The Dalit Patron



Arnav Darnal


 
© Copyright 2021 by Arnav Darnal




Photo of Padam Sundas.
  
Born in Bhojpur, Nepal to a Dalit family, deemed lower caste as maintained by the Hindu Varna system and, therefore, untouchable, Padam Sundas resists social conventions and champions the rights of the marginalised to become the first Nepalese male diplomat of his caste.
 
Five pathis of rice should suffice,” muttered the domineering Bista matriarch, pouring an imperial gallon of grain for each member of the family into a canvas bag. She placed it atop the sturdy wooden table such that Ratnamaya, the lower caste tailor employed by the family, known commonly as Damini Aama, would not come into mutual contact with her. Setting the chaubandi cholo and the daura suruwal on the table as she picked up the bag, Ratnamaya took her leave.
 
At her earthen hut, providing with accommodation her family of five, Ratnamaya cooked rice and put dal to simmer as the two of her youngest kids, Bala and Padam, recited their learnings from school. During a time where schooling was believed to be a luxury for the rich rather than a requisite for all, to the extent that her relatives, both close and distant, had been dropping out in pursuit of paycheques, she took great pride in having enrolled her children in schools.
 
As years passed, Bala obtained his School Leaving Certificate, abbreviated commonly as SLC, in 1958 and shifted from Bhojpur to Kathmandu in pursuit of higher education. In compliance with the Colombo Plan, nevertheless, he relocated to New Delhi, studying on full scholarship, rendering employment and sending his family remittance involute.
 
Three years later, in 1961, Padam completed his secondary education and moved to the capital in hopes of becoming a doctor. Be that as it may, evaluating the amount required to complete his Intermediate in Science and taking into consideration the fact that there was no direct source of income in his family, he opted to study under the governmental plan.
 
In accordance with the governmental scheme through the agency of which he completed his education, Padam was recruited to work in Khandbari. Still, he was refused a place in the market area based on his caste, prompting him to sleep in the very office he worked at during the day. 
 
Due to the inconvenience, Padam requested the office for a transfer and returned home, three months after he first moved to Sankhuwasabha, working at the Panchayat Vikas Kendra, not far from his home. Though accommodation was no longer a problem, he had to frequent several villages, where he often experienced prejudice. 
 
Consequently, as he made his way along the rural areas of the country on an official field trip, he stopped at a hut housing a Chhetri family, upper-caste by contemporaneous standards, the matriarch of which prohibited him from eating inside with the rest. Even as she served him food, the woman maintained a certain distance, in fear of coming into physical contact with the lower-caste man, causing the dal to be poured not on his plate but on his hand, thereby scalding his skin. 
 
Following the event, he returned home, lamenting his pursuit of education as soon as he caught sight of his mother.
 
Why did you enrol me in a school?” he cried in despondency. “I could’ve spent my entire life sewing clothes, living on alms. I wouldn’t have to face such bigotry on the daily.”
 
Had I not put you and your brother through school,” Ratnamaya replied calmly, “the two of you wouldn’t be able to fend for yourselves; you would have to welcome whatever you were provided without say.”
 
A contemplative expression materialised on Padam’s face as if a thousand thoughts ran through his head; nevertheless, he remained quiet.
 
We weren’t allowed within the marketplace,” she continued. “You remember, don’t you? Our daily bread depended on the mercy of others. If nothing else, you can make a proper living for yourself.”
 
Having reflected on the conversation he had with his mother, Padam opted to continue with his work, where he got acquainted with Amina, a Dalit woman who had recently transferred from Dhankuta. As the two worked cooperatively, they grew fond of each other and, eventually, tied the knot in 1964, at the courtyard of Siddhakali Mandir for the pandit closed the temple door on them. 
 
This incident fuelled the Siddhakali Mandir Pravesh, a small-scale protest aimed to grant lower-caste people access to religious sites, which ended up in a commotion, with over a hundred protestors arrested. They were let go once congressman Naradmuni Thulung came to their defence. However, along with the lower-caste inhabitants, the consensus barred everyone except the pandits from entering the temple.
 
With the passage of time, Padam fathered a daughter with his wife, still working at the Panchayat Development Centre to provide for his growing family. The platform, then affiliated with the Peace Corps, had shortlisted him from Bhojpur, Karma Bandhu Sharma from Syangja, and Bel Prasad Shrestha from Dhulikhel to volunteer in the United States. Even though all of them had the qualities looked for in a volunteer, Bel Prasad was chosen given that he had more work experience than the rest.
 
Owing to the nature of his job, in the wake of welcoming a son and another daughter in the family, Padam moved from his birthplace to Rajbiraj and Birtamod before eventually settling down in Dharan, where he continued working as an overseer while he got more involved in the lives of his children.
 
Following Ratnamaya’s death in 1989 and, subsequently, Amina’s death ten years later, Padam battled a myriad of health issues, pushing his children to marry him off to Amrita Trikhatri, a Dalit woman hailing from Jamuna, Ilam. Later, he shifted to the capital, not far from the address his daughters had been married off to, where he involved himself in social reform and activism. 
 
Having founded the Ratnamaya Dalit Sahitya Samrakshan Samiti to publish the works of lower-caste authors and the Amina Scholarship Fund for the Dalit pupils pursuing their education Sharada Balika Namuna Secondary School in Dharan, Padam engaged in the Nepal Utpidit Dalit Jatiya Mukti Samaj, among others, in a bid to elevate the status of his people. 
 
Once the social organisation associated with the CPN-Maoist to eradicate caste-based discrimination within the country, a group of social workers of all castes, led by Padam, established the Samata Foundation, an independent think-tank that puts forward ways to eliminate the custom of untouchability through research and informed advocacy. As a result, the organisation played a key role in ensuring the Dalit population their rights in the Constitution of Nepal 2015, along with forming international joint forums on a social level and parliamentary forums on a political level throughout Asia. 
 
Due to the international relations created and maintained by Padam through the Samata Foundation, besides the constitutional notion of proportional representation, the Maoist party nominated him in 2016 to become the first Nepalese ambassador to Bahrain, the post of which had formerly been handled by the chargés d’affaires. Fifteen months later, he took off for the island nation, successfully completing his tenure in the fall of 2021. A revolutionary in his own right, Padam plans to devote the rest of his time to uplifting his people and his community. 



 Arnav Darnal is an A-Level student and aspiring computer engineer from Kathmandu, Nepal, mainly interested in realistic
fiction and narrative non-fiction. During time off, he rejoices in channelling his emotions to encourage productivity, particularly through reading and writing. You can reach out to him on Instagram at @arnavdarnal. 




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