Dignity through diligence

August 4th, 2015

In Nepal, it is unlikely that Dalits, placed at the lowest rung in the caste system, are considered role models for anything. It is even more unlikely in the far western region of the country where discrimination against Dalits is still rampant. However, this is exactly what has happened in Jhalgaon village of Kailashmandu Village Development Committee (VDC ) of Bajura district .

Jhalgaon is on the wrong side of Safe-Martadi feeder road, across the Bhudhiganga River. More than 100 households ( HHs) of Dalits are huddled together at the lower end of the village, at a clear distance from the main settlement. Chhetri’s are the majority in the village.

Remittances from India and traditional occupations are the main sources of livelihood for the Dalit households. They also take on other menial works available in the village and local market to complement their income. They also do some farming. But agriculture has never been a serious business for them as they own little or no land. However, things have started to change from last year.

Women at Jhagaon at work

Last year, as part of a UK Aid funded Rural Access Programme (RAP)- 3, which Practical Action has been implementing in the district, organised the Dalits into producer groups. It provided them technical training on vegetable cultivation and supported them with improved seeds and irrigation equipment.

Many saw it as a futile attempt and the “upper caste” neighbours passed sarcastic comments both to the project and the Dalit communities.

“We didn’t protest then. But, we took the comments to our heart and resolved to prove them wrong,” said Man Singh Sharki, 46, an active member of the Jhalgaon vegetable group, in Jhalgaon.

“We grew various vegetables in our land. Some of us also leased land for it. The knowledge, skills and regular feedback we received from the project technicians were of great help,’’ he added.

As there were not many success cases of Dalits doing well in vegetable farming in the district, the project was sceptical about this maiden venture of the Dalit community.

“We were also not very optimistic. But, in two months, they surprised everybody with well-kept plots of vegetables. They religiously followed our advice and worked hard. Consequently they had a very good harvest last year, much better than their upper caste neighbours,’’ said Lalit Adhikari, junior technician of the project.

They took their first harvest for selling to the main village instead of the local market. They took only the superior vegetables after grading and put price tags on them.

“We were not expecting them to buy our vegetables as they wouldn’t even touch us. But, we had to show them our vegetables. It was our answer to their sarcasm” said Harka Bahadur B.K, Chairperson of Jhalgaon Vegetable group.Vegetables from Jhalgaon  displayed at the local market

“To our surprise, they not only bought our produce but also appreciated our effort,’’

Now, the ‘upper caste’ neighbours are full of praise for them.

“Even we were not doing well in vegetable farming so we had serious doubt about them. But they proved us wrong. Their success has inspired us to embrace vegetable farming more seriously,” said Chandra Bahadur Thapa, the head master in the primary school in the village.

Equally impressed are the traders at the local market. Jhalgaon’s vegetables have already gained the reputation of the best vegetables in the neighbourhood . And, the Dalit households are very conscious of the need to uphold their reputation.

“They only bring the best produce to us to leave no room for complaint” said, Bhakta Bahadur Saud, a vegetable collector at Bamka Bazzar.

“I think they even polish their vegetables before bringing here,” he quipped.

Last year, the majority of the households in the village earned more than Rs 10,000 (£63) from selling vegetables. Lead farmers like Goma Sarki earned as much as Rs 60,000. (£377)

Goma Sarki a lead farmer of Jahalgaon

Goma Sarki a lead farmer of Jahalgaon

It is a great achievement considering that the Dalits were never before engaged in vegetable farming, even for their own consumption. However, what is really significant is the social impact it has on the dignity and the social recognition of the Dalits households.

Through vegetable farming, the Dailt households, previously looked down upon by their upper caste neighbours, have been able to assert their presence in the community.

Perhaps other ethnic and marginalised groups in Nepal which have stepped up demonstrations for more rights as the country gears up to write a new constitution, could take cue from them. They offer an excellent example, in their own small way, of more constructive ways of protest and manifestation.


One response to “Dignity through diligence”

  1. Harriet Says:

    Really good to see this outcome. Congratulations

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