Kul Bahadur Gajmer, a blacksmith and so called untouchable, feels that the discrimination based on touch has gradually been eradicated in villages. It’s not because of the Maoist movement but because of the growing influence of young generation in the society. When Maoists wanted his 18-year-old daughter, she fled to Kathmandu. Government soldiers while patrolling the village beat him up. Pic by Wagle
By Dinesh Wagle after visiting Duragaun (Ramechhap)
Wagle Street Journal
When I reached at the workshop of Kul Bahadur Gajmer, a blacksmith (from the so called lower cast that is untouchable by so called upper cast people), in his house he was busy working with a sickle. He said that he has been experiencing drastic changes in peoples’ perception toward discrimination. “There is only one [upper cast] family in Duragaun village that doesn’t give us milk tea,” he said. I didn’t understand what he meant by that statement. Fortunately, there was someone to explain me the milk tea riddle. I got enlightened on the issue by one of my school time friends’ mother (upper cast) who was there in Kul Bahadur’s house to get her sickle sharpened. “We have the tradition that if we give milk to tallo jat (lower cast) people, our cattle will die.” I was shocked as I didn’t know about that earlier. Did my family do the same with lower cast people? I was curious to know.
When I returned Kathmandu, I knew that my family was the first in the village to break the tradition by giving milk and milk tea to ‘untouchables’ more than 15 years ago. “Grandmother was a bit hesitant about the move,” my mother told. “But your father convinced her saying that he would take responsibility if any cattle died. No cattle died.”
The discrimination based on touch system is gradually fading away from the village. It’s not because of the Maoist movement but because of the growing influence of young generation in the society. [The parliament has also recently declared discrimination based on touch system illegal.] Kul Bahadur thinks that young generation is understands the issue well and in contrast to the old generation, “young people are bold enough to shun the discrimination based on touch system.” “Young people don’t mind about his,” he said. “But old people in the same house do take it seriously.” Kul Bahadur, resident of Katti (Duragaun-7) clarified that the so called lower cast people didn’t intend to go inside the houses of so called upper cast people. “Hami lai unhaharu ko ghar mai chhirnu pareko pani hoina,” he said. “We don’t need to enter inside their houses. But we want them to respect our feelings.”
Apart from the issue of touch-based discrimination, Kul Bahadur, 56, had a sad story to share with me. “On that late afternoon [nearly three years ago] patrolling soldiers came here looking for me,” he said while sharpening a sickle in his workshop. “They alleged that I was collecting donations on behalf of the Maoist party. A local Maoist leader had forcefully given me a receipt book for donation. I wasn’t interested to work for the party and I explained that to the leader. No, he would listen to me. So he left the receipt book in my house. Army saw that. For them the receipt book was the proof of me being a Maoist activist and donation collector.”
Another thing that, Kul Bahadur guesses, must have compelled army to take action against him was a handmade gun that he was using in traditional ceremonies like Dashain festival and marriages. “That wasn’t for killing anyone,” he said. “You can’t kill anyone with that. That was being used in marriage ceremonies in the village to signal the subha muhurtha (auspicious timing).”
Soldiers confiscated the gun, kicked on his face and took him up to the school (15 minutes up from his home). “Some soldiers were good,” he remembers. “They didn’t beat me. But a Maoist woman who was arrested by the solders was a real bitch. She kept me beating and at times soldiers prevented her. Soldiers (the unified command) were stationed in the school that night and they kept me until 9 PM. I went to the school again the next morning to see the commander of the army.” He finally set Kul Bahadur free with this warning: ‘never work for Maoists’.
Kul Bahadur Gajmer, husband of two wives and a father of eight children, has an experience of being misbehaved by the Maoists too. “I was returning from the village above two years ago,” he said. “It was festival (Tihar or Dipawali) time and I was drunk. Maoists were playing volleyball in the school and the ball hit me as I was walking on the street. I told them ‘Kya ho saathi, ball khellna aaudaina? (Hey friends, don’t you know how to play the game?’ I didn’t know that they were Maoists. Then a boy called Deepak came to me and beat me saying that I shouldn’t have told them ‘saathi’ (friend). ‘Hamilai saathi bhanne?’ (Will you say us friend?’ he said and started beating.
Holding together a big family like Kul Bahadur’s and saving any members from Maoist recruit is a challenge for any parent. When his teenage daughter was sought by the Maoists, Kul Bahadur faced the similar challenge. But daughter was determined not to roll herself in the party. “Sahili chhori lai lana khojeka thiye,” he said. “[They wanted to take my fourth daughter with them.]” That was two years ago when the girl was 18. The girl fled to Kathmandu. “You can’t speak your mind,” Kul Bahadur said. “That is why she didn’t want to join the party.”
Next: Story of Jay Gajmer and his family.
[The whole family was beaten up by the patrolling soldiers. “They even looted Rs. 12 hundred, our hard earned money”- Dilmaya Gajmer, 60]