One evening 20 years ago, Laxman Ramtel headed to Bhaktapur from Godavari to meet up with his friends.
When he arrived, Ramtel saw that one of his friends was shaving his beard. Thinking he too could use a shave, he attempted to borrow his friend’s shaving equipment. But another one of his friends stood up abruptly to stop him, proclaiming: “Dalits are not supposed to use the same blade as Brahmins and Chhetris.”
His friend’s words hurt Ramtel deeply. “I was humiliated and heartbroken that day,” he recalls. “I came back home and wept all night.”
Many years later, a priest came around to his neighbourhood in Godamchaur on the southern outskirts of Kathmandu Valley, where Ramtel was born and raised, to tie the holy strings on people’s wrists during Janai Purnima.
His family, however, was treated differently. “The priest personally tied the doro on everyone else,” he says. “But when he learned that we were Dalit, he refused to approach us — he tossed the holy thread at us from afar.”
For Ramtel, the years before, between, and after these two incidents have been peppered with similar discrimination. He has experienced caste-based prejudice and intolerance all of his life, be it from strangers or friends, in a village or city, market or temple.
But now, Ramtel is at the precipice of change. In July, he was appointed priest of the Ganesh Mandir at Godamchaur by the chief priest of the temple, Pandit Deenbandhu Pokharel.