The struggle for dignity fundamentally shapes the dalit experience in Nepal. The caste system in Nepal worked by not only maintaining material inequality between the upper castes and lower castes but also by ritualizing honor and humiliation as everyday practice. The legacy of this brutality against dalits in Nepali social life can, even today, debilitate the official commands of law and the state to end caste discrimination. Against this history, dalits in Nepal struggle to break the identity of untouchability that the hegemony of upper castes thrusts on them.
Since the start of the democratic movement in Nepal, dalit activists have worked to create a counterpublic, a space from which the exclusion of dalits from public life can be challenged. The quest for basic human dignity is critical to the dalit counterpublic as it aims to overturn the very moral ground by which one understands the problem of caste. It shifts the focus from what dalits are deprived of to what dalits inherently possess. The dalit identity stands for the values of equality, respect, and social justice. Presented here is a photographic anthology of the various meanings of dignity for Nepali dalits. These photographs bear testimony to the history of social, economic, political and intellectual disadvantage that dalits are up against. But they also show how dalits make resource of their own cultural pasts for a new and respectable identity.