Abha Eli Phoboo

Kathmandu:

An hour’s walk along the dusty road leads to a village that is not remote yet out-of-reach. Nestled at the base of Nagarkot above the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Sudal VDC reflects much of the life that Nepalis in areas beyond the capital live. Picturesque, the poverty is striking.

It was early March. Fifteen Japanese students from Waseda University, Tokyo with around 10 other Nepali volunteers were working under the sun — tired and weary. For 15 days, they had been working very hard to bring water and build taps in the Pariyar village. They also built three toilets in the school in Kalamasi, a little further up. Sachiko Hirai, 21, a Bachelor’s third year student of Literature and Cross-Cultural Communication at Waseda shared, “We have a volunteer centre at the university and this is a project for making leaders. We participate in work camps.” Maria Ogawa, 20, put in, “We had a lot of fun. Lifestyle here is very different from Japan. There we use all machines; here it is mostly manual work. The villagers are very curious about us but I must say that the air and sky here is much cleaner than in Japan.”

The volunteers have been doing a lot of physical labour, carrying bricks and laying them. “It is very tiring,” they said, “But we get used to it.” The university students were working together with Save The World Nepal (STW) and Society of Youth Activities (SOYA), Bhaktapur. Bhawani Ranjit, the field coordinator and chief secretary shared that it had been an enriching experience for all participants but the programme was carried out not without obstacles. “In the beginning, the villagers were very sceptical. They accused us of working for a $1000 a day and this being just a show. We had transported bricks with much difficulty and over the night they were stolen. It was disheartening but I must say that the volunteers stood up the challenges.”

Damodar Subedi, a social activist who has been working in the village for over two decades shared his observances. “This has been a very different experience because people have come here many times before. Once Rs 53 lakh was allocated to a project to improve water supply but not even three taps were properly built. This project is especially amazing because with just Rs 2,96,100, these young people have built five water taps, built a supply source and three toilets to boot! Government policy had given Rs 75 to 90,000 for projects here but it never happened.”

Subedi told us that the Pariyar village is especially at a disadvantage because political leaders make promises prior to every election but never carry it out. People have stopped believing here and they have grown doubtful. Even though they saw the project work, they were not in a state to believe easily. The Pariyar village is a village of Damais or low-caste inhabitants — as they are called. Due to this, they had to bear the brunt of the so-called higher-caste villagers. Still regarded as untouchables, they sew clothes for a living or engage in manual work in fields. Theirs is a cultural heritage that is rich in music. At various festivals, the Pariyars are still called upon to play their ‘Panche Baja’. If you are lucky, some times you might find these people out in the evening, practising. With the beauty of music, they have inherited a status that is still prevalent even though the law of cites against it. “When a higher caste individual is using the water tap, we have to stand a little further off and wait until he is done,” share the villagers. “We cannot use their taps, we have to walk all the way to the school which is half-an-hour’s walk. That is why we are so grateful to all the young people who made our lives easier.”

Five new taps now mark the little Pariyar village. The volunteers have brought water to the source from the main supply, which is six kilometres away. Ramila Pariyar has a daughter and tailors for a living. One of the taps built is right in front of her little home. “We don’t have to walk all that way anymore,” she says with a smile. Navaraj Pariyar, mobilisation leader of SOYA stated, “Now that we have our own taps in our village, everybody is happy. We will not have to wait for the higher-caste (?) to finish first.” Kopila Khatri, a farmer and mother of four daughters and a son shares her ecstasy at having one of the taps right beside her house. “It will be so easy for us now. We won’t have to go so far and it will save such a lot of time.”

The issue of untouchables have made the lives of the Pariyars difficult. They share their woes. “We are dalits and though people are taught that all men are born equal, it does not apply in real life. And this is not just our story, it is the story of men such groups throughout the country,” they state.

Bijay Pariyar, a 26-year-old man has gone on to fight the prejudices. “When we went to drink tea in the tea shops, we would have to sit outside and after drinking, wash our own glasses before we left. It didn’t matter that we paid money. It was very humiliating. So, I thought why not open our own tea stall?” Bijay did exactly that and today, he has a small teashop that serves all people equally and has grown into a thriving little business and a hangout for the village men. Damodar Subedi, a Brahmin says that he does not believe in the caste system. “To say and to do is very different. If there were a few more who didn’t believe, I wouldn’t practise it either but living in a society is very different. I would like to help the Pariyars but I cannot do it directly,” he said. Though Subedi lives within the system of the little society, he has provided his house as base for the volunteers.