“Your life is the message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring.”
I am often asked what my caste is, a question that took me by surprise at first as I didn’t realize how prevalent the system of segregation still is. Though it is less predominate than in previously decades, it is still unfortunately a huge part of the Hindu society. When I went paragliding in Pokhara, the friend who took me pointed out how the lower caste folks had to carry their gliders as well as those of the higher caste folks up the hill. The higher caste people walked up with hill empty handed. It is still hard for people of a lower caste to get jobs, and even to this day, marrying into a lower caste is seem as shameful. One of the girls at Hopeful Home explained to me that not too long ago if a lower caste person touched water or food, the higher caste person wouldn’t dare to touch it as it was seen as contaminated. The higher caste folks wouldn’t even dream of touching a lower caste person either, and the lower caste folks were not given the opportunity of an education or a decent job. Though it is slowly changing, it is still an ever present part of this unequal society.
A huge aspect of someone’s social class has to do with their color, as traditionally, the poor people work outside in the sun and become darker while the rich stay inside. Unfortunately this has created a whole industry for whitening creams, which many Nepalis and Indians apply in order to whiten their skin. I have had women go through my bags, find lotion or deodorant, and try putting it in their faces and arms in hopes it will turn them white. I am also constantly told how beautiful my “white skin” is, an irony since where I am from, tan is seen as more beautiful.
The oldest girl at Hopeful Home, who spent an evening with me explaining in detail how their system works, doesn’t like her caste. She is a Brahman, the highest Hindu caste, but says she doesn’t like it because Brahmans are seen as greedy, and, as I can vouch for her, she is one of the most giving least greedy people out there. Maybe someday it will change, but for the moment, everyone is still curious about my caste.