Behind this photo of impoverished residents fighting government eviction in Katmandu, Nepal is a story of racism, betrayal, & the bankruptcy & treachery of Maoism in Nepal. When the Maoists declared a “People’s War” against feudalism in 1996, Nepal was run by a deranged monarch. They promised to trounce monarchy, set up a republic, & end gender & caste discrimination against Dalits who comprise over 20% of the population but 80% of the most impoverished Nepalese.
Caste discrimination (“untouchability”) relegated Dalits to scavenging, handling dead animals or human waste (often with bare hands), exclusion from temples & other public places, denial of land ownership. As a result of landlessness, Dalits were employed as farm labor, trapped in an agricultural system of debt bondage, & subject to all forms of extreme violence.
In response to the 10-year long, destructive, Maoist-led war in the countryside, the decrepit monarch (backed by arms from the US & India) declared martial law & instituted a military reign of terror which took the heaviest toll on Dalits. Descriptions of the violence they endured from both sides in the conflict are wrenching, with sexual violence against Dalit women used as a weapon of war, & the exodus of thousands of Dalits to the cities as squatter colonies. The Maoists eventually usurped the king & took over the government. Content with unseating the king from his throne, they did nothing to alter social relations or keep their promises to the Dalits but in fact, bowed fealty to a new master–the IMF & neoliberalism–moving from armed rebels with a mouth full of promises to thugs for neoliberalism.
In this photo, 1,500 Dalits are being forcibly evicted from the Bagmati riverbank by riot cops & bull dozers in the first phase of a government-ordered scheme to make room for major infrastructure projects, including a luxury park. The government intends to eventually evict 40 such settlements, with an estimated 20,000 people.
As you can see from this photo, the residents are not standing by idly as their homes are bulldozed–but rocks are no match for riot cops & bull dozers. The Dalit struggle against racism is strongly inspired & influenced by the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The anthemic words of a Black freedom fighter in the Attica Prison revolt could just as well be spoken by the Dalits of Nepal: (We are human beings.) “We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such….What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.”
(Photo by Narendra Shrestha/EPA)