A Site for Social Justice Learning
by Sarita Pariyar
Following the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, the Darnal Award Committee decided to postpone the 2015 award, and to use the monies earmarked for the 2015 award to help reconstruct a school in Sipapokhari. The Gurung Society of New York is also partnering, and has provided additional monies to help with reconstruction efforts.
Sipapkokhari Village & the Darnal Award
The major earthquakes of 25 April and 12 May of 2015, and the subsequent aftershocks, not only flattened many village buildings but also took more than 8,790 lives and shook the life and minds of millions of people living in 32 districts of Nepal. Rupees five-lakh, which had been designated for the 2015 Darnal Award, instead have been allocated to support the rebuilding of the Shri Balkalyan Primary School located at Gairi Gaun, Ward Number 4 of Sipapokhari Village Development Committee (VDC) in Sindhupalchowk district, which is in the east of the Kathmandu Valley and one of the hardest hit area by the 2015 earthquake. The school building has been fully damaged. 37 students of grades 1, 2 and 3 are currently forced to study in temporary hut. The village of Gairi Gaun includes 30 Dalit and 60 Tamang households, but Sipapokahre VDC is inhabited by various caste and ethnic groups including Bahun, Chhetri, Dalit, and Tamang. It is a bitter reality that most of the Dalits used to work as sharecroppers (Balighare), a continuing exploitative labor system which still impacts Dalit lives in various forms in rural Nepal.
Earlier this spring a group trip was made to Sipapokhari VDC, the site of a new partnership between the Darnal Award, the Gurung Society and local community members. The village of Gairi Gaun has historical significance as the site of the Fetch Water movement in the 1950s and also where a young Dalit girl named Laxmi BK was believed to have been killed by a high caste Hindu women, an incident which sparked a national protest against caste-based discrimination in Nepal. Many Dalit leaders and other social movement supporters came to Sipapokhari to show their solidarity after the killing. In addition, Gairi Gaun was badly damaged after the earthquakes in 2015, and the support from the Darnal Award and other organizations will allow for the rebuilding of the Shri Balkalyan Primary School.
The main rationale for selection of the Shri Balkalyan Primary School at Gairi Gaun in ward number 4 of Sipapokhare Village Development Committee (VDC) includes:
- First and foremost, we hope to underscore the underlying spirit and larger vision of the Darnal Award as an opportunity to strategically address the reality that the most vulnerable communities in Nepal continue to experience unequal attention and unequal support during relief and rebuilding efforts. Through partnership with the school we hope to both support and join the grassroots movement of marginalized people in their fight to rebuild a better future for themselves at this critical moment in Nepal.
- Second, we hope to carry out follow up works by linking and/or helping to mobilizing both financial resources and technical expertise from various organizations, institutions and individuals to enrich quality of both physical, educational and other aspects not only of the school but also of the community.
- Third, Sipapokhare VDC is historically significant in Dalit rights movement because of the successful “Fetch Water” movement of the fifties. There were two water wells in Sipakuwa, but a separate well Dalits were forced to use was often dry most of the time. Laxmi BK, a Dalit girl child was found dead at a restricted well at Sipakuwa under questionable circumstances, and high caste villagers had previously manhandled Nar Bahadur Biwsakarma who had fetched water from these other wells. Dalits of Sipapokhare, with support from Dalits of other parts of Nepal, initiated a struggle against high caste Hindus to secure equal rights to access water from wells. As a result, all wells were opened regardless of caste. This incident provided an opportunity for Dalits to organize and struggle to secure their rights. The Darnal Award’s support seeks to make a link with and continue this legacy of struggle.
- Finally, we want to make efforts to create a conducive environment among students, teachers, parents, and governmental and non-governmental organizations for producing young leaders and also achieving social justice in the community.