Asia West Pacific

Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability in Nepal

Part 2: Purity and Piety Justifies Superiority

By Subhash Chandra 

Note: Subhash spoke at the ‘Youth’s Voice for the Nation’ virtual event about ‘caste-based discrimination and untouchablity in Nepal’ on 24th September. This is part two of three parts on important aspects from that discourse.

Caste-based discrimination and untouchability is punishable by law as a crime in Nepal. But this inhuman practice continues in daily life practice. Sometimes it even results in brutal violence towards people in lower castes, sometimes including killing. The so-called upper caste people claim that it is their ancestral tradition and ‘religious duty’ to act with superiority. Why do they want this practice to exist and continue?

Upper caste people become used to having the power to exploit or control lower caste people. They strongly do not want to lose it. Lower caste people have been obedient laborers in agriculture and other economic activities for the upper castes with almost no access to or control of natural, socio-cultural, political, and economic resources for generations. They are exploited for their specialized skills- of agriculture, sewing, crafting ornaments, metal- and leather-related works, and so on.

One quite rigid concept used to segregate the lower and upper caste is the idea of purity and piety, meaning that upper caste people are pure and pious, while others are impure and impious. This is how untouchability functions in daily lives. Dalits are generally not allowed to enter upper caste people’s houses, touch people from upper castes (specially people from older generations), or enter into temples because their impurity is believed to contaminate others, even the gods. This perception puts upper caste people at a superior level to maintain power over the Dalits.

The upper caste people continue ancestral tradition and religious duty that reinforce the idea and practice of caste-based discrimination and untouchablity. Lower caste people’s specialized skills are low paid. They are seldom consulted for community matters. Historically they are pushed to the bottom of the economic status. Their access to meaningful participation in social and public issues are controlled and restricted as so-called “high caste space.” Because of these and other forms of exploitation and control, lower caste communities are still far behind in their development. When people of the lower castes become equal to others, the upper castes will lose their power to control and exploit.