Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sawal Bahal - Children, Caste, Open Space

On a visit to one of our project sites in Kathmandu - Sawal Bahal - we met two girls who were eager to use their knowledge of English and share a bit about their community. It was an interesting experience since the limited information we had about the people of this community had told us that they were predominantly of a caste of Sweepers - one of the lowest castes, most subjected to discrimination and lack of education. The story of these girls show, perhaps that times and perception by caste is changing in Kathmandu.

Both girls attend private schools - a costly option here. One is in the 10th class, while the other is in the 7th - many years ago it was rare at best that female students particularly from this area continued their education so far. They told us that despite only having 1 or 2 members of their caste in their classes of around 35 students, they have not faced any problems due to it. One mentioned to me that their neighborhood all gets along now, but years ago people used to curse and yell often in the streets - she was happy with the current state of her neighborhood.

We met the girls by a community water source, which was enclosed by a tall wall of perhaps 7 feet. Peeking over a ladder showed a vast, overgrown open space on the other side, with a small plot of tall corn stalks in the center. The girls told us that when they were young, they and other children from the community would play in this area. However, 2 or 3 years ago, the property owners built this wall (which is thick concrete, even topped with glass to discourage climbing over) to keep the children out. She said that they used to yell and scold the kids for playing there, but there were no other areas in the community to run and play. Since the wall has been built, the girls say that the children are left to play mostly in the confined streets.

The interesting thing about this plot of open space is that the wall ensures that there is actually no access from any of the surrounding neighborhoods (photo above was taken from a ladder at the top of the wall). Most of the space looks neglected and disused. There have been some assumptions that the caste issue has played a part in the creation of the open space - the next door farmer caste wanting to separate themselves from the lower sweepers as much as possible. It seems a potential opportunity in the changing society of Kathmandu if some of this space could be somehow co-opted and allowed to the children of the greater community, perhaps in return for an amount of maintenance and upkeep.

1 comment:

  1. Melissa, u presented the story nicely. I'm very happy that the situation of caste discrimination is changing atleast among the new generations. I interviewed some old people from Maharjan caste about how comfortable they are with the dyola people. He said, they still don't touch them and have no interaction with them at all. Obviously, for the old generation, to leave their values is not so easy. Also in a interview with the land owner of the open space, he confirmed that the space is open and empty because they don't like to build their house close to the outcaste people. The big chunk has been already divided among 15 owners. And some of them were sold to the outsider. So, I don't hope this open space will last for long.