Sarada B.K. (pseudonym) was a Victim of Social Exclusion. Sarada is a participant of this study. She was selected for two reasons. First, she was a school-going child who was under the age of eighteen during the Ten Years Armed Conflict. She experienced exclusion in school and society and thus, participated in the conflict. I planned to analyze her experiences on education during the conflict and afterwards as part of my study for Kathmandu University. Second, during selecting the participant for interview for this study, I visited the local community of Gorkha district where the local leaders recommended that Sarada would be the best participant to get the information for my research. So, I was delighted to choose Sarada as an extreme case to see the children’s education experiences during the period of Ten Years’ armed conflict. With the help of a local leader, I contacted Sarada on her cell phone and introduced myself and explained my purpose. I requested her to manage some time to share her schooling experiences during the time of ten years conflict. Then, she accepted my request and provided me with the date, time and place to meet her.
Sarada: A Village Woman
As per the telephone conversation, I went to meet Sarada at her home on the given time and date. When I reached her house, an older woman came outside and told me that Sarada had gone to the field to cut the grass. Thus, I was pleased to wait some hours for her. During that time, I sat in the yard and started to look around her house. Her house, made of mud with a thatched roof, was surrounded by a field. There were small plants of maize in the field which looked very beautiful. When I phoned her, she told that she reached was almost home. When she arrived, she looked tired as she was carrying a heavy load of grass in her basket. Her clothes were wet with perspiration and were torn in some places. She looked simple and any effect of modern society on her appeared absent in full. Question-Answer Session Began. After sometime, we sat on the veranda and introduced each other. At the same time, her mother brought some roasted maize and whey. I asked her who worked in the field to grow maize plants. She said it was her mother and herself. Then I began asking her my intended questions.
Sources of Livelihood and other Details
Sarada was permanently from a ward in Gorkha District. When I asked her about her family background and her family members’ professions she said that she was from a marginalized lower caste poor family, known as Dalit. She had six members in her family including parents. Among the siblings, she was the oldest daughter. It was known that she had to care for her younger brothers and sisters because her parents were engaged in labor work in the field. Thus, her parents’ profession was to labor in rich people’s work because the family was landless and had no other options. So, her family depended on their ‘laborer’ occupation as a means of livelihood over the years. Her parents had worked for low wages as compared with upper castes (i.e. Brahmins/Ksatriya) people. This was hardly adequate to feed their family
Discriminated for Being a Dalit: Past and Present Experiences
After learning about her family background, I was caught by reminiscence of the livelihood of Dalit people in my own village namely, Lumle. I had observed similar conditions of Dalit people in Lumle during my childhood. In fact, I had observed that the so-called elite and upper caste people had used Dalits in their labor work at cheap, low salaries. They used the Dalit people as servants and not as human beings (Gadhalai bharee bokaaye jasari). I had seen that the Dalit people of Lumle were engaged more than 16 hours a day without rest but still they did not have enough food in their home. They were hardly able to survive. While I was in school, I had some friends who were from the Dalit community. They were compelled to leave school even in the midsession and they got involved in labor work, joining their parents’ work. Since their parents’ meager earnings were not sufficient to look after the entire family, the children also had to go for wage labors. According to the report of the International Dalit Solidarity Network, (IDSN, 2015), Dalit children parents did not understand the importance of education and they forced their elder children - especially girls - to care for younger siblings and do house chores while the parents worked. So, it can be said that Dalit households do not have the right environment for their children to pursue studies.
Description of Schooling Life
Sarada said that she was as lucky because she got a chance to go school despite being a member of Dalit family. She was not able to say anything when I asked her about who created that opportunity. She only said that she got the chance to get enrolled in a school being a single kid in her family (at that time her young brother and sister were not born). Sarada was fourteen years old and was studying in grade seven when the conflict began. Her school was located in the next village, a remote area that required a lengthy walk. So, to reach there, she should walk around one hour. She mostly had upper caste friends in her classroom. Only two boys from her community were there and she was therefore a lonely girl from her community. Except those two boys, she never got help from other friends in her class. So, it can be said that children of Dalit families were vulnerable and often discriminated, even when they could pursue formal schooling. Due to the economic backwardness, their access to education is very poor and a significant numbers of Dalit school age children are forced to leave school. Even if their families allow them to attend school rather than work with the family, the parents are usually unable to buy uniforms, books and stationery for them (Dahal, 2002). So, they do not get important opportunities and they eventually are forced to drop out. Even though Sarada was a Dalit family member, she had got a chance to go to school and could get upgraded to grade eight from grade seven. But being a Dalit student, she had faced discrimination and abuse. Further, sometimes, she was stigmatized and thought to drop out of school. According to Sarada, students from the upper caste backgrounds behaved negatively in the classrooms. In such situation, teachers either stayed silent on the matter or also behaved negatively. She remembered:
One day, it was lunch time and we were playing in the ground and our all teachers were eating their Tiffin. Unknowingly, I reached to touch the water bottle of our teacher (who taught us Nepali). It happened when I was running to meet my friend. He immediately caught me and started give blows with a stick in front of all teachers and my friends. I begged and requested him to forgive me for my unknowing mistake. He never listened to my concern about study afterwards, and also indirectly or directly started to discriminate me, such as neglecting, repeated blaming, and labeling as a weak performer (for being a Dalit), which made me too much frustrated. Sometimes we three, two Dalit boys and I, were segregated in the classroom. Neither the teachers cared, nor did our classmates. Our classmates who were from the upper castes, also behaved like teachers, they had a team except us. They never let their Tiffin be touched by us. If we mistakenly touch it, they would throw their Tiffin even though they were hungry. By this way, we were behaved like an animal even in the same class with the same teacher. (Field note)
Reminiscence of My Own Schooling
While listing Sarada’s comments I remembered the day of my schooling in grade ten. At that point in my education I was the first boy (standing first in terms of merit) and Govinda B.K. (pseudonym) was the second boy (standing second in terms of merit) in my class. Whenever I was confused about any questions, the teacher would happily teach me even out of school time. However, if Govinda asked his question in school time, the teacher would behave obnoxiously. The teacher always said to Govinda “What will you do after passing the SLC? After all, you have to plough the field no matter how much and how well you read.” So, Govinda was denied the right to ask any questions in our class while I could maintain the second position in the class regardless of the attitudes and behavior of the teachers and other friends towards him. Thus, Dalit students were separated even in their classroom by the teachers, students and even administration. Human Rights Watch (HRW, 2007) also describes teachers as they are the one who declared that the Dalit students can’t learn unless they are punished. So, in the case of Sarada, if a Dalit student makes some minor mistakes, they had to face corporeal punishment, which was not the case for other students.
Atrocity Inflicted on Dalits
The Dalits were denied to access to school water supplies. They were not allowed to touch the lunch of other friends and were segregated in the classroom and forced to perform manual scavenging on and around school premises. In addition, the Dalit children faced discriminatory attitudes from the community as a whole, in particular from higher caste members who perceived education for Dalits as a threat to village hierarchies and power relations. They thought that, if they provided the Dalits with education, one day they would be able to grasp power and their (upper caste peoples’) position would be lost. So, the non-Dalits did not want to provide any academic opportunity to the Dalit people and their children. The indirect discrimination by teachers, community people and school administrative staff by neglecting them, blaming, labeling of the Dalit students in academic performance all led to social exclusion, irregular presence in classroom, less attention in studies, less involvement in school activities, substandard performance, drop outs and failure (Bishwokarma, 2010). So, it can be said that neither the school nor the community created an academic environment for the Dalit students.
The family members of Sarada suffered from hunger and poverty. They had no other source of income than labor. They used to get low wages which were very limited for food and had no money for other needs like education and health, etc. Due to lack of money, lots of poor people faced death. It was similar in Sarada’s family. In this regard, she recalled her childhood experience as:
It was the time of summer; my younger sister had suffered from seasonal disease. Without treatment at home, she becomes more serious day by day because of not having money. My parents were hurried to get money from elsewhere for her treatment but could not get even a single hundred rupees. Nobody of this village people believed our family. Due to cause of poverty, we could not hospitalize my sister and she cries died. (Field note)
So, due to poverty, many families lose a family member to death. Getting education is the great achievement in this context. Many parents merely cannot afford to send their children to school and are dependent on their workforce to safeguard the survival of the family (Bishowkarma, 2010). But many of them are dying because of the extreme poverty. They could recover if they had money but they are forced to kill themselves and endure the death of relatives. In that miserable situation, Sarada was hardly able to reach school.
One day, when Sarada reached school, she saw a dance program and the dancers were in army dress. At first, she was frightened and started thinking who they were and why were they were dancing in school. After the dance, one speaker delivered a speech about their agenda and their interest in conducting this program in her school. Then she came to know that they were the CPN (Maoist). After that, she moved near the CPN (Maoist) cadres to know about them. And she asked in detail about them and told about herself in detail too. Then, one of the CPN (Maoist) cadres said that he was busy then and promised to come to her house later.
Next day the person who had promised to come her house arrived and she had introduced him to her family members. After they had a meal and he started to talk but, due to the cause of illiteracy and lack of political awareness, her parents were not able to understand what he was talking about and she was hardly able to understand what he said. He talked about social exclusion, domination and its liberation through his party’s revolution. She became more interested to know about his party and its political agenda. As per her request, he explained and provided her some books and materials for further reading. She read these all documents with enthusiasm. Then, it made her more eager to comprehend about the ongoing CPN (Maoist) revolution. (Neupane (2003) emphasized that the social and political agenda of the CPN (Maoist) motivated the school children especially from the socially excluded and marginalized community to get involved in the armed conflict even though they were below 18 years.) And she herself tried to meet them and got more information day by day. Since she was a Dalit girl, she was more motivated to know about the CPN (Maoist) agenda against caste-based discrimination, untouchability and poverty. Furthermore, she found it interesting that the CPN (Maoist) party had given priority to these issues and started the revolution for the liberty of those people who were socially excluded and oppressed.
Discrimination Inserted in Cognition
As Sarada read the materials from the cadre, she started to remember her own daily life, where she had experienced discrimination. Being a member of the marginalized community, she had faced several types of discrimination in her family and society at the hands of the elites and upper caste peoples. Sometimes, she had to stand for a long time in queue untouchably to fill the water container. Then she would get the chance to fill the water only after the upper caste women filled their pots. Similarly, she had seen the death of her younger sister because of poverty. She was much frustrated with the behavior of her teachers, classmate and school administration. Thus, she thought to leave her schooling and join the CPN (Maoist) movement to get liberty from such discriminations (as she was tempted by the cadres and the documents). Bhattachan and Webster (2005) have also highlighted that the root cause of involvement in the conflict was the social exclusion, poverty and discrimination. The voices of the affected girl with regards to, what she had felt and experienced are highlighted below:
A Girl I belong to a marginalized lower caste poor family. My family has to work for rich people for more than 16 hours a day but still we do not have enough food at home. It was really a difficult task to solve hand to mouth problem. We never get access to resources in the community as well as the state. My family had never had the access to hospital, communication and other development aspects. I was feeling discriminated in the school by the teachers and friends. My friends even did not sit near me and share their lunch because I was from the lower caste. So I thought it was all because of the exploiting system of the state; therefore, I joined the CPN (Maoist) to fight against the system, and to establish a new state with equal distribution of all resources among us. (Field note)
Radical Cause for Joining CPN (Maoist)
It seems that the existing social system led her to join in the CPN (Maoist) revolution. Because they are Dalit family members, Dalit students face many problems (Bishowkarma, 2010) and she had also faced many problems even in formal education as a student. For her liberation, she thought that she needed to join in the CPN (Maoist) revolution. According to her interview, she was just fourteen years old at the time of joining the CPN (Maoist) party. And she said that she did not know about child rights and conventions which insisted on protecting the child rights and advocating against recruiting (as CPN –Maoist cadres) children under the age of eighteen. She was searching for a way for liberty because she was so affected by social discrimination. So, it supplied more enlightenment to her to be a revolutionary.
Involvement in Political Activities
Sarada worked for two years in Student Union at first, i.e., CPN (Maoist) s’ sister student organization– All Nepal National Independent Students Union (Revolutionary). Then she was shifted to PLA. She had worked as an active fighter in the major attacks several times. Regarding this, she shared:
I had almost forgotten my family during that period. Friends and party was everything for me and I had promised to fight against the system, and to establish a new state with equal distribution of all resources to all on the basis of their demand and to promote right to education to all the children by shifting the trend from bourgeois (traditional) to janawadi (popular). (Field note)
Similarly, it was argued by Devkota (2014) that our social structure created the gap between the people of our society on the basis of caste, race and economic conditions. As a result, rich people are richer and poor people are poorer. So, children who were under the age of eighteen were discriminated against on the bases of caste, ethnicity and religion. It was explained to them that they were fighting for the country first and then only for their families. They were ready to lose everything for the liberation of social exclusion and discrimination in their society.
Reflection on Factors Causing Discrimination
Sarada faced several kinds of social discrimination, caste-based discrimination, gender based discrimination, poverty, domination from so called elites, upper caste people in her school, society, and community. She witnessed the programs of CPN (Maoist) party where she had learned about the political agenda of that party which was addressing problems and discrimination that Sarada had faced. She was inspired by their ideas and was compelled to accept the agenda of the CPN (Maoist) party with the theme of change in the society to attain freedom from that discrimination. The interest of Sarada was to participate in the programs of CPN (Maoist) party; she was made a member and later joined the PLA before the age of 18, though it was her school-going age.
After analyzing Sarada’s case, I realized that multi-ethnicity, caste differences and inequalities are crucial aspects in the social, political, cultural and economic structures within Nepal (Shakya, 2006). People are discriminated as Dalit, poor and marginalized. It was part of the CPN (Maoist) agenda to eliminate discrimination on the basis of caste and ethnicity, rich and poor as it prevents discriminated people and those from marginalized group from gaining equal access in the society. These structural inequalities have provided a fertile ground for the CPN (Maoist) to encourage members of the lower castes, disparate ethnic groups, and school going children to participate in the Ten Years Armed Conflict. So, social exclusion, poverty and CPN (Maoist) political agenda have led the school children to quit school and join the CPN (Maoist) movement even though, they were under the age of eighteen.
The story of Sarada is only one of many stories from the insurgency of Nepal. The cause was poverty and, beyond that, being a Dalit. These mostly rural children had faced social exclusion in society and school; they were motivated by the CPN (Maoist) political agendas and had left the school to join the CPN (Maoist) revolution. There were several reasons that school-going children were victims and dropped out from their education during the conflict on Nepal. Moreover, school-going children participated in the armed conflict of the CPN (Maoist) party due to their parents’ involvement and regular torture by state security forces. However, some participants became the affected as their parents were government employers (i.e., teacher and Nepal army respectively) and didn’t obey the decision of leaving the job and supporting the CPN (Maoist).
Thus, children were neither being protected as a child, when they were school-going children, nor were they protected after being the affected. Participants were either engaged in the CPN (Maoist) party and/or affected for not supporting the CPN (Maoist) party.
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