An example of how the division in a political party affects the local people can be seen in the Dalit settlement of Jukot, Swamikartik Khapar rural municipality-3 in Bajura. Ahead of the local elections, the Dalit community here is now in trouble due to the division in the CPN-UML.
The deep divide
Before the CPN-UML split, most of the so-called upper-caste landlords–sahus as the Dalits call them–in the Jukot village in Bajura belonged to the CPN-UML. The Dalit community, most of whom owe them labour, lives on their land. Hence, they are forced to vote for their landlords. Although they did not have the freedom to vote, they were not interfered with by any party other than the CPN-UML, in the past.
However, due to the CPN-UML split, the entire Jukot village has been divided into two factions, the CPN-UML and the CPN-Unified Socialist. Chaturbhuj Shahi from CPN-UML and Chiranjeevi Shahi from CPN-Unified Socialist have filed candidacies for the post of rural municipality chairman. Chiranjeevi also has the support of the Maoists. He defeated the Nepali Congress in the 2017 local elections and won the chairpersonship. There are also Congress and Maoist leaders in Jukot, but they do not count significantly.
A total of 465 families live in Jukot of Bajura including Thakuri and Chhetri communities that have 2,096 voters in the ward. Among them, 218 families are from the Dalit community. The village is divided into two parts and both the presidential candidates are from this ward. This has created a dilemma in the Dalits of the Bajura village about whom they should vote.
A local Lok Man Kami says, “We used to cast our votes as directed by sahus, but now, if we support one sahu, the other will get enraged with us. How to vote now, who to follow?”
Freedom is not free
Most of the Dalit families in Jukot of Bajura have been living as haliyas—bounded labourers employed to cultivate the land— for the Thakuri caste whom they address as sahus—landlords. The local haliyas are going to cast their votes by asking the sahus. Otherwise, they have to leave the place where they are settled.
On condition of anonymity, a Dalit voter says, “Both my sahus have split into different parties this year. Now, if I help one, there is fear from the other.”
It is a common practice for the local sahus to consider the Dalit settlements in the hilly districts of the far west as their pocket voters. So, even now, local Dalits are forced to cast their votes wherever they go. They are still not allowed to vote freely due to their ethnic domination and influence in their life, socially and economically.
“We have been casting our vote in the same place as they recommend us; we will do the same this year,” says Mani BK, a local Dalit leader. “We also lined up to vote in the earlier elections. However, Thakuri would come and snatch the ballot papers from the line and cast our vote. In 2017, it was mandatory for us to cast our vote after showing them whom we had cast the vote for.”
Many Dalit communities live in Thulapata, Kadarwada, and Luwarwada Tol of the Bajura district. The practice of treating the Dalit community as slaves is still going on in Bajura. “We are always under pressure,” says Jashu Kadara.
Deepak Shah, the health coordinator of Budhiganga municipality, who became the polling officer in the same village in the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections says the Dalit community would not be treated as an independent voter in Bajura. He adds the Dalit families have been compelled to accept what the local Thakuri said.
In fact, they had always been deprived of the right to vote in the past. Hence, most do not get to vote even today. Even if one gets it, s/he should cast their vote for the party recommended by their sahus. Not only that, the Dalits of the village still should ask the Thakuri community while conducting their normal social work.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.