Remarks by Zerxes Spencer at Suvash Darnal Memorial

Zerxes Spencer, Program Manager, International Forum for Democratic Studies

September 14, 2011

I first became acquainted with Suvash in the fall of 2007, when he applied for a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship here at NED. Only 27 at the time, Suvash was already remarkably accomplished for someone his age. He had founded a media center, authored a book, launched a Collective Campaign for Peace, and had written extensively on democracy, human rights, and social inclusion in Nepal. Clearly, he was on the fast track to civil society stardom.

When Suvash arrived for his fellowship in the fall of 2008, a year later, we knew at once that we were in the presence of a star. It showed in the force of his convictions. In the brilliance of his mind. In his determination to shine a spotlight on the situation of his fellow Dalits in Nepal. And in the glow of his radiant smile.

Earlier this year, Sally and I received an email from Larry Diamond. Larry had come across Suvash’s application to Stanford University’s CDDRL Summer Fellows Program and wanted to know what our impressions were of Suvash from his time as a Fellow at NED.

Here is how I replied: “Dear Larry: Suvash was a terrific fellow in every respect. He embodied just the sense of purpose and spirit of inquiry we seek in our fellows. He brought with him a commitment to an important cause . . . and an eagerness to draw upon all that the U.S. has to offer in helping him to realize his vision—the emancipation of the Dalit community of Nepal. . . I believe our fellowships are put to best use when invested in folks like Suvash—dynamic, engaging, and spirited activists who have not had much exposure to the West, who make the most of their time here, and who go back to make a difference.”

What would I want to say to Suvash if he were with us today?

Suvash, you may have been born an “untouchable” in the eyes of your society, but in the course of your short life, you did the unthinkable. Rather than settle for what fate had bestowed upon you, you dared to stand up. You spoke out against injustice. You told the world about the plight of your people and shared your vision of a more inclusive, egalitarian Nepal. And you did so with courage, with conviction, with humility, and always, with your irrepressible smile.

Whether you realized it or not, you were—and are—an inspiration—not just to the Dalit community of Nepal, but to oppressed communities everywhere. For anyone who has felt the stigma of exclusion—whether on account of their race or religion, gender or sexual orientation, ethnicity, or political persuasion—has something to learn from your example.

You came to us seeking a fellowship, not realizing that you brought with you a fellowship of your own: in the short time that we knew you, you offered us a friendship and an education, combining the best of each to foster just the spirit of camaraderie, learning, and exchange that we seek to build in our program.

You made a difference in our lives and in the lives of countless other people around the world. All of us join together today to salute you for your courage and pay tribute to your remarkable accomplishments—as an activist, author, grantee, mentor, humanitarian, fellow, and friend. We are all—each and every one of us—wiser, stronger, better people for having known you.