Caste discrimination and gender bias are all too common in Nepal and majority of South Asia. Even with increased awareness in the community about the ills of discrimination and the need to promote fairness and democracy, the centuries old habits are still alive.
If you compare gender bias with caste discrimination, in Nepali context, it is fair to say that the former is nowadays more acceptable than the latter. Thanks to tireless work of the equality advocates, caste is now a sufficiently taboo issue in major cities and even in rural areas, the people are getting the message. Gender bias however remains persistent.
Among Nepali immigrants in the USA, these issues present a strange dilemma. Majority of them are aware that caste bias is demeaning and unacceptable, and yet far too many carry the relics of past and bring it to their new homeland. It may not be overt but behind the polite conversations, the issue stays alive especially when it comes to marriage and important social events like religious observations.
Couple of months back, I had moderated panel discussion on caste and the observations of one of speakers really startled me. Bias is present even among the educated and enlightened, and it is stronger against the so called “untouchables”. Other participant remembered a community picnic where the “lower caste” members felt left out and ate separately.
It is sad to see that educated, aware Nepalis choose to carry burden of caste. It is even worse when they claim “preserve” it as part of their Nepali identity.
As I have discussed earlier, identity crisis is very real for immigrants. In an effort to preserve their heritage and share it with their foreign born children, often they keep outdated practices-like caste and gender bias alive.
Observant Nepalis in America, know caste is wrong and yet they carry on with it in one way or the other. Objecting to an inter caste marriage, checking on guests’ caste credentials discreetly at events, in fact objecting to mixed marriages can also be seen as part of the caste problem. A problem that does not allow one human to see other human as equal.
While caste gets the discreet treatment, gender bias,is out in the open. Somehow it is perfectly ok to push women and girls to confirm to rigid standards, while proclaiming masculine superiority. And the bias gets dose of immigrant confusion.
Like caste, gender bias also often gets included in “our culture” stance. Families forget part of their heritage that promoted feminine equality and respect and choose to carry on the diluted message of bias and discrimination.
Honest integration into the American system could soften these biases. I am not saying that they will go away, but learning the principles of equality, fairness and democracy- not only on government but also in relationships, can provide a push, perhaps encouraging them to see the parts of their heritage that they have neglected. The part that is against caste and gender discrimination.