The Khatwe: Surviving in Untouchability

Guest post by Tribhuvan Chandra wagle


Tribhuvan C Wagle
Author : Sociologist/Anthropologist and Journalist

We are proud of Nepal being the country of different castes and communities with different cultures. However some members of society feel inferior to identify them as the member of certain community. Even today, In Nepal, a member of community is treated either so called higher or lower caste. So, one can raise a serious question ‘is the caste based diversity of Nepal good looking or ugly of society?’  If we fail to overcome the caste based discrimination and issues at the appropriate time, it will be ruined our social harmony. That is why, we have to understand that caste based diversity is the foundation stone of Nepalese society and the mount of problem as well.

If we proud of caste based diversity of Nepal we have to keep the present picture of caste based discrimination in our mind which is forced on Khatwe and other Dalit community. According to National Dalit Commission (NDC) there are 26 caste groups including Khatwe and nearby one-fourth of total population of the country are suffering from caste based discrimination. Then, who can say ‘caste based diversity of Nepal is a garden of beautiful flowers’ standing on the controversial ground reality?  In this way, we have to realize that caste based diversity of Nepal is a nice-looking and ugly picture too.

Khatwe is a caste of Hindu social organization. For the first time the Ministry of Local Development (MLD) presently known as Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development has listed Khatwe as Dalit community according to the ministerial decision of 2054-12-28. After then, The NDC scheduled Khatwe as Terai Dalit in 2058. The Government of Nepal has recognized Khtawe as Madesi Community along with 92 other different caste groups of Terai according to the decision of 2065 Magh 21. Khatwe are treated as untouchables but sprinkling gold water is not required to purity by the upper caste is touched physically. Untouchabilities and other forms of caste based discriminations are forced on Khatwe but they regard themselves as an upper caste than Chamar, Dushad, Dom and Halkhor, and do not accept cooked food and water from these groups. The caste-based discrimination to Dalits is found not only from the so-called high caste and the indigenous people but these types of discriminations are also practiced within the Dalit groups. Though the constitution of Nepal, 2063, declares all types of exploitation- oppression including untouchability of the Dalits shall end, and special rights shall be ensured for the Dalits in all sectors. But in practical life Dalit community is suffering either intra Dalit caste based discrimination or the discrimination by so-called caste hierarchy.

According to the census 1991 the population of Khatwes was 66,612 or 2.9 per cent of the total Dalit population. The latest census 2011 says there are 100921 Khatwes live in Nepal whereas they were 74972 in the census 2001. Though, Khatwes are scattered all over the Terai districts of the country but the large portion of Khatwe is found in Saptari, Dhanusha, Mahhottari and Siraha. They do not have any specific traditional occupation but most of them are engaged in agricultural either as tenants or wage labour and a few of them work as tattoo workers too. Dipak Chaudhary, the writer of Nepal Ko Madhesi Samaj (2065Bs) writes that Khatwe were previously known as Kahar who carrying Palankuin (Doli) of bride and bridegroom for marriage procession (Kahar in local language\ Bibaha ko doli bokne in Nepali language). Khatwe are treated as untouchables but sprinkling gold water is not required to purity by the upper caste is touched physically.The Khatwes are also known by their clan names such as Khang and Mandal and prefer to be called Mandal.

The caste-based discrimination to Dalits is found not only from the so-called high caste and the indigenous people but these types of discriminations are also practiced within the Dalit groups. Though the constitution of Nepal, 2063, declares all types of exploitation- oppression including untouchability of the Dalits shall end, and special rights shall be ensured for the Dalits in all sectors. But in practical life Dalit community is suffering either intra Dalit caste based discrimination or the discrimination by so-called caste hierarchy.

It is guessed that Khatwes entered to Nepal from India. Ethnographic Study of Terai Dalits in Nepal (Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, 2006) says ‘According to Khatwe of Hanuman Nagar they migrated to Nepal from Bihar some 80- 100 years back following the severe drought that hit several parts of India’ but Sita Ram Khatwe Mandal then member of NDC claimed in a discussion with this pen pusher that they are the indigenous people of Nepal.

There is some mythological belief on Khetwe and their ancestors, for example, Sashiya Maharaj and his mother Maiya of Darbhanga, India were believed to be Khatwe’s ancestor. Sashiya Maharaj is worshipped by Khatwe as their totem god every year in the months of Asar of Bikram Sabvat. One of the temples of Sashiya Maharaj can be found in Sishwa Belhi of Saptari district of eastern Nepal.

The overall literacy rate of Dalit was 22.8 per cent in the 1991 census whereas the national average was 39.6 per cent. The census showed the literacy rate of Khatwe (aged 6 years & above) was 11.6 percent. According to the census 2001 literacy rate of the population 6 years and above of Khatwe was 25.3 compared the national average 65.5 percent.  Among them there are 16.4 per cent Khatwe male and 6.7 percent female were literate. The present authentic literacy status of Khatwe has not found yet.

Being Hindu most of Khatwe follows the social norms and value directed by Hindu social organization.  More or less their social life, folk ways, belief and cultural acts are like to either so-called higher or lower Terai Hinduies. So many rites (Samskars) such as naming, feeding, Bratabandha, are associated with Khatw as Hindu traditions. They believe on sorcery and faith    over fatalistic value as well. Most of them remain in joint family with patriarchal domination.

They are endogamy. Ways of marriage is not different from other Hindu castes. They celebrate Dasahara, Diwali, Chhath, Holi Purnima as their popular festivals.

Neo-delivered mother is kept in a separate room after the delivery for six days. The sixth day is called chhaith\Chhatiyar. On this day the mother purifies herself by taking bath. In addition, the child has given name on this day. More than 95 percent of Khatwe cremation is the ideal method for dealing with the dead, although some of them practice burial (interment) instead; infants, under 10 years, are buried rather than cremated. At the funeral site, in the presence of the male mourners, the closest relative of the deceased (usually the eldest son) takes charge of the final rite and, if it is cremation, lights the funeral pyre. Khatwe speak Maithali, Bhojpuri ans Nepali as their mother tongue.

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