It’s not often that one comes across a reasonably content man, despite having had to struggle for many things in life which come to the majority of us, obviously. There doesn’t appear to be even a morsel of bitterness in Suvash Darnal, a Dalit activist and founder of the Samata Foundation, among a few other organizations.
Born in Mujhung in Palpa, Suvash was never encouraged to even go to school. “I found myself in school, almost accidentally. My parents never said school was important nor did they tell me to go. I just went out of my own interest and due to the school’s proximity to my home.”
From this accidental attendance, Suvash became the first Dalit in his village to pass his SLC. “I was a bright student, so much so that eventually even my peers began to see it, and stopped classifying me as just being a Dalit.”
He refers to a ripple effect that took off in his village due to his perseverance through the social stigmas of having a Hindu low-caste Dalit in school. “Eventually, all the silly rituals to do with touchability and untouchability in school stopped because I was going to be excluded.”
When Suvash realized that it was possible for one person to have an effect on the practices of a small village, he began to see beyond his hometown. Suvash set off in search of real change and new opportunities.
In Kathmandu, Suvash began writing for small media houses, until he decided to take on a mammoth task himself. He began a venture to establish a Dalit-focused media organization in Nepal. It later went on to become the largest Dalit-led outlet for media in South Asia. It goes by the name of Jagaran Media. They now have a radio station, producing a radio magazine and is broadcast throughout India and Nepal.
With the media taken care of, Suvash set out to broaden his prospects. “It was an unstable time in Nepal, and the king had just taken over. There was outrage everywhere and democracy was the demand. I wanted to play my part in what I knew would be a momentous time in Nepal’s history,” says Suvash.
So collectively, Suvash, along with a close friend of his, established The Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP), which went on to become a significant outlet for civil society during the Jana Andolan of 2006. “At one point, it became the secretariat for the civil democratic movement in Nepal,” he recalls.
With two trailblazing accomplishments behind him, Suvash set off on his latest and perhaps most important task.
“I knew I wanted to take the Dalit issues further. But in order to do so, I knew I had to find a way of taking the discourse to the policy formation level. We needed research,” Suvash asserts. Thus came to be the Samata Foundation. Initially called the Nepal Center for Dalit Studies, late in 2009, the name was changed and became an officially registered organization.
Located in Jawlakhel of Patan, The Samata Foundation is now the hub of all Dalit activities. It conducts research into the situation of Dalits in Nepal. The research is available for all, and Suvash says, “It’s necessary for those Dalit members of the CA (Constituent Assembly) who aren’t that educated themselves. This way, they can have the information at hand and take the findings to the policy-formation level.” The first step taken on this front has been the recent publication of Suvash’s book entitled “A Land of Our Own: Conversations With Dalit Members of Constituent Assembly.” It is available in Nepali and English, with the translation being provided by Prawin Adhikari.
Suvash’s feelings are such that without addressing the Dalit issues here, “Nepal cannot be truly democratic.” In an attempt to bring such issues to the policy levels, and to be addressed in the new Constitution, Suvash has set up this foundation.
“The problem with our political parties, civil society, and intellectuals is that we don’t see the political situation in Nepal in the casteist framework,” he points out. His view is that, in order to challenge the intellectual community who keep surpassing caste, there must be ample academic research which highlights the importance of caste-based policies.
“Dalits easily can tell you about their pains, of the injustice against them. However, thus far, no one can tell you of prescriptions for the pain,” he says. And that’s what this already accomplished 30-year-old is setting out to do. This young and intelligent man has the conviction, and now the right resources, to bridge the gap between the Dalit sentiments and Nepal’s political and civil spheres.
Suvash Darnal has a set of goals, and the drive to fulfill all of them. Recently, he has been abroad guest-lecturing at many of the world’s most prestigious universities.
He reads avidly, and has come across the writings of B.R Ambedkar.
“We’re translating his book,” he says enthusiastically. Suvash sees Ambedkar and his work as a framework for understanding Nepali society.
“He looks at society through the caste framework. In the way that Marx and Lenin looked at their respective societies through class, in Nepal, we must look at caste. And that’s precisely what Ambedkar does,” he adds. He sees the need for politicians in Nepal to begin seeing the theories of Ambedkar as feasible to apply in Nepal’s context.
Suvash’s interest in politics and political theory is quite apparent. When asked about the future, he says “Well, it’s going to be politics, of course.” However, he is quick to assure that the near future will see more research and perhaps more education first. Reverting to his beliefs, Suvash speaks with feeling: “What I know is that more research needs to be done. And our policies must be focused. We can’t enjoy a democracy without cleansing our thoughts of the outdated pure-impure dichotomy. I’ve seen it, felt it, and it’s not a pretty or democratic practice.”