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 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, I faced the problem of funding the project. I had to make it before my contract with VSO ended and I was forced to leave Nepal. 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.