Shailee Chaudhary is a queer activist and a campaigner for Dalit Lives Matter Nepal. Born and raised in Madhesh Province, Shailee has been engaged with various initiatives and organisations over the past six years advocating for the rights of socially excluded groups. She organises large scale public dialogue events such as TEDx Birgunj to bring unheard voices and create inclusive spaces in her quest for an equal world. She publicly owned her sexual identity to become an example for people who fear the scathing discrimination of society. In an interview with WOW, she talks about gender disparity, activism, hashtag movements, and more.
What does “Dalit lives matter” stand for?
Dalit Lives Matter (DLM) is a social movement led by the Dalit Lives Matter Global Alliance (DLMGA) to build constructive resistance against caste-based inequalities, indignities, and adversities globally. DLM aspires to build a global alliance of informed and empowered civic actors equipped with knowledge, skills, and tools to counter and fight caste-based discrimination and untouchability. DLMGA, based in Kathmandu serves as the secretariat of the global Dalit Lives Matter Movement. Social media, along with hashtags, has helped in spreading the message quicker, as it has a global impact and people all over the world can connect through it virtually, and the voice can be heard across the globe.
Does hashtag activism work?
Social media, along with hashtags, has helped in spreading the message quicker, as it has a global impact and people all over the world can connect through it virtually, and the voice can be heard across the globe. For example, Dalit Lives Matter is assumed to be only about Dalits, but it’s also about all the grassroots movements, like the LGBTQ movements, marginalized and indigenous people live. It aims to reach a level where people don’t have to think twice about their sexuality or gender.
What does gender disparity look like in Nepal?
We know that Nepal has traditional values, customs, and cultures that guide how society functions, guided by Hindu Brahmanical Patriarchy norms. Gender disparity has exited for a very long time where men are seen as the breadwinners and women are compelled to stay between the four walls of the house. We can also talk about people who identify as a different gender or from the LGBTIQ community who have been facing violence based on different norms, not just sexual but also political, social, and traditional, at home, in society, and in public spaces.
What led to your decision to become an activist and what is your goal?
Talking about my journey, I am unsure when I decided to be an activist. I’ve always been aware of the historical discrimination against women, people of colour, members of lower castes, and those who identify as having different gender and sexual identities. Coming from Madhesh, I have seen how Madheshi people are treated differently across Nepal. I remember when I was getting my citizenship and how I was treated poorly because I didn’t want to use my father’s surname, Agarwal; I wanted to use Chaudhary as my surname. People deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their class, caste, origin, location, or gender identity. Over time, incidents of discrimination led me to the decision to become an activist.
My goal as an activist is that everyone should have agency, and they should be the ones who tell their story of resistance. They should be able to claim justice within society so that everyone everywhere gets to live a dignified life.
How do you use your voice to champion for the rights of girls and women?
While talking about how I use my voice to champion the rights of girls and women, I am not some messiah or expert, but I always keep in mind that we have been subjected to discrimination in different forms. A woman is discriminated on the basis of the law as a second-class citizen in Nepal. So, if “Madheshi” is added in front of women, they are subjected to triple-fold discrimination. When the Dalit caste group is added to their name, then Madheshi Dalit women face multifold discrimination when caste, gender, and geographical status are added to their identity.
When I talk about the rights of people, I keep in mind how gender is an added identity, how discrimination is multi-folded, and how every individual should have agency and come forward and have space on the table. I am trying to bring women to the forefront so that they have that space, agency, and can put their stories forward which are unheard.
How can women stand in solidarity with each other?
Women can stand in solidarity with each other when people from mainstream feminist groups acknowledge all groups of people, in spite of their gender or their sexual identity, so that they can go forward and have the collective force to create change. Solidarity is created with care, love, empathy, a sense of belonging, and trying to understand that everyone’s experience of discrimination can vary from each other, so we need to fight for each other so we can raise our voices for each other. Gender leadership in politics in every country is really important. I am not sure about Nepal’s gender leadership in politics because, for a lot of reasons, we know that 33% of women were elected as MPs in the federal election last year. Men, who are the dominant gender group, have privileges that they have been experiencing for a long period of time. They are guided by the patriarchal mindset that women are obligated to stay indoors or that a binary system is an appropriate system due to religious guidance.
How can we encourage different identities political leadership in the country?
I think that all different genders and leaders in politics are important. Two non-heterosexual gender identity people from Sunsari and Siraha were cast because they wanted to be in politics and come into mainstream politics. When people of different gender identities come into leadership positions, they bring different lived and learned experiences. Bringing diverse people to acknowledge the problems with their expertise and opinions, for example, when we talk about this statutory period or the rape cases “had myad kahili sammako”. Most times, the people who are making decisions are men, who are generally the perpetrators. Perpetrators are those who make decisions on behalf of survivors or victims. So, the accused are the ones making the laws. When we have different genders and leadership in politics, we see vibrant democratic principles. A vibrant democracy always has very strong policies and laws. A lot of women leaders at the ground level have been just ward chairs, but they are doing tremendous work on the ground and working on issues like health, menstrual hygiene, SRHR, education, and community building. So, when people of different genders come into politics, democracy becomes vibrant, and changes can be seen.
What in your life journey that has been the most challenging thing you have had to overcome?
The most challenging thing was fear as I would always be scared of what would happen next. I contemplated my decision about whether I was doing right or wrong, whether I should raise my voice, and what the consequences could be if I said something. I am trying to overcome that by raising my voice if needed. Our generation needs to question anything they are not satisfied with, so the next generation will not have to do the same thing as well. The challenging thing is to ask questions and raise our queries with authorities and policymakers.
What have been the milestones so far?
I recently got awarded a scholarship for the Woman Deliver Conference, which is happening in July in Kigali, Rwanda. This was a milestone because the issues in Nepal are getting global recognition, and we need to address them as well. The other would be that I have been able to support the Dalit Lives Matter movement and Dalit Lives Matter campaign, on which I have been working proactively to address caste-based discrimination and untouchability in Nepal. It is trying to build a global alliance of all the stakeholders of the perpetrators and the survivors to bring them to one table and discuss the issues and how they should be addressed.
I see myself working for my people in Nepal, with different communities and different genders, castes and sexual identities. I want to see that after ten years, there should not be Shailee talking about the same issues, but someone talking about how the generation before us has built and laid the foundation. I would really love to work for the people in my home country, Nepal, who identify themselves as having different gender and sexual identities.