India is the largest democracy in the world but not a progressive one. Most intellectuals believe that firm belief in caste systems in India has narrowed the progressive space. It is hard to translate the thoughts and ideas of equality in India in practice because of the prevailing orthodox mindset.
We Nepalis and Nepal are not only the neighbors of Indians and India. Many things are in common between us in terms of culture and tradition. Both countries have witnessed many movements and revolts where the orthodox and progressive mindsets have clashed with each other.
Mokshabhumi by Keshab Dahal also includes the conflict of two opposite mindsets that have been put in the nine hundred years old setting.
Sinja is part of Jumla district that lies in Karnali province now. It used to be a district of Karnali zone before provinces were created. In the present day, as a part of Karnali, Sinja’s identity includes poverty and remoteness where people have no easy access to education, health and food. But many pieces of literature have revealed that Sinja in the distant past used to be a prosperous state.
Mokshabumi starts with Sinja palace’s prosperous day where King Krachalladev is the premier. He has just welcomed a queen, Apsara, to the palace as the fifth wife. King wants something that could be a precious gift for his newly married queen. He decides to engage in war with the Kumaon state. The king dedicates victory upon Kumaun as a gift to the queen. Unfortunately, a great achievement in war not only appeases the ruler’s heart but also brings agony and distress to the people. Relatives of those martyred cannot be happy with stories of victory and state’s achievement. The queen becomes upset seeing the relatives of those who lost lives in the war. The queen advises the king to give up inhuman activities like war and the tradition of keeping the slaves.
A story of change and revolt always starts with emotion and empathy for the marginalized. Sympathy for other’s pain encourages people to make revolutionary decisions. King Krachalldev, influenced by the queen, becomes positive to abolish the slavery system in Sinja. For the formality, the king asks Rajguru (chief advisor of the palace) Aryadev who strictly opposes the idea of abolition. The Rajguru thinks that caste hierarchy is a part of the Sinja regime and its prosperity. Aryadev also argues that the Khas-Arya community is an advanced community that deserves to keep uncivilized people as their slaves.
Opposing Rajguru’s thought King Krachalldev abolishes slavery. The king gives up the regime and makes a journey toward a sacred place. On the other hand, the freed slaves are split into two groups where the majority led by Satyadev wants to leave Sinja looking for a new place for habitation. Less than one-third led by Garuddev wants to remain in Sinja with the hope of achieving status like other Khas-Arya. In the course of the journey, Satyadev and his people encounter both types of people who oppose and support their liberty. In a long journey, the king of the other state becomes ready to provide the place for habitation. But for Satydev, the place itself is not enough to create a new world.
Satyadev says: “Everyone knows the great civilization of the world was built by the slaves’ blood and sweat. We know how to build a house, path, theatre, and paddy field. But our ability has its own limitations and I think it’s not enough.”
Satyadev sends his two envoys to other states in order to observe culture, tradition and political practices. Finally, they become able to form a beautiful world where humanity and equality are kept in priority. On the other hand, the Sinja state, mired in conflict of orthodox and progressive mindsets, faces downfall.
A single book can carry several messages for readers. The characters and incidents in Mokshabhumi also have messages. Garuddev, who wants to achieve the same status as their oppressor in Sinja, is caught in a robbery case and killed. In the real world, most of the rebellions and ambitious characters meet the fate of tragic end like Garuddev. Likewise, readers may extract various messages but the writer wants the Khas-Arya community not to protect inhuman traditions, cultures and practices. Any tradition against humanity and equality causes a conflict that finally leads to downfall.
Mokshabhumi is an allegory of existing traditions and practices in the Khas-Arya community and its unwelcomed consequences. In the country, the Khas-Arya community supposedly enjoys higher privileges in the society. Orthodox people from this community believe that caste hierarchy should be maintained as an integral part of the society. But the liberal and progressive minds of the same community do not find caste hierarchy important.
The writer has sent a message to the people with the orthodox mindsets through the fictional story: There is nothing more important and advantageous than humanity and equality. If we believe in the caste hierarchy and enjoy suppressing our neighbors and friends, we are going to erode humanity.
Even today, like Aryadev of Mokshabhumi, many believe that caste hierarchy is an integral part of the society and it should be maintained. Such a belief system, mainly followed by the so-called upper caste people, has led to inhuman treatment and suppression of lower caste people.
A conformist might appease himself/herself with such a system but it won’t help build a civilized society.