Then Came the Harijan

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It’s evening in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The sun is setting. It is dinner time.

I choose a dusty street vendor on the noisy Ring Road. I pick a different one from last time. I know that wherever I go, the locals will come to watch the foreigner. I want to give each of the several vendors a chance at a little extra business.

I walk up to see what they have to choose from. I know it is no different than the others but I look anyway.

Then came the Harijan. He smiles at me.

I greet him and we exchange names. I then turn around to order myself a plate of momos (steamed dumplings originating from Tibet). They are served promptly.

I sit and notice the Harijan is watching me from a distance. Hungry.

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I motion for him to come sit and have some momos with me. Shyly but eagerly he comes and sits.

I order another plate of momos.

10 minutes later and after several prods, that plate of 10 little momos still has not come. The Harijan. They know it’s for him.

Meanwhile as I had expected, the stall is filling with curious Nepalese eyes who order food in effort to not seem rude. Customers come and go.

No momos.

The Harijan quietly gives up his seat for another customer. They finish. He sits back down.

At last the momos come. They hand the plate to me. They know it’s for him. They take the spoon and put it back. I ask for the spoon back. I hand the plate to the grinning Harijan. He eats, finishes, smiles in gratitude and we part ways.

 

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As of this writing, Nepal is the worlds only official Hindu nation. At first, this is somewhat odd due to the fact that the Buddha was born here. Both Hinduism and Buddhism are tolerant of each other –  to the degree of practically creating so-called Hindubuddhism. They worship together in  each others temples.

Hinduism is thought of more as a way of life than merely a religion. It is known for its system of castes or hierarchy of social status. There are four main castes: (in order from highest to lowest) the Brahmin, the Kshatriya (Chhetri in Nepali), the Vaisyas and the Sudras.

Then there is a fifth group. They are considered so low that they are not even thought of as part of the caste system. The most degrading tasks are reserved for them. They are most commonly known as the untouchables.

They are also known as the Harijan.

 

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UPDATE: after publishing this, I have had several Nepalese inquire as to what the name “Harijan” means. Apparently it is not as common in Nepal as was thought. However, I did find out that Gandhi (who is not Nepali) said that untouchables should be called Harijan which literally means “children of God” instead of “dalit” or “untouchable” which is wrong to do.

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