Do you know the Nepali people considered as the “Untouchables”?
Below, I’ve written a post about a community of discriminated people who don’t get enough praise and recognition. I’ve decided to celebrate Women’s History Month as an opportunity to share with you about their lifestyle, culture, and community.
Please learn more about them at Dalit Solidarity.
Look out for International Women’s Day celebrated around the world on March 8th.
There’s much more to Nepal than Mt. Everest. Yes, I’m sure. I’ve seen almost the entire country in a week and didn’t even see, climb or get near the famous peak. Instead, I experienced another side of Nepal that most visitors wouldn’t.
I’m here to share with you where I traveled and most importantly who I met.
This is the Nepali community considered “The Untouchables.”
The Local People
Nepal may be a small country, but it packs a lot of culture and history into its size (56,827 mi²; that’s one-fifth of Texas). And, as a woman, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned and appreciated from the natives and their community.
Without knowing anything about Nepal, you probably wouldn’t have any idea of what the Nepali people look like. Or, where the country is.
I’m here to tell you that it’s not about that. Not the fact that Nepal is located in Asia. Or, its comparison to the western world.
It’s about their hospitality, spirit, and connection to mother earth.
I advise you to avoid pitying, judging, or dismissing the people of Nepal, especially the group below. You get to truly embrace their lifestyle, innovation, and sense of community.
Nepal has a bit of political turmoil like any other country (the US, I’m looking at you), so I’m not painting it as a fairytale destination. But rather, a place where imperfect people are making their way downtown…
The Dalits (Untouchables)
On day two of my FAM trip with Hands-On Institute, we were headed to a village led by the Dalits, formerly known as the ‘Untouchables’ in Nepal.
While the Dalits make up 13% of Nepal’s population, they are considered some of the lowest members in society. According to Dalit Solidarity, they aren’t even part of a caste, but rather outside of the caste system (“outcastes”).
For 5 hours, we rode from Kathmandu to Aapshawara Village. In between time, we just sat back in the Jeep and observed a normal Tuesday in Nepal. We watched people work in their villages as we navigated the traffic packed with motorcycles, trucks, cars, chickens, cows, and children walking to school.
Once we arrived, we were greeted by the women and few men in the Dalit community with flower necklaces, tea, and dance. Before we sat, the leader of the community marked our foreheads with red tikka powder for the celebration about to ensue.
Once seated, everyone, translated through the organizer, introduced themselves. We spoke about our backgrounds and the reason for our visit.
Thirty minutes into our meeting, one of the women brings out a drum and hands it to one of the men. He starts beating the drum very soothingly but purposely. The women began singing in unison. Although unfamiliar words, they sang with a boisterous and fierce tone.
The leader begins dancing. Then, a 1-year-old baby follows suit. The cute and adorable 1-year-old flips his
She pulls one person from our group to the middle of the circle. The melody, drum, singing, and dancing continued.
We watched as she danced to the drumbeat. Anxiety hit me because I knew where this was going. Each guest would be asked to join the dancing and celebration too.
She pulled the second person in, then I was next.
Instead of being overcome by anxiety, self-consciousness, and doubt, I followed everyone else into dance.
Finally, it was time to meet our host families.
I’m very familiar with homestays. I’ve done them twice when I studied abroad in Spain. But, the unfamiliarity of whose home I was going into still brought about a bit of anxiousness
We grabbed our bags and we walked up a steep dirt path that led the way to the valley accomodating almost 40 homes. One of them would be mine for the night.
Sections along the path became narrower and becoming too difficult to walk across.
With backpacks and bags weighing us down, there was no other way but to lightly step across rocks and cracks in the path to arrive at our destination.
15 minutes later, out of breath, we would enter the valley and begin to greet our homestays for the night.
I was the last to meet my host family and make myself comfortable in my room.
For two hours, the family, including of a daughter and two sons, taught me about their lifestyle. Cooking rice, gardening, and trying their local cuisine, Dalbhat.
The daughter* and I engaged in minor conversation about boyfriends and love. Our exchange:
She asked: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No,” I answered.
While laughing, she replies, “Do you not like love?”
Really, she had me in my feelings for a second. I had to ask myself: “Do you not like love?” Then I remembered all the years of disappointment and anxiety and realized that I was on a journey of self-love. So, I should’ve said:
“Yes, I do like love. Self-love to be exact.”
When her brother* arrived, we turned from speaking about love and boyfriends to battling it out in Uno. He beat me the first round. But, we managed great competition, although he learned from previous guests from another country.
The mother kept busy. Fetching water, prepping dinner, and tending to the garden and other needs.
She was quiet. But, she embodied strength like all the other head of households.
*Their names will not be mentioned in the post.
The Women Leaders & Head of Household
The highlight of the evening was hearing from the leaders about their local initiatives and purpose for welcoming visitors.
With the assistance from Hands-On Institute, the Dalits established homestays to support their community as a result of segregation, discrimination, continuous hurdles with government support and recognition, and equality.
So, the more they have visitors, the awareness of their community and culture spreads. Not only among Nepalis but also the world.
Learning about their culture wasn’t enough. We were advised by the Hands-On organizers to actually assist and learn about their lifestyle. To help prepare dinner, learn a skill, or work in the garden.
They challenged us to push past shallow interaction. To actually show interest in what the Dalits have to offer because they have been “made to feel that they possess no skills.” As mentioned to us (taken from resources from Hands-on):
- Learn the skills: It’s empowering to the locals to teach someone from another country a skill that they possess.
- Work like them: Use actions to show the locals that their life is beautiful.
- Use a respectful gesture: Insist on being on the same level if the locals present you with a better chair. Instead, offer the chair to them.
After being cast as “less than” and “untouchable,” the Dalits, especially the women, think very little of themselves.
At one point during the meeting, our organizer reminded the women to sit in chairs; that they were just as much part of the conversation as us and the local leaders.
That’s why they formed the local women’s empowerment group, including collecting dues to provide loans to community members in need.
Our Goodbyes or See you Laters
It was a very short visit. Hardly enough time to connect with any of the locals. Right?!
That morning of our departure was filled with fog, goats running around, traditional music, and more Dalbhat.
The local cuisine had become a favorite after having it for both lunch and dinner (even for the next few days).
And, I much appreciated the Dalits’ hospitality and their openness to educate and share their culture.
I wasn’t going to cry. But, I did. The host mother did too.
I don’t know what it was. We didn’t share a language. We hardly spoke. But, the gestures, and willingness to care for each other’s needs was there. She went over and beyond what I could’ve wanted or needed.
I walked away. Waved.
“See you later,” I whispered. I hoped.
What can you do?
- Visit Nepal and the community (Wanna know how?)
- Partner with Hands-On Institute to lead a program or offer assistance
- Donate to local Dalit communities in Nepal
- Share this message and post with friends and family
The theme this year for International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter. How will you work toward making the world balanced for everyone? Let me know how you plan to celebrate this day, every day!