The Dalit Search for Dignity: State, Society, and Mobilization from Below in Far West Nepal

Funded by the British Academy through its Heritage, Dignity and Violence Programme (GCRF) (Nov 2019 – Nov 2021), this project aims to study from below the whole range of Dalit experience and whether, how far, and for whom the label ‘Dalit’ is viable. The project follows on from, and will apply some of the methodological tools and lessons from, the ESRC-funded Caste, Class, and Culture project based in Kaski district. That project studied Dalit life in the context of the local society, i.e. the focus was on livelihoods, migration, culture, generational change, and changing inter-relationships and dependencies of all local groups - Dalits, Chhetris, Bahuns, and Janajatis alike.

Nepal’s Dalits (ex-Untouchables, population nearly 3.5 million) remain at the bottom of society by all measures despite huge changes in the last 50 years. The possibility of building on their artisan and artistic heritage is compromised by pervasive stigma; they continue to face discrimination and at times violence. Building on earlier research, this project brings together a highly experienced interdisciplinary team, including Dalit scholars, to investigate the experience of Dalitness in the Mid and Far West Nepal, the poorest and most conservative part of the country. Research methods will include surveys, focus groups, interviews, participant observation, historical and literary analyses. The aim is to understand from below the position of Dalits, and how far mobilization for dignity under the label ‘Dalit’ is viable. The research is designed to inform policies of decentralized local governments, newly empowered under the federal republican constitution, and thereby contribute to peace, inclusion, and equity.

Terraced fields in Baitadi (K.P. Adhikari, 2020)

Terraced fields in Baitadi (K.P. Adhikari, 2020)

 

Research Team Partner Organizations   Project Advisors  
DG: David Gellner (Oxford); Prithvi Narayan Campus, TU, Nepal; 

Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka 
(University of Bielefeld);

KA: Krishna Adhikari (Oxford); RSDC: Rural Self-reliance Development 
Centre

Dhana Bhusal (Save the Children Surkhet, Nepal).

BKP: Biswa Kallyan Parajuli (PN/TU);  SF: Samata Foundation.  
AC: Anchala Chaudhuri (PN/TU);    
TB: Tilak Bishwakarma (RR/TU);    
GN: Gopal Nepali (Samata);    
PN: Prakash Nepali (Samata);    
MH: Michael Hutt (SOAS);    

BM: Basanta Maharjan (freelance).

   

 

BA students and their teachers with KA and GN at Khapardev Campus, Kalukheti, Bajhang district (2020)

BA students and their teachers with KA and GN at Khapardev Campus, Kalukheti, Bajhang district (2020)

In addition to the main survey and interview work in four different sites in Mid and Far West Nepal, there will be ten additional specialized work packages (SWP1–10) that will, taken together, provide a rounded interdisciplinary approach to the problem. The material for the first seven SWPs will be collected primarily through interviews and focus groups; the other three SWPs will be based primarily on written sources. All will look at local perceptions, resistance, and mobilization in relation to Dalit identity and dignity.

SWP1:     Cultural heritage, skills, and occupational changes and social respectability of Dalits (BKP, AC, with KA).
SWP2:     Sexual taboos and Badi women’s mobilization for dignity (AC, GN, BKP).
SWP3:     Intercaste marriages involving Dalits in practice and in policy (TB).
SWP4:     The menstrual impurity of women and girls: Chhaupadi practice and resistance (AC with BKP).
SWP5:     Relations of dependence: Ploughmen (Haliya) and patrons (BKP with AC).
SWP6:     Cooperatives and political participation: How far do women and Dalits get involved? (RSDC  with KA).
SWP7:     Dalits in the school curriculum (KA, GN).
SWP8:     Representations of Dalits in Nepali literature, with special reference to West Nepal  (MH).
SWP9:     Dalits in the historical record (BM).
SWP10:   Local impacts of reservation policies (SF, GN).

 

Twenty-two medieval temples ('devals') in Bhurti, Dailekh district (K.P. Adhikari, 2020)

Twenty-two medieval temples ('devals') in Bhurti, Dailekh district (K.P. Adhikari, 2020)

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