Suvash Darnal – ‘consummate democracy activist’


It was because Suvash Darnal (right) combined so flawlessly several key attributes that he can be considered to have been a consummate democracy activist, writes Carl Gershman, the President of the National Endowment for Democracy.

  • The first of [these] was his remarkable ability to connect with people and establish close bonds of trust and camaraderie. At the time of his death, Suvash had just completed a summer fellowship programme at Stanford University, where he had been with other fellows for just three weeks. But one person after another, in writing remembrances during the memorial meeting we held for Suvash, used words like “devastated” and “crushed” to convey their reaction to his death. Larry Diamond, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, reflected a common view when he wrote that Suvash’s “idealism, energy, determination, and tremendous personal warmth—epitomised by his ever-present and winning smile—lit up our program and inspired us all.”…
  • What I learned by accompanying Suvash to this meeting was that he was a very purposeful and clear-headed political operative and analyst. Suvash gave me a quick but comprehensive briefing on the civil war, current political developments, and most importantly, the condition of the Dalits whose liberation from poverty and discrimination was Suvash’s raison d’etre. He explained the importance of the Dalits, many of whom had joined the Maoist uprising because of their exclusion from mainstream Nepali society and politics. He spoke of his journey from being a Maoist sympathiser to organising an alternative nonviolent movement for reconciliation and reform……
  • If the memo showed Suvash’s political sophistication, his public presentation as part of his Reagan-Fascell Fellowship highlighted the third attribute, which was his role as a fervent and informed spokesman for Dalit rights. He outlined the pyramidal structure of pure and impure castes, talked about the beginning of the Dalit resistance in the 20th century, and noted the passage of laws and constitutional provisions making untouchability illegal. Nonetheless, Suvash explained, anti-Dalit violence and massive discrimination continued. He then outlined a five-point programme of “affirmative action”, a term he borrowed from the effort in the US to eliminate racial inequality in the 1960s.
  • Suvash knew that real change would not come about just through legislation and advocacy. It would require activist institutions of civil society capable of collective action. This relates to the fourth attribute that made Suvash so effective—his appreciation of the importance of organisation and his ability to create cutting edge groups that could help the Dalit struggle. One such group, created in 2000, was the Jagaran Media Center—the largest Dalit media outlet in South Asia and also an advocacy group fighting caste-based discrimination and defending human rights. The following year, when king Gyanendra took power and eventually shut down Nepal’s nascent democracy, Suvash founded the Collective Campaign for Peace, a coalition of 43 non-governmental organisations that became the secretariat for the civic movement fighting for a return to democracy. 
  • These four attributes were complemented by a fifth virtue that is rarely given the importance it deserves, and that was his rejection of the politics of grievance and victimisation. Suvash never appealed to people’s sense of guilt over the injustices done to the Dalits, nor did he ever ask for sympathy, let alone pity. He always took the high road and appealed to common ideals of social justice and shared humanity….



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