henever I pick up a newspaper, I see articles, news items about the dismal state of caste discrimination in Nepal, and I feel as if I have once again entered a long, dark tunnel where I'm surrounded by anguished faces and heavy hearts, and where on one dares speak of anything positive. The truth is, relations among the races are far better than many thoughtful and concerned Nepalese give themselves credit for. We are without a doubt a prejudiced nation, but there are countless numbers of us who abnegate to give in to our own impulses.
But everyday kindness that crosses the colour line doesn't make good copy like a Dalit woman is fed faces inhumanly in the name of witch. Every political leader claims that our country will be better served if they win the election. Our leaders never hesitate to blow their own trumpet, but after winning the election they forget what promise they had made. Later on the so-called leaders are forced to resign. I'm delighted and that the story forced us to ask ourselves how our society could have allowed the individual to rise to such an elevated post.
These examples of bigotry and ignorance prove that caste tension is always bubbling underneath the surface of upper caste people's and lower caste people's interaction with each other, but I don't think that should come us to sink spirit. The fact is, a wealth of people choose each day to treat each other with respect, we'd live in a state of chaos otherwise. These acts of tolerance may not sell newspapers, but they are what ultimately move us forward.
My understanding of how far basic fairness can take us came easily on in the form of my 10+2 school teacher though she was a powerful lady, the queen of her domain. My bench partner in the school was one of the lower caste students in the classroom, but she made him feel equal to every other searching diatribe on caste relations, she simply treated him like everyone else. She never dropped even a hint that her student's caste, we all had to adhere to the highest academic standards. What she dreamed of one, she demanded of all. Eventually, we too became a teacher, and when I encountered students whose backgrounds were by caste and ethnically diverse, the memory of my teacher helped me assess my young charges on nothing more than the quality of their work.
I remember another example of the brighter side of caste relations that happened just before my best friend died. Though terminally ill, he was always optimistic that he would see the sun rise for one more day. Two days before he passed away, I visited him and his wife in his hospital room. He was especially pleased because on this particular evening, he was being entertained by young upper caste guitar players who came to the hospital twice a week to play for cancer patients. My friend, whose skin was blackened even more by the chemotherapy that ravaged his body, listened with rapt attention to rock song, his favourite.
Whilst he was abandoned in the music class, I was thinking of something else together. I was marveling at the scene-- a young upper caste male playing for some lower caste friends with whom I had not the slightest acquaintance. This, I thought, was at least a partial answer to our country's caste misunderstandings. We had discovered a common thread, in this case music, and were enjoying it with equal passion. Loving what is shared leaves little room for loathing what is different. In that room and among those four individuals, there were no rules, no regulations, no quotas, no affirmative-action concerns--just some musicians, a loving wife and a lifelong friend transcending caste to bring joy to a suffering man.
Moving beyond caste, like all human involvements, always comes down to caring. To think beyond caste is commendable, to act beyond race is to take a real step toward a more equal society. We'll know we've made progress when we can automatically look past the color of a person's skin, caste, clan and focus on his or her value as human being. I believe we're getting there, one small act of kindness at a time.
If it is too long to publish, some paragraphs can be deleted
This article was published in The Rising Nepal in 2012.
Amar Sherma( Limbu, teaching at a well-known school, a Chief Editor of Writers' Diary, and a vice-secretary of Sustainable Education Nepal-Group (SEN-G)