Where do I start? How do I start remembering someone who left us so suddenly two years ago?
Suvash had called from San Francisco airport before boarding his flight to Washington DC. He sounded very excited, having just completed his fellowship at Stanford. He was excited about what he had learnt and how he wanted to put them into practice through Samata, the organisation he had just set up in Kathmandu.
He was looking forward to meetings at the National Endowment for Democracy in DC before flying home. There was no premonition, no presentiment of the tragedy to come. Suvash never reached DC. On his way to the city he was killed in a highway collision that threw him off his vehicle.
By the time he was 31, Suvash had accomplished what many people take a much longer lifetime to do. We were married in 2007 and in those four short years I came to know a visionary and fearless champion of justice and reform. But there were many things I never fully understood about Suvash while he was alive, where his determination and his idealism came from.
Looking back, I can now see how the man I knew for four year was shaped by the previous 27 years that I hadn’t know him. In the two years since he lost his life, I have been learning of his part in the lives he touched.
Suvash was born in 1980 in Mujung of Palpa in a humble Dalit family and because of this it was a life of struggle, hardship, and discrimination. As the eldest son, he had a strong sense of responsibility and he worked hard cutting grass, collecting firewood, fetching water, and other household chores to help his mother Sarita. His mother inculcated in him values that were to serve him well and earn him respect in the years ahead.
Food was scarce in the household, but somehow Suvash found time and the will to excel in school. He also managed to spend a lot of time at the Thatti, a public place in the village where people loitered, had casual conversations, and built social relationships. There was a special place in Suvash’s heart for the Thatti in Mujung.
Suvash had a presence in the world that was special. People were drawn to him, strangers helped him, and he had a gift for leadership that was understated and appealing. This quality had a lot to do with the time he spent at the Thatti where he developed the style of interaction in which the people respected him because he respected them. Suvash’s leadership qualities come from his home village of Mujung.
Instead of weakening him, the years of struggle and discrimination in the village gave him an inner strength that helped him survive the rigours of Kathmandu. With his closest friend, Rem Bishwokarma, Suvash sold watches and hawked newspapers to earn money and survive in the city. They put themselves through college and dreamt big of a Nepal where everyone was equal and treated with dignity.
Suvash, Rem, and a few others established Jagaran Media Centre with help from Padam Sundas and Binod Pahadi, both of whom were to play a very influential role in Suvash’s life over the next decade. Suvash changed the world, but he did not let his success change him. He remained the same modest, good humoured, patient, diligent, responsible, and principled man.
When I married him he was already quite prominent and I watched him rise further in the Dalit movement. He was always a caring family man who doted over our daughter, Samana. His dedication, loyalty, commitment, sense of purpose, his capacity to bring people together, his ability to stand above factions, his willingness to reach out to opponents, and his steadfast resolve to secure justice for all will continue to inspire all those who had the privilege to know him and work with him.
I miss him and Nepal misses him.
Sarita Pariyar is a board member of Samata Foundation and Suvash Memorial Trust.
It’s the same story in India
This week was the second anniversary of the tragic death of Suvash Darnal, prominent journalist and activist and a fervent defender of the dignity and rights of the Dalit people. Suvash came to Kathmandu for higher studies from Palpa when he was 18 and realised that he could use the power of media to fight the entrenched structural discrimination within Nepali society of his community.
After being trained in media studies at the Nepal Press Institute, Darnal worked briefly at Himal Khabarpatrika covering Dalit and social justice issues. He later worked at Action Aid Nepal. He set up the Jagaran Media Centre
to train Dalit journalists and also worked at the NGO, COCAP, and later Samata Foundation
. Darnal had gone to the United States two years ago for a Stanford University Draper Hills Summer Fellowship and had just flown into Dulles airport in Washington DC. He was in a van taking him to the city which was side-swiped on the highway. He died on 14 August 2011 at the age of 31.
Bigotry in real life
Maya Sarki from Belbari of Morang district was in the national news for days last month when she became the victim of a mob assault after she protested to police for a sexual assault.
Maya had filed a police complaint naming Jiwan Bhetwal, whom she suspected of attacking her a day earlier with the intent of rape. But a preliminary investigation showed Jiwan was innocent and Maya apologised for wrongly accusing him.
Maya is a Dalit and Jiwan’s mother slapped her and threatened revenge. The next morning a village meeting was called at a school to sort things out. But when Maya reached the venue upper caste villagers beat her, tore her clothes off, blackened her face with soot, and paraded her with a garland of shoes.
A video of the mob assault went viral on the internet and local authorities were forced to take action. More than two weeks after the incident, 18 people involved in the mob assault on Maya have been booked under public offence and caste-based discrimination and untouchability charges.
“We have arrested six people while the remaining are on the run,” says Bishwaraj Pokhrel, SP in Morang. Two local journalists have also been booked under Electronic Transaction Act for provoking the attack, filming it, and uploading it on YouTube. Krishna Sundas, a Dalit from Belbari is also in police custody for the rape attempt.
After the incident Maya Sarki is staying with the human rights group, WOREC, in Biratnagar.