Moral Code defines the core of most religion, its cement and social bonding power. To love, avoid aggression, seek truth, be just, believe and act what the heart and conscience tells us is right, such thoughts can lift the spirit, and for most religions serve as a guide to help mold a believer’s spirituality and sustain a stable and productive lifestyle. Yet too often through perverse or selective interpretation, followers take actions contrary to their religion’s fundamental doctrines. To discriminate, be hurtful, harm, murder and even use religion as a way to justify barbarous behaviors becomes acceptable.
For the past ten years, Sujit Dhakal (Sam) resides with his wife in Queens, New York, a U.S. resident raising two children. Once a privileged member of the Nepal “Bramhan” upper Caste, as a young journalist, Sam fell in love with a fellow writer and decided to Inter-Caste marry Ranu. But born into the Newar “Shrestha” Caste, Ranu sat two levels lower within the rigid system. The repercussions include death threats and expulsion from family and society.
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For defying tradition, Sam’s father Kanhaiya Upadhyaay, president of a Hindu religious organization (Dhakal Kuldewata Sewa Samiti), in Janakpur Dham, Nepal, disowned his son, removing Sam and his daughter-in-law from the family lineage, “I’ll not see your face again until after I’m dead.”
After some years, the attitude remains unchanged. When Sam planned a trip to Nepal with his son, Samarpan, for Bratabandha, (a ritual after a child reaches age 7 and above that essentially carries the weight of a Catholic Confirmation or Jewish Bar Mitzvah), a meeting was held to revoke Samarpan’s Hindu rite of passage, and in the event of a confrontation, the grandfather and the organization threatened “unto death” to stop the ritual. Sam cancelled the trip.
Accustomed to living in America, Sam is occasionally reminded and appalled at how ingrained the Caste system holds onto the population. A woman friend visiting from Nepal will display the Hindu greeting with hands together over the heart symbolizing in effect that they honor and respect the goodness of God in others as in themselves, then, when discovering his wife is from a lower caste, refuse to touch a cup of coffee as it is now “Unclean.” Powerful tools, symbols can help teach morality, yet even wholesome beliefs can be ignored or twisted. Ironically, the non-violence Hindu symbol of Jainism should evoke compassion for all living things, but the western world knows the “Swastika” as the symbol of fascist WWII Germany.
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Nepal and India’s Constitution outlaw caste-based discrimination and no Hindu scripture (most relevant dating back to around 1700 BCE), promotes discrimination with the exception of the Manu-Smrti (around 200 CE), which contains Caste laws contradictory to the premises of the faith (to include freedom of thought and respect for all life), but offers great appeal to the Haves, rather than the Have Nots. In short: Born wealthy with opportunity and respect, stay wealthy with opportunity and respect. Born poor without opportunity and labeled “Untouchable,” remain poor without opportunity and “Untouchable.” Among those holding power and sway in Hindu communities, Inter-caste marriage remains a forbidden pollution to blood lines.
Whether slavery, apartheid, however the discrimination is defined, strife between the Castes results in human degradation and often erupts into violence and death. With Law enforcement unable to break the entrenched Caste system, it is unlikely to end or fade away peacefully in the near future. But Sam refuses to give up.
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In New York, Sam and Ranu continue their involvement in neighborhood activities. An active journalist, Sam understands the fears and plights of his people. He once ran a New York Nepali Times portal, and the Human Rights and Social Justice Organization “ADHIKAAR” (which means RIGHTS in Nepali), presented him with the “2007 Community Leadership Award.”
As Sam sacrificed social status for love, his father sacrifices a son and grandchildren for status. Perhaps, the Hindu path to enlightenment and truth will still prove greater than bias and bigotry, and may yet lift the specter that plagues the Caste system. Perhaps, for Sam and his father, enlightenment will someday lead their paths back together.
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