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Can Nepal Use a Natural Disaster to End Caste Discrimination?

Planners want to use the country’s 2015 earthquake as a springboard for tackling deep-seated divisions through long-term rebuilding.
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Ariel Sophia Bardi

On April 25th, 2015, Tara Devi Sunar was finishing up some housework when Nepal’s earthquake hit. Her two children were inside watching TV. “I ran out of the house and everything collapsed,” Sunar, 32, says. Her village, a cluster of stone homes clinging to the face of a Himalayan ridge along the Tibetan border, was flattened in instants. 

Sunar, a schoolteacher who belongs to a low-caste community, spent months with her children living under tarpaulin tents—along with dozens of other displaced families. One would be hard-pressed to find a silver lining in Nepal’s earthquake, whose death toll soared to almost 9,000—except when it comes to caste. In relief camps, where camp residents share meals and cramped facilities, disenfranchised groups experienced an eerie, post-disaster equality. “We worked together, ate together,” another earthquake survivor, a Dalit, or “untouchable,” said in an interview. “The issue of caste never came into play.”