The woman in this picture is a Dalit, and many of you reading this post will have no idea what that means, and have no experience of witnessing the treatment of people “labelled” as Dalits. Change the word Dalit to “untouchable” and you might, just might begin to understand, but only slightly.
Imagine living in your comfortable western surroundings in Europe, America, Australia…. and wake up one morning to find that your passport has been confiscated along with your citizenship rights, you have lost your job, nobody will speak to you, look at you, or touch you. Nobody will touch what you have touched, you cannot take any job except garbage cleaning, toilet cleaning, rubbish collecting. You cannot grow or touch food that is to be eaten by others, you cannot cook food that is to be eaten by others. Welcome to the world of being a Dalit!
The Dalit is the lowest caste in the Hindu world and therefore is a real life situation for many in India and Nepal specifically. They are true outcasts since many of the rights and freedoms we take for granted are denied them, including education directly and indirectly.
The first school we aided in Nepal was known as a “Rag School” for “Rag Children”. It had 12 pupils, all under the age of 10 and who came to the tin shack of a school around 11am each day having spent the first 2-3 hours of the day combing the stinking garbage dumps of Kathmandu for anything worth selling, from rags to bits of metal, tyres, boxes and …… food scraps that could be used for pigs and goats feed.
I took the photo of this woman early one morning in Bhaktapur, the sun was shining and she sat down to take a break with a cigarette, probably a little ganja. She had methodically swept the dust away from the terracotta brick floor and the small shrine at the foot of the larger temple of Nyatapola in the town centre. She probably earned just enough to feed herself for a single day. Tomorrow …… who knows, who cares?