Do your work in a different way
Last week I visited one of United Mission to Nepal’s (UMN) cluster areas in Dhading district. UMN works in 7 geographical areas in Nepal. In each area they work alongside local Nepali organisations, working within local communities and ethnic groups. During my cluster visit I participated in a planning meeting with the Dalit Welfare Organization. Dalits are a low caste group and have suffered within this hierarchical system. They face daily issues because they are low caste. In some areas they are denied access to water taps, religious areas and in one village they are not even allowed to drink or enter the local tea shop. This local organisation with UMN’s assistance has been implementing the Dalit Empowerment Programme over the last number of years.
One of the many success stories from this programme is Nandalal Biswkarma, a forty-five-year-old blacksmith, who for many years was trapped within the “Balighare” system. This is a traditional system where so-called Dalit households work at whatever their inherited trade is, such as tailoring, iron work, leather work, etc, providing services to other (higher caste) households for a whole year. They are then paid in grain for the work and often only a very small amount. For many years Nandalal was trapped in this system. His main occupation was farming, but also making agricultural tools, which he would provide to others under the Balighare system. It was barely enough to live on; there were times when he could not provide enough food for his family and sending his children to school was problematic. Often they would have to stay at home to work on the farm, at other times they would attend school but without any books.
Nandalal attended an interaction programme about Dalit rights and particularly about the problems with the Balighare system. He was encouraged to become an entrepreneur but to continue using his traditional blacksmithing skills. He was given help in producing a business plan for his enterprise, as well as a loan from the programme fund to run his new business. This programme enables him to continue to make good quality agricultural tools such as spades, axes, and knives but has broadened his horizon and thinking as he now sells them directly at the district centre in Dhadingbesi.
Working in this way he has gradually gained confidence and his business now makes a profit. He is proud and happy to be able to continue using his traditional occupation and skills. Now he is in control of his work and the selling of his products. He has stopped working under the Balighare system.
As a direct result of this, Nandalal now sends all four of his children (three daughters and a son) to school. His eldest daughter, Sita is currently in grade 10 and studying for her SLC (school leaving certificate), which is an important education milestone. Nandalal is now able to afford Sita’s additional classes in preparation for her SLC exams as well as normal school expenses. We wait to hear how well Sita does in her exams.
Another important change is that Nandalal is an example to other Dalit households trapped in the Balighare system. He also tells all his friends of the change to his work, continuing to use his traditional skills but being in control of his employment and the market for his tools.