Bishnumaya Pariyar was often looked down upon in school and despite being a good student, she never enjoyed the opportunities her classmates of higher castes did. But this did not deter her from coming to Kathmandu after completing SLC to pursue her higher studies. Today, from her base in the US she supports 200 Dalit students to go to school, and has helped more than 700 dalit women become economically self-sufficient.
"After completing my higher studies, I found work in an NGO and was able to visit various places in the country. I saw many dalits living in 18th century conditions. They weren't allowed to drink from the local tap or visit the temple. They were economically and socially oppressed and had no political power. I was greatly affected by what I saw, and promised that I would work for the upliftment of the dalit society."
Bishnumaya was born in a remote and deprived village of Taklung in Gorkha. She is learning from her past experience why projects for dalits never benefited them. Four years ago, she formed the Nepal Dalit Women's Upliftment Organisation and left for the US to study. Bishnumaya isn't associated with a particular organisation but she raises support from educated American friends to whom she tries to explain the concept of caste in Nepal. With individual donations, she is working to directly raise the educational, social and economic status of the dalit community in remote villages across Nepal, especially to empower the women.
"Compared to African Americans, the problems of the dalits here are negligible. Their movement is successful because they are united. Here, there is no unity," she says.
Programs run by Bishnumaya have helped more than 700 women in Taklung, Manakamana, Tanglichowk, Makaisingh, Budkot in Gorkha and Jhapa. The program provides women's groups with seed money of Rs 1,500 to start a fund. "Today, each group has collected and saved more than Rs 72,000. As they become financially independent, there is less oppression."
While more than 200 children in Gorkha have received scholarships, others whose parents are poor have been provided school uniforms. Ten college students have got scholarships and there are plans to increase the number. Bishnumaya is planning to train these students in health care so they can go back to the villages and help dalit women who normally have little access to health care. She believes the poor must be a priority if a country is to develop.