Why are some people considered “untouchable” by others? Why do many upper caste people sprinkle water to purify themselves ritually when are touched by a Dalit?
Two documentary films about the lower caste people -the Dalit- in Nepal have just been finished. The films are a result of a joint project between Danish Association for International Co-operation (MS-Nepal), Danida/HUGOU’s Dalit Support Unit and a Danish filmmaker/anthropologist. The two films “We have the Same Kind of Blood” and “Why Dalit?” are the first ever close portraits of Dalits made in Nepal.
“We Have the Same Kind of Blood” gives a sensitive and in-depth view of the daily life of Dalits as it is experienced by the villagers in Pachnali, a small mountain village in Doti district in West Nepal. The village is inhabited by several Dalit castes – the Kami (blacksmiths), Damai (tailors) and Bhul (leather workers) among others, as well as some Thakuri upper caste households. The filmteam settled in the village for 1½ month to participate in the daily life and create a close relationship to the villagers. At first the villagers were reluctant to be filmed: “Why should other people to see our poverty?”, they asked, being shy of wearing their worn out clothes in front of the camera. Slowly the confidence was built up.
Some of the glaring examples of the caste based discrimination are revealed in the film: as in many parts of Nepal, they are not allowed to use the water taps reserved for the higher castes; they cannot enter the Hindu temples as they are considered to be “impure” and have a “reckless” behaviour. The strong influence of the religious cosmology upon the caste behaviour and the daily life as such is also reflected in the films.
“Why Dalit?” provides an insight portrait of the Dalits’ situation in Nepal at large. Through the words of Dalit and upper caste people, the film explores many of the paradoxes in the caste based discrimination: like why are the shoes made by Sarkis, lower caste people, allowed into the house of the upper castes, when the person who made the shoes cannot enter? The film moves from the mountain areas in the West down to the Terai in the South and sheds light on different Dalit castes and their living circumstances – e.g. the Sunars (goldsmith) who try to escape from the caste discrimination in the hill villages by migrating to the more populated market areas in Terai; the Badis who struggle to get citizenship for their fatherless children; the Dhobis (washermen) who spend their life washing clothes, but still are considered “dirty”.
The practice of caste discrimination is illegal and punishable by law in Nepal. But the caste system still forms an essential part of the cultural landscape. In many ways the Dalits live on the margin of the Nepalese society – economically as well as culturally. But the films also show the humour and strength of the Dalit as they try to live a life in dignity. Being the first in-depth portrait of Dalits’ way of life and the discrimination as it takes place every day in many parts of Nepal, the films are important inputs in the process of asking for equality for all citizens in Nepal and raising awareness about caste discrimination.
Produced and directed by Ms. Berit Madsen/Manche Film with Ms. Ganga Gurung as sound engineer/interpreter, the two documentaries have enjoyed expert inputs from Dalit NGO Federation, Feminist Dalit Organization and Dalit Welfare Organization. The documentaries, edited by Mr. Rabindra Pandey, are enriched by Aavaas’s music/lyric and songs by Mr. Tirtha Gandharva.
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