In Nepal, where the caste system is deeply entrenched and maintained through arranged marriages, elopement is the only way to marry for love. But when the partner is an untouchable, conservatives punish the lovers with violence, ethnic cleansing, and even death in order to maintain the system.
These five love stories, of high-caste girls running away with untouchable boys, are modern-day versions of Romeo and Juliet. Manoj and Parbati’s affair causes ethnic cleansing in their village. Khadga and Jaisara live in the jungle to hold on to their love. The romance of Shyam and Saraswoti unleashes the wrath of the police on the untouchables. Kishor faces jail because he loves Ranjana. And the case of Rajib and Sabina, is it a double suicide, or murder?
Twenty-five-year-old Manoj leads the narration. His elopement with Parbati, twenty-two, in 2003 led to ethnic cleansing in his village. Hundreds of high-caste men attacked the around eighty untouchables, in a bid to drive them out and “purify” the village, putting the lovers under extreme pressure to separate.
Similarly, when Khadga, twenty-three, and Jaisara, twenty-one, eloped in 2008, violence between high-caste and untouchables erupted in the village. The lovers hid in a forest for several days to escape the wrath of Jaisara’s parents, who wanted to see them dead. They lost their way in the thick jungle and nearly starved to death.
In a tale of police brutality, 22 year old Shyam, a milk vendor, eloped Saraswoti (21) in 2010. Her parents then bribed the police, who raided the village, tortured Shyam’s father, injured dozens of untouchables, and took Saraswoti away to be married to a man of her caste.
In a sensational court case, Kishor, a 21 year old student who ran away with 17 year old Ranjana in 2010 was charged with kidnapping and seducing a minor. The judge controversially dismissed the case against him, which was a victory for all Nepali youth who believe in love.
In a touching tale of murder, Rajib came into town to learn the craft of his caste from his uncle, who owned a jewel shop. But within four months, he fell madly in love with Sabina. Her family could not accept the relationship. The lovers were found hanging on a single shawl in the jungle, a chilling warning to the society that inter-caste relationships are not tolerated.
This is a story of four untouchable boys who eloped with high-caste girls. Using only interviews and novoice over, it tells of love creating a conflict between parents and children, religion and human rights, of youth who reject their culture to assert the freedom to love andthe right to marry a partner of their choice. It also tells ofHindu extremists who view these lovers as a threat to the system, for an increase in inter-caste marriage will blur caste boundaries and create an equal society. Therefore conservatives punish the lovers with severe violence to discourage future elopements.
Twenty-five-year-old Manoj leads the narration. His elopement with Parbati, twenty-two, in 2003 led to ethnic cleansing in his village. Hundreds of high-caste men attacked the around eighty untouchables, in a bid to drive them out and “purify” the village, putting the lovers under extreme pressure to separate. But they decided to stay together, against all odds. Now, they are relatively well-off peasant farmers with two sons.
Similarly, when Khadga, twenty-three,and Jaisara, twenty-one, eloped in 2008, violence between high-caste and untouchables erupted in the village. The lovers hid in a forest for several days to escape the wrath of Jaisara’s parents, who wanted to see them dead. They lost their way in the thick jungle and nearly starved to death. But they survived, and now have one son. They are landless and homeless refugees in their own country, struggling to earn a living by cultivating other people’s farms.
In a tale of police brutality, twenty-two-year-old Shyam, a milk vendor, eloped with twenty-one-year-old Saraswoti in 2010. Her parents bribed the police, who raided the village, tortured Shyam’s father, injured dozens of untouchables, and took Saraswoti away. But three months later, Saraswoti escaped from her family where she was kept like a prisoner and returned to her love. Thereafter, her parents conceded defeat and disowned her.
The fourth story is of a sensational court case. Kishor, twenty-one, a university student who ran away with seventeen-year-old Ranjana in 2010 was charged with kidnapping and seducing a minor. The judge controversially dismissed the case against him, which was a victory for all Nepali youth who believe in love.
Rajib and Sabina’s tale is a chilling reminder for us to take immediate action before the situation runs out of control. With four months of their meeting, Rajib and Sabina planned to elope, but her family did not like it. They were found hanging in the jungle.
These stories evolve over three major phases, modeled on the classical three-act structure. The first part introduces us to the subject matter and the characters. It is an ethnographic account of how they met, how they dated, and how their love blossomed in secrecy amidst the undercurrents of caste discrimination in their villages.
Being young and innocent, they did not think there was a very big problem in their communities. It seems a just society, with the evil of caste fading into the past. The high castes allow untouchables to live next door, to share their water sources, markets, temples, and schools. Only after children from the two polar families fall in love does it surface that high castes are not ready to share blood with untouchables.
Unable to bear the thought of their love coming to an end, the lovers sneak out of home in the dead of night and secretly get married. They flee to unknown futures, with barely enough money to last them a few months past their honeymoon.
This leads us to the second part, which recounts the consequences of the elopements. To the untouchables, marrying a high caste is a matter of honor, a way to uplift their social status and end discrimination. They, therefore, do everything to support the lovers. But the high castes feel polluted and use severe violence to restore their honor. Being numerically stronger, they attack the untouchables to drive them out of the village, or force them to pay very heavy fines. With influence in the government, they use the police to find the runaways. The police falsely claim the girl is underage, or frame the boy for kidnap, and randomly arrest and torture the boy’s relatives until someone reveals the whereabouts of the runaways. Therefore, to ensure success, the lovers keep their hiding (honeymoon) place a total secret.
Interviews with scholars, human rights activists and anthropologists place the events in a theoretical framework to enable the audience to understand the subject matter.
The last part of the film is about victory, for this is a happily-ever-after story, a celebration. After all the pains they endured, the untouchables won. Love won. And that gives us the theme of the film, that true love will overcome any obstacle.
Director’s Statement and Motivation
In 2008, I went through yet another break-up. My girlfriend was cheating on me. Depressed, I thought I’d never find true love. That I would grow old in a very lonely house. I started to search for the meaning of true love. Inevitably, I stumbled upon love stories from South Asia, which struck me as modern day versions of Romeo and Juliet grounded in the Hindu caste system. Yet, when I saw that these lovers face violence, ethnic cleansing and death, and that no one was talking about it, my motivation to tell this story became the hope that it will increase protection of the rights of those who fall in love with untouchables.
Within Nepal, I hope to raise awareness to the rural public about the legal provisions for inter-caste marriage. Much of the abuse of human rights happens because the perpetrators think they are acting within the law. At an international level, I hope to call upon the global community to pressure the government of Nepal to punish those who practice caste-based discrimination, and to pressure Hindu leaders to reform the religion.
I am from Africa. Living in Nepal opened my eyes to the fate of black South Asians. I was so often mistaken for an untouchable, and denied entry into restaurants and people’s houses, simply because of my skin color. And yet no one treats it as racism.
I hope this documentary can play a part not only in promoting the freedom to love, but also in stopping racism, and in compelling Hindu leaders to reform the religion, which is the major source of discrimination.
I the director made this film in a period of two years, while I worked in Nepal as a volunteer with VSO. Before that, I spent about a whole year researching on the subject of inter-caste relationships and contentious marriages. When I started thinking of making a documentary about illicit love, I thought of going to a fundamentalist Muslim country, where honor killings are common if a woman marries for love against her father’s wishes. However, I discovered that the plight of women in Muslim countries already has the attention of the international community, mostly because of the 9/11 catastrophe. Yet, the more numerous Hindu women have suffered in silence for thousands of years, and the Western powers pay a deaf ear to their pleas because they do not view Hinduism as a threat to their interests.
At first, I wanted to go to India. I applied to Volunteer Services Overseas, but rarely do they grant you a request to work in a country of your wish. Since I had shown interest in South Asia, I was offered a placement in Bangladesh and Nepal. I chose Nepal, which until 2008 was a Hindu kingdom.
While in Nepal, I worked with the oldest dalit organization, Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, whose aim is to uplift the rights and standards of living of untouchables. I lived in a rural area in the Far Western district of Nepal, Kailali, in Danghadi town, and this kind of environment enabled me to research on the cultures as a participant observer. Most of the crimes against inter-caste couples happen in the rural areas, where the caste system is followed strictly, and being in close contact with inter-caste couples gave me an insider’s view of their experiences. It did help a lot that I managed to master the Nepali language within two months of arriving in Kailali.
Once I had my story ready, the problem of financing the project presented itself. I knew I had to make it before my contract with VSO ends, otherwise I would not have found another chance. But VSO had a small grants program, funded by the European Commission, and this then gave me access to funds to pay for the basic costs of filming the characters.
Director: Dilman Dila makes social action documentaries, giving a voice to oppressed and forgotten minorities, with the mission of creating a world where everyone’s rights are respected. His short films have screened at numerous international festivals. His short stories have appeared in several online and print publications. One of these, Homecoming, received a nomination at the 2008 Million Writers Awards: Notable Online Stories of 2007. He keeps a blog of his pursuit for happiness, at www.dilmandila.com
Producer: Reiza S. Dejito is a humanitarian worker, social activist, writer, editor, traveler and blogger. Her love for stories led her to the man of her dreams, and her strong belief that stories can bring about positive change in the world encouraged her to venture into the world of filmmaking. She keeps a blog of her travels. Follow it on www.wander-if-you-must.com
Original Title: Untouchable Love
Director: Dilman Dila
Original Language: Nepali, Hindi, Maithili, English
Duration: Approx. 90 minutes
Country of Production: Nepal
Year of Production: 2011
Shooting Format: DVCam, PAL, 16:9, Color
Exhibition Format: MiniDV, HDCam, DigiBeta, BetaCam