Launch of Dalit: A Quest for Dignity

The struggle for dignity fundamentally shapes the dalit experience in Nepal. The caste system in Nepal worked by not only maintaining material inequality between the upper castes and lower castes but also by ritualizing honor and humiliation as everyday practice. The legacy of this brutality against dalits in Nepali social life can, even today, debilitate the official commands of law and the state to end caste discrimination. Against this history, dalits in Nepal struggle to break the identity of untouchability that the hegemony of upper castes thrusts on them.

Since the start of the democratic movement in Nepal, dalit activists have worked to create a counterpublic, a space from which the exclusion of dalits from public life can be challenged. The quest for basic human dignity is critical to the dalit counterpublic as it aims to overturn the very moral ground by which one understands the problem of caste. It shifts the focus from what dalits are deprived of to what dalits inherently possess. The dalit identity stands for the values of equality, respect, and social justice. Presented here is a photographic anthology of the various meanings of dignity for Nepali dalits. These photographs bear testimony to the history of social, economic, political and intellectual disadvantage that dalits are up against. But they also show how dalits make resource of their own cultural pasts for a new and respectable identity.


Over the period of collecting photographs for this project, researching on the modern history of Nepali Dalits, and preparing this volume, we have benefited from the generosity of photographers, journalists, scholars, artists, activists, and archivists who have shared their wisdom and experience with us. We are, first and foremost, thankful to the steady support we received from the members of Jagaran Media Center and Samata Foundation. Particularly, Padam Sundas, Aahuti Aahuti, Shiva Hari Gyawali and Sarita Pariyar – all well-known warriors against caste-based injustices in Nepal—have been extremely accommodating with their time, knowledge, and resources. Conversations with members from Dalit Welfare Organization, Dalit NGO Federation, Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, Feminist Dalit Organization, and Empower Dalit Women of Nepal have also shaped this project.

Bijaya Kc, Erisha S. Suwal, Laurie Vasily, and Surendra Lawoti facilitated some very important contacts without whom this project would be incomplete. At Social Science Baha and Martin Chautari Deepak Thapa, Sambriddhi Kharel, Pratyoush Onta, and Ramesh Parajuli supplied us with ideas and intellectual guidance.

We were also lucky to have Pranaya Rana, Prizma Ghimire and Vincent Hasselbach as collaborators at various stages of this project. Pranab Singh and Suvani Singh from Safu Publications lent us valuable production support. Iona Liddell closely and expertly went over the original texts in English and made vital corrections and suggestions. For the texts in Nepali, we could not have done better than the excellent and able translator Prawin Adhikari. We are also thankful to Rajendra Maharjan for applying his prodigious skills in proofreading to the Nepali texts.

At and Nepal Picture Library Shikhar Bhattarai, Nishant Shilpakar, Sagar Chhetri, Kishor Sharma, Chemi Dorje Lama and Bhushan Shilpakar have made indispensable contributions towards the making of this book. The painstaking and minute work of ensuring the quality of the book, in addition to the logistical bustle of day-to-day operation, can be largely credited to them.

We are deeply indebted to Doug Hall for giving us access to his incredible archive of photographs taken by Peace Corps volunteers in Nepal. Without his efforts, we cannot imagine the amount of labor that would be required to put together this book.

Our final gratitude goes to all the photographers and collectors who have wholeheartedly believed in this project and allowed us to use their material. It is them, along with many others whose works may not feature here but have been in our correspondence, who ultimately enabled the production of this book.