Kohinoor amidst dust

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Bishnu Maya’s life seems like a peepal tree that has grown out from a corner of rock. Traditionally, it would not be unjust to describe her with a metaphor: a lotus in the mud. However, the environment, family status, and community which Bishnu has faced could not be referred to as mud or dust but it happened so because of poor national policy. Bishnu Maya is a valuable shining gem found in that same mud. 

Dalits, people from marginalized communities, have been treated as non-humans and have been living with pain and suffering for thousands of years. Still today they are not allowed to enter the houses of so-called upper castes. These so-called higher castes do not drink water touched by dalits. Society has defined them as untouchables and whenever there is a touch, they should be sprinkled with water so they can be pure again. They are discriminated against as lower caste people. This community is also pulled back socially, economically and politically. People from this class have skill, devotion, effort and art; but have no dignity as human beings till this date. 

Labor, craftsmanship, means, art and toil; everything they possess but they don’t have self-respect and social status. Most of the Dalits do not have even a single piece of land; they have been living as homeless people. In the name of land, they have rocky and barren pieces. Many of them are deprived of basic needs like food and clothes. A dog is welcome inside the house; a cat can sleep on the bed; but so called upper caste people’s door is always closed for Dalits.

Society gives them capital punishment if Dalits fall in love or get married with upper castes people. Sentimental love is strictly prohibited. Dalits are battered when they touch the water. They are humiliated, smeared with black powder, kicked out of the villages, and murdered as well. In 2068 BS, our country was declared as discrimination free nation by the law. However, twenty two people were forced to die in pain because of caste related cases in the following years. The root cause of the recent incident that resulted in an attack and death in Rukum, Soti was because of the caste system. Our society is still in the barbaric age. It is led by witless people. This particular class and community have died thousands of deaths carrying the heaviest suffering and ever-paining wound in human civilization. They have been living as dead with a torture of being treated as non-human.

Bishnu Maya’s birth was a sweet incident in a tailor’s family (a caste referred as Dalit) who survived in the crops provided by others in exchange of clothes they have stitched. She was one among eleven children in that family. They were already poor, and you cannot imagine how badly a dozen more children added poverty to the house. Her family was never fed fully with the food they got from the Bista family (an upper caste) after sewing their clothes for the whole year. Furthermore, the thirteen members’ jamboree added bitter starvation and scarcity. 

Those days are still as fresh as daisies in Bishnu Maya’s mind. “Father used to bring the small pieces of cloth saved from Bista’s and stitch them together to make a colorful dress for us. We used to be excited after wearing such colorful dresses. We were helpless, we knew it and yet we never expressed it. It is like disrespecting our parents when we talk about starvation and scarcity. They never left us hungry despite being hungry themselves and thus we survived anyhow through ups and downs. Destiny heated and soaked me with its heat and rain. Every cloud has a silver lining. In the same way, my father’s divine idea about educating the children in spite of one’s poverty has become a golden staircase that helped me to reach up to here. Thus, my father is a sublime ideal for me. He is the man who built the staircase for all of my achievements that I have made today. My parents are my inspiration, my ideal and my God. There were many other people as well, like God, who had offered me helping hands during the process of life. Because of them I am here now. Today I am not alone; there is one organization named ADWAN Nepal with me for sharing success and happiness. Through this organization, I have helped about two thousand and five hundred children who have faced similar kinds of tragedy and poverty like mine in the past. I have helped them to pursue their studies from school to college level. In six districts across the country, groups are established for capital collection, skill development and agricultural trade. Through this, programs are designed for Dalit women and marginalized groups to uplift their rights and duties. Thus their skills and means are properly respected.”

Established in 1998, ADWAN is an incredible example of Bishnu Maya’s social work. It is a movement to institutionalize Dalit women right and their identity along with social, economic, and political awareness. The main motto of ADWAN is to promote human rights for women, children, Dalits, and all other classes who are marginalized and treated as outsiders in our society. Bishnu Maya opines that it is necessary to intermingle between discriminated and discriminating groups for omitting bitter relationships and furthermore social corroboration, cooperation and inclusion should go on naturally. If only Dalits and victims are supported one sided, there is chance of another kind of division and discrimination. Thus all groups with poor economic conditions should be helped gracefully. Then justice is possible. Revenge and reaction creates hatred. Hatred, jealousy, and revenge are common enemies of human beings like poverty and other weaknesses. We should fight not alone but together with our common enemies. 

A society where there is no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, color, gender, and locality can be created. For this, all the sectors should move forward hand in hand and in addition Bishnu Maya believes that giving priority to discriminated groups would establish a principle of social justice. To respect everyone’s existence and to see others' existence with love, not with hatred or vengeance, is a way to Buddha’s teaching as well. 

Bishnu Maya’s childhood was not filled with flowers. Nevertheless, her father was very conscious about his children’s education. She was encouraged to study because her father believed that it is necessary to fight against this social system, and only education could bring positive changes. Bishnu Maya used to walk for four hours on bare foot every day to complete her secondary level education from Manakamana School. She could not join Amar Jyoti Luitel School despite passing the entrance exams because of her poor economic condition. But God was there to help her. She met an American Peace Corps volunteer, Mr. John Brookman, who helped her pursue her studies. She then understood the role of unseen helping hands that can change life. 

Bishnu Maya knows that help can be remarkable to change the track of life. Thus she appeals for help through social service and she offers help too. She has collected help from various donor agencies by making them agree about her program and support. By collecting such help, she has been working in Nepal and America in the field of social service, women rights, violence against women, gender violence, and against many other forms of violence. After passing her SLC, Peace Corps volunteer Mr. John Brookman arranged a scholarship for her to pursue her higher studies in Kathmandu. She arrived in Kathmandu but she could not get the money that was sent for her by the donor via other agents. Somebody has played foul to use her money. During that time, Bishnu Maya was in great trouble. It was very difficult for her to survive in Kathmandu. But Bishnu Maya was determined to study at any rate so she decided to work to continue her studies. She worked as a stewardess in a restaurant for some time. She also worked as a cook in a garment company. In this way Bishnu Maya managed money for her studies and completed her intermediate level from Padma Kanya College in the capital city.

One day she called her donor Mr. Brookman in America and told him about the money that she wasn’t receiving. Then she started getting help from another American fellow, Pam Ross. Bishnu Maya says, “Meeting Pam Ross was a turning point of my life. At that time he was in Kathmandu and was working as a director of the University of College Project. He provided me with a scholarship and a job as well, as a resource assistant.” Americans came into her life as a friend, helper, moderator, and godfather/godmother.

While working at the University of College Project, Bishnu Maya became friends with an American, who was studying at that college. Her friend’s mother, Iva Kasel came into her life as a God. That’s why Bishnu Maya calls her godmother. Iva came to Nepal to visit his son and during that visit she liked Bishnu Maya so much that she arranged for Bishnu Maya’s further studies in America. Leaving for America had opened yet another important door in Bishnu Maya’s life. 

After landing in America in 1999, Bishnu Maya studied English only during the first semester. Then she was offered a full scholarship by Pine Manor College and there too she topped the college. She won the Excellent Political Science Award in college. Not only this, she also won four other prestigious awards along with the President Cup given by the college. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Social and Political Systems from the same college, Pine Manor College, in 2004. After her studies, Bishnu Maya worked as a domestic violence advocate in an OPD for one year. There she got an opportunity to learn many things about domestic violence and to observe the cases of violence against women as well. After that Bishnu Maya never faced a bad day because a broad and magnificent future was ahead of her, and physical pain had become a story of the past. 

Now, Bishnu Maya is an advisor to the Mayor of New Jersey City in America. She has established a sisterhood relationship between Indrawati Gaupalika of Nepal and Jersey City. She has contributed to make our national flag stand high in New Jersey City forever, and that was one of her unforgettable moments. Bishnu Maya has won almost three dozens of awards, prizes and honorary certificates. Bishnu Maya Pariyar was given the Human Rights Award worth five thousand dollars in 2006 by the United Nations. That award was provided to only six people around the globe. Similarly, in 2007 she was awarded by the World Bank with an award worth $11,000. This award was given to eleven people only. In the same way, she was awarded the Bridge Builder Award by Harvard University in 2006; she was one among the six recipients. A Master’s Degree holder from Clark University in Social Change and International Development, Bishnu Maya was honored with an honorary doctorate (beyond the PhD) by Pine Manor College in 2013. 

Dr. Bishnu Maya is honored with various awards by the organizations based in Nepalese community. She has received more than forty awards for working in the field of social justice. Bishnu Maya’s story is not only about her success from Nepal to America, she has become an idol for social service and cooperation. She is dear and reputed for Nepal and Nepalese. In addition, she is equally respected among immigrant and indigenous Americans. She is quite popular in Nepal and America as an advisor to New Jersey’s Mayor. All Nepalese in the USA respect Bishnu Maya as a guardian who has a sense of special affection and belongingness to Nepal. 

The columnist believes that Bishnu Maya has risen from Dalit community to America all because of her politeness, hard work, dedication and struggle. The human with zero arrogance, Bishnu Maya has never thought of revenge and jealous towards the non-Dalit community. The discrimination done by illiterate and grass root people can be forgiven, but she becomes upset when no change is seen in the behaviors of literate and well-aware citizens. 

Nevertheless, there is no word like ‘vengeance’ in Bishnu Maya’s dictionary. A forgiving heart is a shadow of Buddha. Whether from Dalit or non-Dalit community, people who are well educated and had worked and studied at reputed national and international universities and earned name, fame and money, show a different kind of pride. But Bishnu Maya’s simplicity and cooperation is an exception. The tainted arrogance of powerful people is worthless in front of Bishnu’s modesty. One cannot remain unimpressed after meeting Bishnu Maya. Having no arrogance of her height, Bishnu wants to get inspired by her sad and difficult past, but she doesn’t want to forget it. She is moved by the hardships faced by common Nepalese. Bishnu Maya believes that the state should provide equal opportunity to all and that special rights should be given to marginalized groups. Thus social justice can be established by implementing the policies that end the hatred towards Dalit community.

Bishnu Maya carries the wounds of being untouchable. But still she has no sense of regret; rather she is determined for change. 

I have closely observed the contempt, discrimination and violence done against Dalits and women. I have experienced this as well.

During our childhood while playing together, non-Dalit children could visit our houses but we were not allowed to visit theirs. While going to school as well, other friends would easily get water to drink whereas I would not get. I would return home with thirst and hunger. My eyes are still welled up when I remember those days. Being born as Dalit was a curse, I feel sorry about that. However, I have never felt a sense of reaction. Dalit were oppressed because of illiteracy, superstition and discrimination done by the governing bodies, and non-Dalit became the oppressor. The superstition and malpractice institutionalized by state made Dalit mentality suffer, which should be changed; it is an indispensible act for now. Otherwise one should not survive a Dalit as inhuman and non-Dalit as an evil tradition practitioner. Non-Dalit cannot continue to live as an irresponsible human wearing a black mask of uncivilized being. The wise being should never choose the path of chaos and human rights violation. The era where one human doesn’t treat another human as a human should come to an end. 

What if Bishnu Maya Pariyar belonged to a non-Dalit community? 

Perhaps the nation would have declared Bishnu Maya Day. Perhaps the government would reward her officially and motivate her. But  the concern is if the government has not recognized her just because she is a Dalit who had turned into Kohinoor rising from the dust. Why is our nation not proud of her citizen’s accomplishment? Bishnu Maya is a prominent activist who has been fighting for elimination of caste and social discrimination and establishment of social justice. Doesn’t she deserve Bishnu Maya Day? Bishnu Maya has walked on fire and thorns to reach her destination. Her contribution in the field of social justice and whole Dalit revolution is remarkable. In the past she had studied under the guidance, support and shelter given by others; and now she supports others. 

Bishnu Maya was deprived from drinking water for being a Dalit, now she distributes water to all, spreads education, promotes awareness, and fights for the right. She is childless but she is a loving and caring guardian of more than two thousand children. She is a guest lecturer in various American universities like Harvard, Clark, Pine Manor, and Boston. When will Nepal and Nepalese utilize Bishnu Maya's experience, knowledge, and competence? 

Hello government, please recognize her! What Bishnu has done and her achievements cannot be compared to anyone. She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was born in a remote village in a poor tailor’s family as a daughter of Rup Bahadur Pariyar and she became successful in reaching her destination which was no less challenging than climbing a mountain. She is an incomparable social worker. She is a social campaigner. Bishnu’s skill, knowledge, intelligence, and fame loaded with experience should be the common property of all Nepalese. Why has our country failed to recognize Bishnu Maya while poor Dalit families are celebrating her popularity?  

Besides, for the Dalits community in Nepal and other South Asian countries, Dr. Bishnumaya Pariyar's inclusion in the curriculum of the American School is an opportunity of great joy, happiness, pride and celebration. She has also been featured in ‘The Writer’s Mindset’.

 

Sanjiv Karki

Karki is a researcher, M.Phil.Ph.D, at TU, Kirtipur

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