Jagat Khadka/Republica A vendor collecting milk from villagers at a collection center in Bajhang in this recent picture.
BAJHANG, April 18: Though Kalpana Nepali is aware her caste can put her in difficult position, it’s not possible for her to avoid it. A resident of Patadeval village last week she was once again traumatized for being a Dalit. A milk seller in the district’s headquarter Chainpur refused to sell milk to her just because she is a Dalit.
Narrating the event, she informed Republica that she was in the headquarters to seek medical treatment for her children. After visiting the doctor she went to a shop and purchased a glass of milk for them. When she was handing over the cash to the shopkeeper, he inquired her caste. Though she initially hesitated to answer, she told him that she is a Nepali - a Dalit caste.
The shopkeeper drew back the milk and hurled the money back at her. “He hurled the money at me and yelled at me for trying to purchase milk despite being a Dalit,” she said. “He told that he would rather spill all the milk in river than to sell it to a Dalit.”
Her four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son were sad to see that the glass of milk, which they so much wanted to taste, was taken back. They would not accept it and begun to cry in an attempt to force their mother to get the milk for them. “My children wanted to drink milk. They would not understand that the shopkeeper was not willing to sell it to us because we were Dalits. I didn’t have the energy to make them understand the situation, so all I could do was to yell at them for taking birth in a Dalit family.”
Milk is not actually something Nepali can regularly afford to buy. It is very costly, and she wanted to buy it that day as a medicine. “My son was sick and doctor had told me to give him milk. Daughter was also nagging for it,” she said.
Nepali had visited Chainpur for seeking medical treatment for her son. She wanted her son to have a glass of milk before heading out for their village, which is six-hour walk from there. “There is discrimination in village too, but there we can manage. At least we can convince villagers that we are seeking it as medicine,” she said.
Sharing her experience as a Dalit, she said Dalits are treated lowly than animals in their part of the world. “This is our story. We are not sold milk by sellers while our neighbors who are of high caste can buy it with the same money as we also offer. Does money also have caste?” she asked rhetorically.
Janak Singh, 45, of Jainagar Municipality is one of the many milk sellers around who refuse to sell milk to Dalits. Dipak Sunar, a Dalit, said that Singh denies selling milk to him so he hires non-Dalit people to purchase milk for him. “Dalits have to take help of non-Dalit people for buying milk. We know it is crime to discriminate anyone on the basis of caste but instead of picking up a fight, we hire people who can do it for us,” he said. Sunar said that they have to pay Rs 10 to 15 to their non-Dalit agents for purchasing the milk. Sometimes, they even have to pay more than Rs 15. “More so during emergency,” he said.
When Republica contacted Singh and asked if the accusations made against him were true, he said yes. Defending his actions, he said that his buffalos and cows would stop giving milk if their milk is sold to Dalits. “It is better to spill the milk in Seti River than to sell it to Dalits. At least our cow and buffaloes won’t be affected,” he said. “I have never sold milk to Dalits and never will.”
Apart from the gods getting angry and cattle stopping giving milk, Singh argued that as a member of the Thakuri caste, he cannot make business deals with Dalits. “We are descendant of king clan. We cannot stoop down to the level of a Dalit and do business with them,” he said.
Apart from the belief that the cattle wont give milk if it is consumed by Dalits, locals in Bajhang believe that such an act can make the gods angry and render the cattle infertile too. In case of Singh, he said that he brought the buffalo by paying Rs 40,000 and by selling a glass of milk worth Rs 20 to a Dalit, he cannot risk his buffalo becoming infertile.
Jhalak Rokaya of Masta Village Municipality of Bajhang informed that he has been selling milk for last three years but so far has not sold it to a Dalit, even once. He not only strictly keeps Dalit away, but also makes sure that his customers also do the same. “I ensure that the hotel operators who buy milk from me do not sell milk or milk tea to any Dalit. If they do so, my buffalo will be sick and I can’t afford risking the welfare of my family,” he said. “I am feeding my family of six by selling milk. This buffalo is keeping us alive. I cannot risk my livelihood by letting Dalits touch or consume its milk,” he added.