27 Aug 2020
The recent Rukum case in Nepal echoes the rampant caste violence in India. The region needs a new dalit narrative to imagine a better future.
On May 23, Nawaraj BK, a young man from Jajarkot district in Nepal, was brutally killed along with five friends and thrown in the Bheri river for wanting to marry a girl of his choice. The young woman, Grishma (name changed), from Rukum in Western Nepal, belonged to the dominant “high” caste. Despite being from different castes, the couple had been in a relationship for two years.
Nawaraj was an athlete and a bright student. He had passed the written exam of Nepal Police and was waiting for the interview. He often used to go to play in Rukum and that is how he met Grishma. She and her younger brother had visited Nawaraj’s home a few times. In the beginning, Nawaraj’s parents believed she was their daughter’s friend. But the girl eventually revealed that she was Nawaraj’s girlfriend. His parents were scared of their growing relationship.
Nawaraj’s father, Mohan Lal Bishwokarma, showed a picture of Grishma and his son to Grishma’s relative, Indra Bahadur Malla, believing that he would inform her family. But Indra replied with a casteist slur, “Oh a ‘Dum’ is daydreaming to be a Thankuri’s father-in-law”.
Although Rukum district is the original stronghold of the former Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which believes in a society free of caste discrimination, Mohan was acutely aware of the consequences of inter-caste marriages. He and his wife pressured Nawaraj to break his relationship, because there would be no future after tying the knot with a dominant caste woman.
But the young lovers did not care about caste barriers.
According to news reports, on May 23, Grishma asked Nawaraj to bring a group of friends to help them elope, for she was worried that her family and relatives could attack him. Nawaraj came with 18 friends to Rukum. As soon as Grishma’s mother saw him, she used the same casteist slur and shouted: “‘Dum’ you are here again, aren’t you still afraid of the last beating! Today you won’t leave alive.”
A crowd of more than 50-60 people killed the six youngsters with stones, sickles, sticks and other weapons, then dumped them in the river. Some of the dead bodies were difficult to recognise due to the deep cuts, broken bones and other serious injuries. Lokendra Sunar’s private parts were chopped off, his mother Laxmi Sunar alleged. Violence against dalits often does not end just in death, it also involves mutilation of their bodies.
“Villagers didn’t only kill my son Nawaraj but also his friends who stood for his love,” said Mohan, in a heavy voice. He added, “I saw his bruised dead body in his friend’s clothes with his shoes on although he had many clothes. I wondered why he didn’t wear his [own] clothes?” Later, Mohan came to know of Nawaraj’s strategic move to conceal his identity as a groom in order to avoid a possible attack.