Why Dalit Lives Matter

A conversation with activists Pradip Pariyar and Shailee Chaudhary who have been fighting for justice, equality and dignity of the Dalits in Nepal and beyond.

From left, Pradip Pariyar and Shailee Chaudhary

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 7 min.

Pradip Pariyar is the Founder and Chair of Dalit Lives Matter Global Alliance (DLMGA) and currently leads the #DalitLivesMatter movement. He is the former Executive Chairperson of the Samata Foundation. The World Economic Forum has selected Pariyar as one of the Young Global Leaders in its Class of 2020. He was awarded ‘Asia’s 21 Young Leaders Award’ by Asia Society in 2018 in recognition of his contribution to training thousands of youths globally on leadership, peacebuilding, and social justice. In 2015, he was felicitated by the Nepal Government’s Ministry of Youth and Sports with the ‘Youth Leadership Award’ for his initiation of the Youth Vision 2025: a 10-year national youth development policy. Pariyar was also selected as a youth fellow by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in 2011.

Shailee Chaudhary, hailing from Madhesh province, is an ardent activist who has dedicated the past decade to advocating for the rights of marginalized communities. Involved in various initiatives and organizations, Chaudhary’s passion knows no bounds. With a sincere commitment to the cause of Dalit Lives Matter, she has orchestrated impactful events like TEDxBirgunj to amplify unheard voices and fostered inclusive spaces in her pursuit of a more equitable world. Embracing a Queer Feminist identity, Chaudhary has tirelessly worked towards equal rights and inclusivity, traversing various intersections, and undertaking numerous initiatives. To delve into Chaudhary’s unique perspective, explore her thought-provoking writings on medium.

In my personal quest to better understand the dynamics surrounding the fight for justice that has been carried out by members of the Dalit community in Nepal, I recently visited the Dalit Lives Matter Global Alliance.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA that erupted following the murder of George Floyd in the street of Minneapolis in May 2020, the Alliance wants to build a global movement focused on the rights, dreams and aspirations of Dalits citizens, not only in Nepal but also in South Asia and throughout the world.

At the Alliance I met its founder Pradip Pariyar, an old acquaintance of mine and also Shailee Chaudhary who plays the vital role of organizer and campaigner there. 

Conversation with Pradip Pariyar

The conversation spanned the whole spectrum of the ongoing work being carried by them, from the current situation faced by Dalit to policy making and activism, two dimensions that are intrinsically related to each other like two sides of the same coin. 

But let’s start with the sparkle or better the anger that prompted Pradip to come up with the idea of the Alliance. It was June 2020 and the protests against the atrocious killing of six young Dalits in Rukum West were going on. The turnout at the manifestations was not as high as expected. Youths showed up but then something was missing. 

As explained by activists and human rights expert Tek Tamrakar at the time for The Himalayan Times, non-Dalit activists and senior members of the so-called civil society did not show up.

While in the USA the killing of George Floyd also brought millions of white Americans to reconsider many of their assumptions about privilege and the impact of racism in the society, the same did not materialize in Nepal. This is what brought Pradip to start barnstorming about a global movement focused on the rights of Dalits citizens, in Nepal but also outside the country.

This overall goal is as straightforward as daunting:  Ensuring rights of Dalit citizens.

So far the Alliance has been working to prepare the ground for actions on the field even if one of its most visible undertakings was the wall painting in Patan depicting the portraits of the Rukum West’s victims. This, Pradip explains to me, can be achieved through the implementation of three distinct strategies.

“First, instituting a comprehensive reform of state mechanisms guided by the principle of proportionate inclusivity. This entails ensuring that the state fulfills its constitutional responsibilities and is held answerable for any lapses,” Pradip told me. ‘Then,” he continued, “by nurturing a new generation of leaders who champion rights-based advocacy, address multifold discrimination arising from the intersections of caste, geopolitics, socioeconomics, and gender and sexuality questions, and lead grassroots movements. These emerging leaders will be instrumental in driving the agenda of equitable treatment and social justice”.

“Finally,” he explained, “by broadening the scope of discussions surrounding caste-related issues by fostering a global dialogue. This approach aims to raise awareness and encourage collaboration on addressing caste-based discrimination both within Nepal and internationally.”

What impressed me over the conversation with him and Shailee was two things: First the importance attached to leadership development; second the focus on inclusiveness, the realization that, in order to achieve the rights of Dalit citizens, there is a need of creating an inclusive alliance. In practice, this means bringing in people from different walks of life, including citizens from the so-called traditionally privileged groups. Leadership and personal ownership are essential tools to promote action, awareness and change at local levels.

That’s why the Alliance is working to establish independent and autonomous affiliates in each of the 77 districts of the country. In a way promoting youth leadership is a way to promote agency but also it is the best way to equip citizens, especially youths, to have the tools to fight discrimination and injustice. This, Pradip explains, must be done inclusively. 

That’s why the teams of young people that will lead the local associations will also be open to non-Dalit youths as well, especially members of the marginalized communities, youths from the LGBTQ communities, youths with disabilities and indigenous youths. They will work and this is the plan, as mobilizers but also as watchdog, supporting citizens who have been discriminated against.

The focus is certainly on providing redress to injustices committed against Dalits but at the same time, the participation of non-Dalits will also allow a broader advocacy work against patriarchism and discrimination. 

At the same time Pradip believes that achieving a truly inclusive society requires engaging the so-called upper caste. “We are not excluding anyone and we also try at the Alliance to lead the conversation and the change on the ground by example,” he said. “Our staff is made up of colleagues from different communities, including from Brahmin and indigenous groups”.

The fight is indeed against all forms of discrimination and Pradip is crystal clear that social justice is not only about ensuring the rights of Dalit citizens. “My overarching goal is to eliminate all manifestations of discrimination within Nepal, including members of indigenous communities, persons with disability and others.” While I knew Pradip’s tenacity and lifelong commitment for social justice, I was impressed by Shailee’ passionate resolve to the cause.

Views of Shailee Chaudhary

Shailee has a very unique view on the issue, something stemming from her own identity as a queer woman. “As an individual who does not belong to the Dalit community, I am not immune to the pervasive impact of the caste system. Its influence permeates various facets of my life, including social, economic, political, and cultural dimensions,” she said.

She further emphasized: “It is crucial to recognize that caste exerts an effect on all individuals; the differentiating factor lies in the degree of discrimination faced. For instance, in my case, marrying someone outside the Marwadi community might result in familial restrictions or potential estrangement.”

 “Conversely, when a Dalit individual seeks to make a similar choice, the consequences are far more severe, often resulting in targeted violence and even fatalities perpetrated by families and caste-dominant groups,” she said.

The question of proportionality and different degree of propensity of levels of discrimination is a key and it is something that requires further analysis and reflections. Untangling it could provide venues to get the overall society on board in the fight against discrimination.

It is something that we might discount but it is true that the whole society has been rigidly divided along castes and different treatments, a nice word for discriminatory behaviors, were at the foundations of it. Everyone was, and to some extent, is still influenced by these long-established behaviors and mindsets but some are paying a much higher price.

“This motivates me” Shailee further elaborates “to gain a comprehensive understanding of the historical and contemporary challenges linked to the caste system. It impels me to recognize my privilege and critically evaluate my standing within this hierarchical framework.” “It drives me to scrutinize and actively contest biases and unfair treatment stemming from caste. It compels me to initiate thought-provoking discourse, demonstrate solidarity, foster connections, and be an ally in the journey of Dalit and marginalized communities attaining dignified lives” she shared with the conviction of someone deeply involved in the issues.


It is noteworthy to say that the Alliance, as the name itself explains, has global ambitions.

Pradip was recently at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on the occasion of the High-Level Political Forum, the global SDGs focused mechanism. He was there to advocate the Dalits’ rights worldwide because, as we know, it is occurring that the same discriminatory dynamics, either conscious or unconscious at play in the societies throughout South Asia, are reverberating also in North America. There have been several cases of alleged discrimination against Dalits by other members of the Hindu community living there.

The Alliance is also a key constituent of the Global Forum of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (GFoD) that works to uplift the “most excluded, segregated, and marginalized groups at the global and local level within their social, economic, political, and cultural systems.”

Working for social justice requires grit, determination and commitment to dialogue. It also requires a strong resolve to use all the venues provided by the law to punish the perpetrators of caste-based discrimination.

Working for social justice requires grit, determination and commitment to dialogue. It also requires a strong resolve to use all the venues provided by the law to punish the perpetrators of caste-based discrimination.

I am looking forward to hearing from Shailee and Pradip about the work at local levels, a real process of empowerment that the Alliance is focusing on. The overarching aim, for Pradip and Shailee and the team at the Alliance, is to create a much-needed movement at grassroots level.

The work of the local associations that they are trying to enable is going to be challenging because it takes endurance, commitment, dedication, expertise and knowledge to fight prejudices and discriminatory behaviors punishable by law. And training the new batch of young advocates is paramount. They will act as “informal” junior paralegal dialogue practitioners because we need tons of dialogue to change the status quo.

Wrapping up, I hope the members of the civil society that were missing in action during the protests in June 2022 will still reach out to the Alliance and brainstorm with them about venues for collaborations. Hopefully also members of indigenous and disability communities will try to build bridges with the Dalit movement. I see the potential for a network of networks, something agile and focused on a holistic fight for social inclusion. I also hope that more powerful wall paintings will show up around the towns of the country. I wish I was there in June 2022 but I wasn’t and I regret it.

Simone Galimberti is the pro-bono co-founder of ENGAGE and The Good Leadership. He writes about social issues, politics and youth empowerment. Views are personal.