Nepal | August 04, 2020

Caste and the subtle psychology behind it

Shreya Soni
Share Now:

Kathmandu, July 12

When 21-year-old Navaraj set out to marry the girl he loved, I suspect he had certain admonitions. A Dalit boy was cruising through treacherous waters when he dared to dream beyond his allowance and wished to marry Sushma Malla, an upper-caste Hindu. He knew the dangers this blatant disregard of the societal rules spurred. Perhaps this is why he was accompanied by 18 of his friends.

It is the year 200 BC. A scholar named Manu penned down the laws of the society in his text ‘Manusmriti,’ a legal book Hindus swear by. Amidst many other rules that eventually became the hard truth and basis of the society, the most entrenched is the division of people into four-tier varnas: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.  These divisions, apparently, were made according to the occupation of the person, but on a much deeper level they were said to reflect accumulated merit in past lives or as it is commonly known ‘Karma’.

It is the year 2020. Navaraj and five of his friends were stoned to death by upper-caste Hindu men. 2500 years later, Manu still reigns as the law-maker of society.

This week the world saw the death of another minority at the hands of a white police officer. Hashtag Black lives matter was seen doing rounds of the internet, and a sad tale of 400 years of oppression with no promising end to it suffered another traumatic blow, this time through shortness of breath. The entire world mourned George Floyd’s death and sparked anger, fumed by the entitlement of the majority. This story of the far west, however, struck a melancholy note closer to home: a west much nearer than America.

Navaraj hailed from Jajarkot district of mid-western Nepal. Another horrific account from Rupendehi district cites the hanging of a 12-year-old Dalit girl who was raped by a 25-year-old upper-caste man. Whether society is immune to these stories or just indifferent to it is hard to tell, but cues from everyday language point towards the latter. Today, the white police officer is being condemned for abusing his power in a world where the supremacy of a certain race had been decided upon years ago. To this I ask, where is the condemnation of the upper caste Hindus that participate actively in the oppression of Dalits?

These ‘lower caste’ Hindus carry at least 2000 years of generational trauma within them. For centuries now, they have been deemed untouchables. To be segregated from the society solely on the basis of birth is highly problematic and sheds light into a deeper well darkened by the shadows of entitlement. While Dalits have suffered centuries of laceration and tormentation, upper-caste Hindus have inherited centuries worth of power, status and control along with a disdain for the lower castes. They are often seen lazily residing on their invisible high thrones and looking down upon certain sections of the society.

Factually, today may be the 21st century, but in principle Nepal and a few other South Asian countries scream medieval times. We are stubbornly stuck in a time where power is easily shifted from one generation to another. Branded at birth, we must live within these invisible lines to survive and to be accepted. Many are automatically deemed kings and the unlucky few must live with guilt and shame for something that isn’t possibly in their control. So ashamed are they of being born in a lower caste that they are often found eliminating their surnames from introductions.

Tapai ko naam ke ho?”(What is your name)


 “Ram ke?”(Ram what?)

 “Ram nei bhanum na…”(Let’s just say Ram…)

A few who stir up the courage to challenge this draconian rule are met with an untimely death at the hands of upper-caste fathers and brothers. Might it be the threat of this easy claim of superiority slipping away that has led to a continuing prevalence of the caste system in 2020? It is imperial to implore the roots of this behaviour that ignites murderous anger among the upper caste. Perhaps a nodule of shame is stirred and is then repeatedly injected with phrases like “What will people say?” If so, this pooling of shame and anger has incited acts of violence that are somehow justifiable in the heads of the perpetrators.

“How dare he?” they say.

For them, the ‘sinner’ must be crucified lest more lower caste members dare to be anything other than what they are permitted. These killings are, then, a warning. A deadly dangerous warning to all others: you will be met with the same fate if you question society.

Kami. Damai. Achut. Dum. These are some of the commonly used terms used to describe them with obvious demeaning meaning behind it.

Shooting. Lynching. Burning alive. Beating. Force feeding human faeces and urine. Parading naked in public. Rape. These are some of the common punishments prescribed to the lower castes.

Casteism is a form of racism. So deeply it is set in our beliefs that a world without caste seems improbable. So subtle is our indifference towards them that we often fail to identify and call out problematic behaviours. We teach our kids about their place in the society, not explicitly but through actions and words often uttered freely in the safe walls of our houses.

Popular vlogger Sisan Baniya explains how subtle casteist ideology is and how children as young as six years old indulge in such behaviours. Hide & Seek, a seemingly harmless game played by children, is called lukidum in Nepali. One seeker, or the dum, must search for the rest of the players who are hidden. To be touched by the dum implies elimination from the game. Even though in today’s world this usage of dum may be a learned name passed on from generation to generation, the etymology is still highly toxic and problematic. A concept has been drilled into our subconscious. To be touched by a dum is to die.

Progress in any society only occurs when the minds of the masses are willing to unlearn certain things that would easily pass as acceptable. It is not acceptable to corner someone based on their caste. It is not acceptable to reduce someone to their caste. In an ideal Nepal, the caste system would cease to exist, but we are far from where we aim to be. We are, in fact, just starting to dismantle generations worth of rules and entitlement.  For now, let’s start with unlearning what we were taught.

To their “How dare he?” let’s say “Why not?”

Follow The Himalayan Times on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Stories:

More from The Himalayan Times:

NASA astronauts make historic return home aboard SpaceX capsule

US astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who flew to the International Space Station in SpaceX's new Crew Dragon, splashed down in the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday after a two-month voyage that was NASA's first crewed mission from home soil in nine years. Behnken and Hurley, Read More...

Media urged to refrain from brewing controversy over court verdict, order

Media criticism of verdicts erodes faith in the judiciary Kathmandu, August 2 Nepal Bar Association today issued a press release urging media outlets to maintain restraint about court verdicts. It also said a court should not pass an order or a verdict that creates controversy. “NBA’s ser Read More...

TUTH. Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj

COVID patient recovers after plasma therapy

KATHMANDU, AUGUST 2 Plasma therapy was used for the first time in the country to successfully treat a 60-year-old coronavirus patient, in Kathmandu, earlier this week. The procedure was performed at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj. “The patient, a resident of Biratnagar, Read More...

Call to grant rights to reopen schools to local levels

Kathmandu, August 2 The government has been advised to come up with a procedure to pass on the right to reopen schools that have remained closed due to the COVID-19, to respective local governments and schools. While Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is preparing to bring a work pr Read More...

‘People’s voice will be suppressed if journalists lose their jobs’

Kaski, August 2 President of Federation of Nepali Journalists Govinda Acharya said actions such as relieving journalists of their jobs, providing half salary and exerting pressure on them to stay on leave without payment would suppress the voice of the people. During an interaction here today, Read More...

25 per cent tourism workers return to work

Pokhara, August 2 After relaxation of the lockdown to contain COVID-19, normalcy is beginning to return in the tourism sector with workers in this sector starting to return to work after four months of shutdown. Pokhara Tourism Council said 25 per cent workers associated with the tourism indus Read More...

Police vital for ensuring peace: CM Gurung

Pokhara, August 2 Gandaki Province Chief Minister Prithivi Subba Gurung today said that Gandaki Province Police Office had to play a significant role in enforcing peace and controlling crime. CM Gurung handed over keys of vehicles provided by the provincial government to Gandaki Province P Read More...

Snakebite patients up in Bheri Hospital

Nepalgunj, August 2 The number of snakebite patients has increased in Nepalgunj-based Bheri Hospital of late. Snakebite patients were admitted to the emergency and ICU wards after their numbers surged with the beginning of monsoon. As many as 10 to 15 snakebite patients reach the hospital f Read More...