Raksha Ram Chamar (Harijan), a 28-year-old social justice campaigner and intellectual from the Madhesi Dalit community, has received the first Darnal International Award for Social Justice on August 15, 2016. The award itself is named in the memory of a young Dalit activist, organiser and intellectual from Nepal’s hill community, who died in a road accident at age 31 outside of Washington, DC, and is funded by his widow Sarita Pariyar through the Sarita Pariyar Trust Fund. A lifetime of enormous promise that Suvash Darnal carried but could not fulfil—as demonstrated by his leadership in founding the Jagaran Media Center, a media alliance against caste-based discrimination, and Samata Foundation, a research, policy advocacy and publication outlet on Dalit and marginalisation issues—the Darnal Award seems to keep alive that promise and its fulfilment through the award. Its first recipient Chamar is a case in point.
The 90 percent vote
Risen through enormous financial and social hardship that being a member of the Dalit community automatically brings about, Chamar possesses in himself the Darnal promise, which his already accomplished contributions for social justice demonstrate. This is more so because he comes from the Madhesi Dalit community, which is even more marginalised than the hill Dalit community. The result of Madhesi social structure and the historical discrimination of the Nepali state against the Madhesi community is a double strike against the Madhesi Dalits.
And the first Darnal Award to a Madhesi Dalit further broadens the scope of social justice issues. Contemporary media discourse presents the Madhes and Pahad or Madhesis and Pahadis as binary communal categories—Pahad is Pahad, Madhes is Madhes and the twain shall never meet sort of a black-white dichotomy. The Darnal International Award to Chamar has demonstrated that the marginalised of the hills and the Madhes have a common cause and agenda to pursue. Like Suvash’s personality of reaching out to diverse groups, the award named after him has helped form an alliance between the Pahadi and Madhesi activists in the same way that the efforts of Upendra Yadav and Ashok Rai to form a common political party, Federal Socialist Forum of Nepal, did in the political realm.
Any durable solution to the centuries-old entrenched social problems embodied in the state structure necessarily requires the formation of alliances among various stakeholder groups. Injustice against the marginalised persists in society and the political structure as the marginalised are either historically divided because of their own specific separate group identities and features, or get divided by the organised, institutionalised, much stronger state and its occupiers.
Even though the marginalised collectively constitute more than two-thirds of the country, they have been facing such an uphill task in effecting structural change through a desirable constitution. This is because the 30 percent, by virtue of their occupation of the state structures and its concentrated power, have more or less congealed into one set, wield institutional power of the state and are unified on core issues even though outwardly they may disguise themselves as ideologically opposed political parties. The UML, the Maoists and the Nepali Congress coming together to pass an unjust constitution by around 90 percent votes is a burning example of this situation. To be sure, there were Janajati, Madhesi, Dalit and female Constitutional Assembly members in the UML, Congress and Maoist parties, but because these members were not organised politically around their core issues through their own political structure, they were helpless before the party bosses’ diktat and whip despite their disgruntlement. This in turn allowed these party bosses to brag on television about the 90 percent vote in favour of the constitution.
Sins of the fathers
The Darnal Award to a Madhesi Dalit youth also comes in the middle of the apology campaign launched by the Madhesi intellectuals of the upper and middle castes. And Chamar has supported the Apology Campaign of Madhesi intellectuals. How can we read this historical conjunction?
In my view, each marginalised community or group has its own distinct issues but it also has common cause with other marginalised communities.
An Indian newspaper recently headlined, “Here atrocity against the Dalits, there [Nepal’s Madhes] caste people are apologizing.” Why is this the case? This is because Madhesis in Nepal are both the same and not the same as their counterparts in India. In India, the so-called savarnas identify with the state power and occupy it, whereas in Nepal the state’s discrimination of over two centuries has raised the consciousness of a large group of post-Madhes Movement young Madhesi intellectuals by forcing upon them a recognition of their own marginalisation and that of the Madhesi Dalits in their midst. This recognition of common humanity has pricked the conscience of these Madhesis the same way that young Mahatma Gandhi had been affected when he faced and struggled against white local as well as imperial regime’s discrimination in South Africa at the turn of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century. Upon his return to India in 1914, Gandhi embarked on his dual campaign of both opposing the British and working to reform Indian society through work in the Dalit (for him Harijan) parts of towns and villages. This is also an example of alliance formation.
To be sure, Dalits have the primary burden to struggle against caste injustice against their community. But can the caste folks of conscience remain silent in the face of injustice? I do not think so. If the Dalits have been the victims, the caste people have inherited the sins of their fathers. Each has his or her own part to play to bring society up to date.
Only by forming an alliance and finding common cause despite differences and distinct issues with other marginalised groups, or whoever is willing to join the struggle, can the marginalised successfully realise social justice, bring about positive social change and transform the state for the better. The Darnal International Award to Raksha Ram Chamar is an auspicious example of that.