KATHMANDU, MAY 25: The biennial Darnal Award for Social Justice (DASJ) 2022 is all set to be warded to Karnali Arts Centre (KAC), a community-based arts organisation of Nepal and Equality Labs (EL), a US-based Dalit civil rights organisation this year.
“The Darnal Award Selection Committee has decided to recognize the two Dalit-led organizations for their exceptional commitment, courage, and imagination toward ending caste-based inequities and indignities,”states a press released issued jointly by the DASJ and Samata Foundation on Sunday. “The co-awardees will be presented with the award along with NPR 250,000 each at the third biennial international award ceremony in City Hall, Kathmandu, on June 8, 2022.”
Along with the awardees, the Darnal Award Selection Committee has also decided to recognize two dynamic Dalit artists and social justice activists as the 2022 DASJ Honorees – writer and journalist Dhruba Satya Pariyar and anti-human trafficking activist Karuna Trikhatri.
Inspired by the short but extraordinary life of social justice activist Suvash Darnal, the Darnal Award for Social Justice (DASJ) is a biennial international award that honours young leaders (under 40), organisations and movements working to end caste-based inequities and indignities.
It carries a prize of Nepali Rupees 5,00,000 (approximately USD 4,000), which is presented every two years on June 8, on Suvash Darnal’s birthday.
Founded in 2014 by Sarita Pariyar, wife and partner of late Suvash Darnal, the award is organized by the Sarita Pariyar Trust Fund, in collaboration with Samata Foundation, an independent think-tank specializing in research and advocacy on caste-based issues concerning Nepal’s Dalit community.
“As per the DASJ 2022 theme of “Arts and Humanities”, we received an amazing pool of national and international nominees from the field who are creatively engaging with caste questions,” the release further states. “Their stories of struggle and resistance spanning from the remote corners of Karnali to the tech hub of Silicon Valley highlight how caste is a global issue, transplanting itself wherever South Asians go, irrespective of class and educational status.”
According to the organiser, the stories are also testimonies to the powerful ways individuals, institutions, and innovations are addressing and challenging the deeply rooted issues of caste and reimagining and rewriting Dalit narratives.
On June 7, 2022, DASJ will also convene its corresponding biennial symposium “Politics of Dignity and Equity: Dalits in Nepal” in collaboration with the Central Department of Sociology, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, The New School, New York and the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS), New Delhi.
DASJ is organised by the Sarita Pariyar Trust Fund in collaboration with Samata Foundation and commemorates the life and legacy of social justice leader Suvash Darnal. While highlighting and celebrating the lives, resistance, joy, and excellence of Dalit leaders, DASJ has been working to further the discourse on caste, with Nepal’s distinct caste history at the center, and build genuine allyship to fight together for a more just and equitable future for all.
The KAC is based in the culturally rich far-western district of Mugu, Karnali. Home to the highest Dalit population in Nepal, it is one of most remote and under-resourced region in the country and plagued by caste injustice.
Artist and writer Hira Bijuli founded KAC in 2012 with a dream of contributing to the campaign of social justice through the powerful medium of theatre and arts. Over the years, it has staged over 1500 anti-caste street plays.
Through their projects, they have also been documenting, archiving and celebrating the region’s cultural heritage as well as fiercely questioning it.
“Many local art forms in Karnali that are rooted in and have been sustained by Dalit communities, yet these artforms have never been able to grant them dignity, income or opportunities,” Hira Bijuli said. “ For the most part of history, these artforms had been used as a medium to sing praises of the kings and feudal lords, the oppressors. Instead of passively preserving these artforms, we began to thoroughly investigate it, reclaim it and reclaim the narratives we want to share through it.”
Issues of caste and gender discrimination, poverty, and migration are among others that the Karnali Arts Center foregrounds through its work. Despite the immense challenges KAC faces as a Dalit initiated and led organization, it has still been able to set a ground-breaking example of what is possible in the field of arts and culture outside the power centers of Kathmandu. Determined to stay in the region where the segregation between Dalits and Non-dalits is still very stark, they remain committed to continue engaging with the community which is also a major part of their activism. As a result, KAC is changing perceptions one person at a time, with its actors, students and audience.
While the Equality Labs (EL) is a USA based Dalit civil rights organization established in 2015 dedicated to ending caste apartheid, gender-based violence, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and religious intolerance. It builds power through multiple strategies including community organising, art, research, training, and digital security.
According to the organisers, in its first few years, EL conducted a seminal survey about Caste in the USA which established definitively that caste existed in diaspora and since has been used in campaigns of several caste equity wins.
“It has catalysed an unprecedented inter-caste, multi-racial, and interfaith coalition in its advocacy efforts that have led to caste protections being added to tens of institutions including the California Democratic Party, Alphabet workers’ union, and all 23 campuses in the California State University System, impacting nearly 500,000 and 56,000 faculty and staff,” states the organiser.
As a diaspora organisation, EL states that the knowledge production and political analysis that drives its programming comes from grassroots leaders in the Indian subcontinent along with Black and Indigenous liberatory movements in the U.S.
With its unique position, it has been able to look at new tactics and strategies creating caste equity campaigns that have been able to make the caste conversation transnational and global, and move the narrative in a way that can help make systems accountable in the subcontinent without the brahmanical outlets controlling them.
In addition to caste equity, with the dalit feminist leadership, EL operates in a distinct model of organizing based on intersectionality of caste and gender and also includes mental health issues and transformative justice practices as part of their political platform.
According to the organizer, DASJ invites a pool of diverse, reputed scholars, experts and social justice leaders to serve as nominators every award year.
“Candidates from in and beyond Nepal with demonstrated leadership in engaging with caste questions, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality, are eligible to be nominated and particularly welcomes nominations of emerging Dalits leaders worldwide,” said Sarita Pariyar, founding convener of the DASJ. “The DASJ implements a thorough, objective and multi-stage selection process – to screen the nominees, shortlist candidates and finalise the awardees and honorees.”