Eight Pillars of Caste: Week 2

The Recap:

The last session ended with questions on how informed and sensitive we are about the caste system. Somewhere in between we also talked about how sensitive our textbooks are when it comes to caste and discrimination. This session started with questioning a snippet of a chapter from a Nepali textbook.
The question was “is this content, from grade 4 textbook, sensitive enough about the caste-based discrimination in the society?” None of us were convinced enough to answer either “Yes” or “No”. This indicates that there are still some issues with our books. We also agreed that looking at this snippet only is not enough to get the full context presented in the book.

Activity 1: The Remaining Four Pillars of the caste

  • Occupational hierarchy: the Jatis and the Mudsill
  • Dehumanization and stigma
  • Terror as reinforcement, Cruelty as a means of control
  • Inherent superiority versus Inherent inferiority
I asked session participants to summarize one of the points for the rest of the team. Hasin talked about the fifth pillar: Occupational hierarchy. He explained that although the population of high caste in Nepal is less than 20%, their presence in power and politics is almost 60%. This presents how the work division and power-sharing works on a bigger scale. It is by limiting people to one job and in Nepal the job is attached to their last name. The pre-session exercise came in handy here. The participants have collected the last names and works associated with the last names.
Last Name
Tamrakaar (ताम्राकार)
Works with copper to make things out of it.
Pode(पोडे), Chyame(च्यामे)
Cleans the city and other peoples toilets
Kusule (कुसुले)
Make things out of hay and straws
Gandarbha (गन्धर्ब)
Sunar (सुनार)
Chitrakar (चित्रकार)
Shilpakar (सिल्पकार)
Artists working with paper, stone, metal
Nakarmi (नकर्मी)
Mali (माली)
Shahi (शाही)
Rojal shared his take on Dehumanization and Stigma. He saw parallels between how the people were erased of their initial identity and given numbers and were forced to do one single job in the Nazi world to people who were identified as someone doing one specific work as in their last name. And even now, with the invention of tools and equipment to make the job easier, the Last name still creates the same stereotype as the traditional one. The most disturbing thing he found about dehumanization was “A person from lower hierarchy was bound to follow the rules of law but the same law was not there to protect them.” Even the experiments on human subjects were done on lower casts without their consent.

Rupak sir shared his observation on Terror and Cruelty as a means. The lower cast people are punished, and tortured, and compelled to be within the lines designed by the system. He also shared some recent cases of murder and suicide because of this cruel system.

The Murder case of Bhim Bahadur B.K., who raised voice about the rights of low caste people to enter temples .

Suicide case of Ankara Pasi (bride) of Provience 5 (Rupandehi)
रुपन्देहीको देवदह नगरपालिका वडा ११ बड्की गुम्बाकी १५ वर्षीया दलित समुदायकी किशोरी अङ्कारा पासीले बेहुली बनेकै दिन जातीय विभेदको ज्यादती कै कारण झुन्डिएको अवस्थामा मृत भेटिइन् भने उता कर्णाली प्रदेशको जाजरकोटका २० वर्षीय नवराज बिकले पनि जातीय विभेद र अन्तरजातीय प्रेम सम्बन्ध कै कारण भेरी नदीमा मृत फेला पर्नुपरेको हो ।
source :from Ratopati

Hasin’s observation of discrimination based on geography added another perspective to the discussion. “When there is any protest in the Terai region of Nepal, the police and administration is more brutal and opens fire easily whereas if it is in Hills, the administration is more careful and defensive.”

Sameer talked about Inherent Superiority and Inferiority. The problem is so rooted that even the characters in the movies are portrayed inferior or superior based on their race or caste. Rojal added that such superiority is not just limited in the movies but extended to the real-life of the movie stars. The members from the superstar’s family get recognition easily irrespective of their skills and new actors have to struggle a lot even with the skills.

Activity 2: Breaking the pillars

In this part, we diagnosed the pillars and built some strategies to break them one by one. I asked participants to rate the pillars based on how strong it is standing in society. Strongest being number 8 and the weakest being number 1. It was a tough job for us, but it had to be done. This is what came out of the participant’s rating.

In your context, which of the following pillars is still standing strong and which is slowly falling apart? 8: standing strong … 1: falling apart

Suresh Hasin Akshay Shreejana Sameer Rojal Rabina Rupak Dipesh Sunoj Total
Divine Will and the
laws of nature
5 3 7 1 2 4 1 5 3 1 32
Heritability 7 4 3 2 4 3 7 6 8 8 52
Endogamy and the control of
marriage and mating
2 8 4 6 7 7 4 4 7 5 54
Purity versus pollution 3 2 5 3 5 5 5 2 4 2 36
Occupational hierarchy: the
Jatis and the Mudsill
1 6 2 7 1 6 3 5 1 6 38
Dehumanization and Stigma 6 5 6 8 6 1 2 6 5 4 49
Terror as reinforcement,
Cruelty as a means of control
4 1 1 4 3 2 6 7 2 3 33
Inherent superiority versus
Inherent inferiority
8 7 8 5 8 8 8 8 6 7 73

The strongest pillar turned out to be Inherent superiority versus Inherent inferiority and the weakest pillar turned out to be Divine Will and the laws of nature.

Then it was time to think of some strategies to break those pillars. Since we have limited time, I assigned each participant a pillar and asked them to think of some ways that they can act to break it. This is what we came up with.

Divine Will and
the laws of nature
Hasin: enable students to critically examine texts and beliefs and not blindly accept them. Enable students to ask “why” questions. This behaviour will ultimately extend to religious texts and beliefs as well.
Teaching the idea of cause and effect.

Sunoj: give experience where students understand the nature through the lens of science so that they can fight back misconceptions
Akshay: Help to nurture individuality and independence of students so that they can gain the confidence to break through this notion. We can do this by helping students find their outlet whether it is vocational or educational training.
Endogamy and the
control of marriage and mating
Shreejana: I think females are the ones who contribute to this behavior more. They have very little courage to go against their family traditions. So, we have to groom our girls to have a strong and open mind.
Purity versus pollution
Sunoj: build self confidence in students such that they can choose to become who they want to become

Sameer: study cases of such discrimination along with students and make them reflect on it. Get them to dig into the underlying factors that support the practice; such as socio economic, psychological
Occupational hierarchy: the Jatis
and the Mudsill
Rojal: As an educator, I would teach my students to question and raise voice against all forms of nepotism and favouritism at all levels. They should strive to give equal opportunities to everyone capable of the post despite their occupational hierarchy.
Dehumanization and Stigma
Rabina: As an educator, I come across many students so I can facilitate my students in order to develop the concept of dehumanization as a wrong concept with the help of different activities such as showing different videos, sharing success stories of people who in spite of belonging to lower caste has achieved many more in life. Lots of mythological as well as fables can also be used to instill this concept in them.
Terror as reinforcement, Cruelty as a means of control
Rupak: Treating equally to all the people and encouraging the people belonging to the lower caste. Making him/her comfortable with us in our daily life.
If he/she is facing any kind of discrimination and torture, helping to solve it.
Providing guidance and direction incase of any problem ( police /human rights commission office )
Inherent superiority
versus Inherent inferiority
Dipesh: I recently read a paper titled “all students are brilliant.” I think as educators, our first task is to believe that and listen carefully to what they have to say. Another thing we could do is to provide a safe space in our classrooms where we can have discussions about some of these issues.
After reviewing the answers, everyone has some common voice.
  • All students are smart, irrespective of their background.
  • Creating a safe space and having regular discussions about these issues in the class is always a good thing.
  • Encourage students to raise their voices and against any type of favoritism.

Activity 4: Writer’s understanding of the caste system in India and Nepal (eastern)

During the discussion, some of the participants felt a lack of examples from the Nepalese context and raised a question on the writer’s understanding of the caste system from the eastern world. So, I asked participants to assess the writer’s understanding of the issue. This is what they came up with

How much do you think the author/writer of this chapter has an understanding of the caste system in India and Nepal (eastern)?

Author: Isabel Wilkerson

Suresh: 6
Reason: Most of the examples were from the western context. In the last four pillars, there were not many examples from India and Nepal.

Rabina: 10
Reason: As she has written the text with reference to different mythological as well as social contexts, I found her well aware of the eastern caste system.

Rojal: 6
Reason: Doesn’t talk about strong incidents across this region and touches the India and Nepal region generally throughout her article with prime examples from the Western world.

Shreejana: 3
Reason: The author is not able to give examples in the context of Nepalese or Indian history and culture.

Akshay: 7
Reason: Mixed the contexts of western and eastern caste-based discrimination in a representative way. And connecting the ideas of discrimination with religion and society, The author seems to have a grasp of the caste system in India and Nepal.

Rupak: 4
Reason: Most of the examples and context is mostly based on American, and African society

Sunoj: 5
She has more western examples compared to Eastern. The Occupational hierarchy is much complex in the Eastern world compared to the west which is not explained in his writing
Similarly, in other pillars like dehumanizing and Stigma, she talks about Dalits only.

Dipesh: 7
Reason: I like the point she makes about race discrimination in the US being an accelerated form of caste-based discrimination as they share a lot of similarities.

Hasin: 4
The eight pillars do accurately depict how the caste system perpetuates here but I feel that the comparison between racism and caste-based discrimination isn’t as simple as the author points out. Some examples like Nazism are way out of line because the caste system is based on exploitation and Nazism wanted to eliminate Jews. The caste system is built from years of structural oppression compared to racial inequalities which were decided based on people’s appearances.

There was a mixed feeling about whether racism from the west is comparable to the caste system from the east. But when

Before leaving we also had our own assessment. How much do I know about the caste around us?
(10: I know everything ------- 0: I don't know much )
Suresh: 6
Rupak: 7
Shreejana: 2
Rojal: 7
Sameer: 3
Hasin: 4
Dipesh: 3
Rabina: 5

Since most of us were from Kathmandu-based upper-caste families, these numbers do not need much explanation. It was there for us to remind how much ignorant are we about such inhumane discrimination around us. People say society is changing and someday the discrimination will be eradicated but what about the suppressed people living now. Don’t they deserve to live like humans?

Suresh Ghimire Bio:
Suresh Ghimire is a co-founder of Karkhana, an education initiative in Nepal. He has worked as an educator and content designer for close to a decade. He currently works as a Curriculum Consultant at Karkhana, helping design and develop co-curricular products. He has experience with a wide range of STEAM curricula and products. Suresh has been an avid tinkerer since his childhood and his interest in tinkering inspires him to make learning hands-on for children. He is a founding member and former VP of Robotics Association of Nepal and a community lead at Google Developers Group Kathmandu.

Website by: Curves n' Colors

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