of civics education in our society.
From an early age she was aware that she ought not to tolerate discrimination. She had heard words like injustice and discrimination because her father was a politician. She was attracted to such issues during party meetings at her home. Therefore, she would demand that inter-caste relations, caste-based discrimination and untouchability should be made the topics of debates and elocution competitions at the school.
Parbati received scholarship opportunities because she was excellent in her studies. After completing her SLC exams in 1997, she started working as a facilitator to teach dalit children. She also entered the field of social justice.
She has a keen sense of the untouchability practiced against dalits based upon their birth because she also belongs to a dalit community. She has been deeply affected by and has deep knowledge of exclusion and deprivation, oppression and intolerance. Therefore, she has continuously raised her voice to end discrimination and inequality.
She has always been dedicated to the Dalit Movement in her capacity as the District Member of the Dalit Sewa Sangh and Dalit Advocacy Network and as the Central Member of the Nepal Oppressed Groups Liberation Society. She had established the Dalit Awareness Center in 2005 as its chairperson.
As the Chairperson of the Dalit Women’s Organization, she has been active in addressing dalit issues and other issues for the past decade. She has been especially active in the issues of gender parity and equality for dalit women who face twofold oppression and exploitation. Parbati is also active as a women’s rights and children’s rights activist. During the conflict years she also worked on psychological counseling and peace-building in the Karnali area. She also fought for the rights of oppressed groups through the use of mass media.
According to the Census of Nepal 2011, the proportion of dalits in Dailekh is at 24 percent. There is widespread exploitation, oppression and victimization of women from the dalit and other communities alongside immense gender-based discrimination. The chhaupadi tradition continues to take many lives. Women have negligible access to the various institutions of the state. There has been no change in the attitudes of the so-called ‘upper castes’ who continue to enjoy hegemonic access to the state. Against this background, Parbati has been standing firmly on the side of the oppressed communities.
The murder of 54 year old Sete Damai is an extreme incident of caste-based oppression. Sete Damai was killed in 2011 when his son entered an inter-caste marriage. Parbati played an important role as a member of the struggling committee formed to oppose the murder and to ensure justice for the victims.
Sete Damai Martyr Struggle Committee had made important contributions by connecting the district-level agitation to the dalit political movement at the center. The Monitoring Committee established as a consequence of that agitation had recommended reparations for the victims and punishment for the perpetrators. Those struggles and the recommended punishment have become established as strong examples for the entire dalit movement at the national level.
Through Parbati’s initiative, a child born to a dalit woman victim of sexual exploitation was granted citizenship. She had also played an important role in rehabilitating displaced families during the conflict years and in facilitating in process of small-scale physical infrastructure development and providing psychosocial counselling to victims of the conflict.
She had also started campaigns to create access to education for dalit women and the dalit community, as a result of which the number of literate and educated dalit women has grown. She has also contributed to issues of human rights, women’s networks and right to food security in the district and also towards developing leadership in the district.
Along with politics, Parbati also has a long experience in the field of social justice. She has also become a member of the House of Representatives through her sheer will and her leadership abilities. She is an established leader not only as a dalit woman politician but also in the field of social justice.