This Ethnographic Research Series represents one part of a larger research project undertaken by the Central Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tribhuvan University from 2011 to 2013 to design a Social Inclusion Atlas and Ethnographic Profiles (SIA-EP) for Nepal. The SIA-EP project hasfiner interrelated components, including a country-wide Nepal Social Inclusion Survey (NS1S), a Nepal Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index (NSII) combining original surveying with the findings of other recent surveys and the 2011 Census, a Social Inclusion Atlas that maps caste/ethnicity data, and finally a series of Ethnographic Profiles describing the 42 highly-excluded communities of Nepal. The overall objective (ON SIA-EP research was to promote a more informed understanding of Nepal's social diversity by producing research based on the most current information of the country's cultural and linguistic diversity and the status of social inclusion of different social groups. The combimn ion of quantitative and qualitative information produced through 11, 1’3 research is expected to contribute to policy design, research, and education.
1.1 Background of the Study
Out of the 22 Dalit caste listed by Rastriya Dalit Ayog, "Halkhor" has been identified as one of the Madhesi Dalits. Like other Dalits, they have little access to various services available in social, political, economic and administrative sectors of Nepal.
But who are these Halkhors among the Madhesi Dalits? It is worthwhile to discus here the difference between the terms Halkhor and Mestar, which is popularly used in the Nepal Tarai. Halkhor is a pure Maithili word. This word is coined on the basis of the work done by a particular group of people. The traditional work of Halkhor is to sweep roads, clean toilets, take away garbage from hospitals, waste material from the municipality area, and drainage. They also rear pigs for a livelihood. The word Halkhor creates a stereotype image of dirty people who work in dirty places. In the Mithila region people belonging to the upper caste scold their dirty children by saying, "don't be like a Halkhor and Halkhorni". This caste has a deep rooted caste- based Hindu labor division. The word Halkhor is the most derogatory and humiliating word amidst other Tarai castes. The Halkhors migrated to this area from the border area of Bihar province in India for a better livelihood around 100 years ago.
Mestar/Mehtar is a pure Hindi word, which does not given an image that a person is dirty. On the other hand, this word gives a good image of a person. People belonging to high caste rarely use such as Mestarwa and Mestarni while scolding their children.
After 1970s this word became familiar among the people of Mithila region and the young generation prefers this while addressing themselves. But these two words represent and indicate the same group of people. The younger generation people prefer being addressed as Mestar and Mestarni and expect to be treated properly. They like being called by their first names instead of their caste. However the older generation is still referred to as Halkhors and they have no problems with it. Halkhor will soon be replaced by Mestar as the young generation likes it more. The names are already changed in the citizenship certificate. While the older generation still has Halkhor and Halkhorni written on it, the younger generations have registered their surname as Mestar and Mestarni. Nowadays the young people have changed the last name of their children to Raut. They want to save their children the humiliation of being called Mestar. Though they prefer to be addressed as Mestar, the term Halkhor is used interchangeably throughout this EP report.
With some exception, Mestar men and women have dark brown skin, long face and nose, they are of medium height, and physically they resemble the Indo-Aryan people living in Madhes or Tarai.
1.2 Literature Review
Ethnographic Studies on Madhesi Dalits, particuallry on Halkhors is almost nonexistent. A few studies conducted on these Tarai Dalits are discussed below.
Dahal et al (2002); Bhattachan et al. (2002) Chaudhary j(2008); National Dalit Commission (2009) and NNDSWO (2006) have simply introduced Halkhor in their accounts without providing much detail about the society and culture of the community. Also these literatures are silent in pointing out changes, challenges and grievances of the Halkhor community. Reports of Chaudhary and NNDSW mention that Halkhors migrated from Bihar province of India when Bihar was facing a drought. This logic seems irrational because if Bihar was facing drought the rest of the Tarai districts could not remain unaffected. The Tarai districts and Bihar are very close, in some places the distance between the two is hardly a mile. Likewise, NNDSWO's literature mentions Halkhor's origin, which is connected to the Urdu word- Halal. Halal means to slaughter animals by cutting their throat for meat. People who killed pigs were called Halkhor. This logic seems superficial because Halkhors are not the only ones who slaughter pigs. Other castes like Doms, Musahars also do it. The old occupation of Halkhors was to rear pigs. Another report by Seema Vishwakarma (2008) also is not dear about the Halkhors. She writes that the traditional profession of Halkhors as sweepers at the local government office is secure because other castes are not in competition for it. The towns where they reside are densely populated with limited job opportunities. Other Dalits in that area compete for the same jobs. Mahendra Prasad Sah's (2008) account on Halkhor community concludes that the institutionalization of their traditional skills will improve the Halkhor's economic status. Whether such a recommendation is practical in improving the economic status of Halkhor in today's globalized world is a big question?
This research has been carried out to fulfill the lacuna of ethnographic details on Halkhors and to verify the conclusion and recommendations made by various scholars. This work is part of the research work carried out by the Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University (CDSA/TU). This research has attempted to compile Ethnographic Profile of 42 highly marginalized and excluded groups including the Halkhor community. It aims to help explain social diversity so as to formulate social inclusion policy in Nepal.
Halkhor community resides in different districts of the Tarai including Janakpur municipality of Dhanusha District, where the present research has been conducted. In brief, the overall objective of the study is to prepare the ethnographic profile of the Halkhor community based on the guidelines provided by the SIA- EP Research Team.
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