Excerpts from an interview with Lal Bahadur Bishwakarma, MP UML
You must have been happy being an MP despite being a Dalit.
You become happy when you become an MP because you are actually able to work for the welfare of the people. I have realised that if you tackle a problem correctly then the chances of getting something done are higher. People used to say untouchability is something created by the people. I say it is a creation of the state that makes the laws-it is there in the courts, schools and police. It exists in all institutions and it is most rigidly enforced in the army. Dalits in the army are discriminated against. After I raised this issue in parliament, the chief of the army wrote to all battalions stating that untouchability should not exist in the army. If you raise issues in a proper manner, something gets done. So I am happy.
Don't you want revenge for what the state has done to Dalits, how?
The state must compensate us. If someone's house is burnt down, they receive compensation in cash and kind. If the Maoists kill a policeman, then his family gets Rs 800,000 as compensation. Those injured also get paid. We must also be provided compensation. The state labelled us Dalits, as a result of which we have suffered mental and physical problems. We have been excluded from society. We should be compensated.
Has untouchability disappeared after Prime Minister Deuba ordered its end?
The government announced it but its agencies have not implemented it. Policies need to be implemented.
The Maoists say they want to liberate the Dalits, what do you think about that?
The Dalits cannot be free until a social revolution takes place. The Maoist struggle is not a social struggle. In fact, it works in favour of the rich. The Maoists have collected a lot of money and their leaders control it. They collect money from business people, who make it up from poor people like us. The money the Maoists collect from schools, is the hard-earned money of people like us. The money paid by government officials comes from the bribes they take from us. The Maoists have increased the burden of the poor.
They say the situation of Dalits will change after they come to power.
We first would like to know what exactly they have done for us Dalits. Just because they say so, should we believe them? Have they ever said Dalits should be provided free education? They too are killing Dalits. How can I believe them?
It is said the Dalits themselves have a caste hierarchy.
Yes, it exists. The caste system is slowly breaking up in other societies but in Dalit society, it is becoming more entrenched. It exists between rich and poor Dalits.
Some Dalits are also taking on Bahun surnames. Why?
There are a small number of people-some in high positions-who do that. They may not like what they are but it is reality. Are they really emancipated after changing surnames?
What do you say to those who think that changes things?
It is wrong. A Kami was called a Kami because he used to do Kam (work), and not because he worked with iron. My forefathers were all Kamis. I am proud of this. It will not help us if we just keep on changing our titles. In fact it would help if we kept our identities and fought for our rights. We Dalits have done a lot. After all we produced weapons and ploughs, jewellery and furniture. Almost everything in use today, has been made by us. We have done a lot for society. We clean the streets every day. Who made the crown that the king puts on, the royal jewels? We stitch the national dress... When others do the same work now they are not called Dalits.
What will you do if some one calls you a Kami?
I would be happy. I will not become small if some one calls a Kami. I have the skills. Just because someone made my family a Dalit 200 years ago, that does not mean that I am a person of a lower standing.
Do you still carry out your vocation?
Not after I became a politician. My father did the same job and taught me this way. We feel proud that we manufactured sickles and ploughs. Just because the upper castes look down on you should not mean that you give up your profession. You should continue doing your work and at the same time fight for equality.
Do other members of your party treat you differently?
Sometimes things have happened differently because this is the society we live in. We are there to change society, so these issues do not make a difference. There is class differentiation between us Dalits, definitely it will exist among the other castes too. In fact, untouchability is very prevalent in the Far West.
Is the situation changing?
My party people in my district, Kanchanpur, treat me as they treat everyone. There is no discrimination. But maybe people treat me differently because I am a politician.
It's said you had problems finding a house in Kathmandu after becoming MP, because you are a Dalit?
Yes. First I stayed with a friend near my party office in Balkhu. I then started looking for a place of my own. I found many places but could not rent them because of my caste and name. I told this to my friends and they said that because of my caste, people were not renting their houses to me. I did not believe it first but later realised it was true.
You still commute by bicycle and not a Prado or Pajero?
Many MPs bought Prados and Pajeros and the people protested against that. Why should an MP from a place where there is no road buy a vehicle? In Kathmandu, you have to live according to your means. Actually MPs can only afford a motorcycle. They earn Rs 15,200 per month. You cannot buy a car with this, unless you are corrupt. I still commute on my bicycle. I was ill and the doctor advised me against using my cycle. Once I get well I will start using it again.