Caste-based discrimination prevalent in Nepali society

‘Can discrimination be excused, just because she was a woman and a senior citizen?’ – Rupa Sunar

KATHMANDU: Landlord Saraswati Pradhan, who was arrested for not providing a room in her house for rent to Dalit journalist Rupa Sunar in her house, was released yesterday. The Supreme Court has released her on bail saying that there is not enough evidence. 

Rupa, who has lodged a complaint against Pradhan, is saddened that she was released without any action being taken. Rupa has expressed her dissatisfaction saying that the accused did not feel guilty and that an entire community has stood against her. 

Presented below is a brief conversation of Rupa with Nepal Press:

Do you have any complaints over the person you filed a complaint against and was detained being released without consequences? 

When there is no action against the culprit, of course there is a lot of dissatisfaction. What matters here is that she does not feel guilty. She is said to have been released on bail due to old age and health problems. The investigation is said to be ongoing. Let’s see what will happen. 

It is said that there is not enough evidence to prosecute her. Did you not have proper evidence? 

Why not? I have submitted the audio recording of the phone conversation I had with her. 

What do you say about the accusation that you deliberately brought up the issue of caste to get her in trouble? 

We were talking and having fun. Then, I said, ‘I am the daughter of a Kami.’ Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. It seemed as if she was very shocked and disappointed. I had not anticipated such a response.

Even on the phone, she has clearly indicated that I will not be able to pay the rent because of my caste. I was even told to find someone else to rent her room. 

You are also getting negative reactions on social media. What do you say to those who say that it is a very cold move to detain an old woman with a low level of consciousness? 

I was not personally angry with her. I did not complain to the police because she is an elderly woman, a senior citizen or a Newar. But, is an old man or woman allowed to discriminate on the basis of caste? Regardless of age, the law applies to everyone, doesn’t it? I went to the police because my self-esteem was hurt. Only those who have experienced such a thing know how it feels. 

I am also watching what has come up on social media. I have been accused of various things. This shows how narrow-minded the youth of Nepal are still towards Dalits. 

There are also people who say that it is a private matter for a landlord to rent her house to someone or not.  What do you say about this? 

This is a private matter. But refusing to rent out the room after finding out in the end that the person asking for rent is a Dalit is nothing but caste discrimination. This is just a small form of discrimination. We have to face much bigger forms in society. 

After you filed a complaint against her, how much pressure did you get to withdraw the complaint?

No one said anything to me directly on a personal level. But pressure did come through people I know and respect. There were people that said they would pay me to stop talking about it. However, I do not want anything else. I have only fought for justice and equality.

Did the landlord feel guilty and apologize to you?

When I was filing a complaint with the police, she said to me through my friends, “I will do whatever I have to do, don’t file a complaint against me.” She had been saying that she would apologize even after the case was registered. But when my self-esteem was hurt, I did not hesitate to seek legal action.

After the police arrested and detained her, she changed what she had been saying. When a whole community is supporting you, it is natural to change statements. 

The Newar community of Kathmandu is openly speaking against you. How are you taking this?

It is very sad that an entire community is trying to promote caste discrimination in this way. At first, she herself felt guilty. However, one entire community stood behind her. Her morale increased when the community supported her saying what she did was right. This is reprehensible. 

Does the fact that a minister himself went to the police station to rescue the landlord and took her home in his own car seem to have politicized the incident?

Yes. Of course. It is needless to say that the issue has been politicized. He described the fight against discrimination as an attack on the community. From this, an entire community is seen as discriminatory. The incident has definitely been politicized. 

It has become clear how the community reacts when one person discriminates against another. You can see how even journalists have turned against me. This incident has also given me an opportunity to understand our society. I may or may not get justice, that is a separate matter. But I got an opportunity to know our discriminatory and disgusting society. There is still a long way to go in our journey towards a society free from caste discrimination. 

Have you received any threats via phone call? 

There were a lot of phone calls. I do not pick up all calls because I am also busy with work. You probably have already seen the threats on social media. 

Have you found a new place for rent or are you still searching?

I am currently in my old rented room. There is no need to leave immediately. However, since there is only one room, it has become too small because my mother also lives with me. I often have to work from home during the lockdown. My mother got disturbed. So, I searched for two rooms.

What will you do if Saraswati Pradhan becomes ready to rent you her room?

How can I go and live in a house where I am not seen as a human being? If she still doesn’t feel guilty for what she did to me, why should I go to her house?  

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