‘Freed’ Kamaiyas- A distant dream The Kamaiyas’

January 2, 2007 at 6:38 am Leave a comment

‘Freed’ Kamaiyas- A distant dream The Kamaiyas’

— Santosh Shah

'Freed' Kamaiyas- A distant dream The Kamaiyas'

After six years of so-called “emancipation,” the Kamaiyas’ dreams of economic and social freedom have yet to materialize. Some 32,000 Kamaiyas (bonded laborers) were freed by the Nepalese government in Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur, and Dang on 17 July 2000. However, they still do not know the meaning of true freedom.

The government promised that it would provide them with sufficient land and employment opportunities. However, more than 20,000 laborers are yet to receive such facilities. More than 10,000 freed Kamaiyas are wanderers, without any land or job. Around 5,000 Kamaiyas who were given lands find it insufficient. Meanwhile, some 4,000 “freed” Kamaiyas have received land in the form of landownership certificates provided by the government. What seems to be a total mockery of these people is, the government hasn’t been able to document 3,000 Kamaiyas.

Against this backdrop of poverty and injustice, the freed Kamaiyas have announced that on Monday hundreds of freed Kamaiyas will protest by flooding into Kathmandu to encircle Singhadurbar and capturing public land. Rehabilitation and employment are two major demands. It seems that the Kamaiayas are not going to be pacified by the empty promises of successive governments.

At a press conference in Kathmandu on Thursday, Pashupati Chaudhari, the chair of the Freed Kamaiya Society, explained what will happen during Monday’s protest.

Four or five freed Kamaiyas from each of hundreds of temporary Kamaiya settlements will come to Kathmandu. The government offices in Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur and Dang will face difficulties as the Kamaiyas make an attempt to disturb the District Land Reforms Offices, the District Forest Offices and District Development Offices in each of the five districts of Western Terai.

While some see the move as a positive step towards actual liberation, others see associations of politicking in the freed Kamaiyas’ decision to fight for their rights.

The Kamaiya system originated in Nepal in the 1960s when the Tharu community people were migrating towards the Terai region during the land resettlement of the western Terai. Illiterate Tharus were not familiar with the government mechanisms, and northern Pahades (people from hills) easily overtook them. They were deprived of lands or jobs, and became workers on other’s lands. Due to extreme poverty and lack of any viable opportunities, they were bonded to ask for food and other materials to sustain their families. The aid came from their landlords in the name of debt, which had to be repaid with interest. But because the Tharu laborers were deprived of income sources, the repayment of debt was a distant dream. Thus, they had to work for the landlords for free because they had no alternatives. Many landlords also took advantage of the Tharus’ illiteracy and forced them to sign contracts with overstated amounts or extremely high interest rates. Whole families worked for the landlord to repay the loan, but the debts only continued to accumulate for the bonded laborers, as low wages and poverty compelled them to take more loans year after year. Inevitably, the Tharus now got a new name for themselves — Kamaiyas — and fell into a state of permanent indentured servitude.

Once liberated the Kamaiyas were happy that now they would be able to live a life full of dignity and social freedom. However, when the governmental decree granted freedom for the bonded laborers, many of them were thrown off the land they occupied by landlords. Freed but displaced, the ex-Kamaiyas now had to wander from one place to another in search of land and shelter. The government had promised them proper employment and landownership, but it has failed to fulfill its promises.

Now that the Kamaiyas are about to stage a demonstration against the government’s lack of sincerity and interest, those human rights groups and NGOs and INGOs are coming out in their support. If only these organizations and the government had taken the step earlier, the Kamaiyas could have been doing something substantial for their families and the country at large. Education, health, communication, human rights — all such dictums will fail to lure the free laborers who had to take refuge on the farms and lands of their former owners. Without a handful to eat and the fulfillment of basic needs like shelter and clothing, the freed Kamaiyas would still be the same “bonded-laborers” with just a new label attached with them, i.e. “freed.”

The government should realize that it was this poverty and injustice that gave birth to a decade-long Maoist insurgency in the country. However, the rebels themselves have not raised the issues of the Kamaiyas in the proper way. The Maoists have not realized that at a time when they are fueling the concept of caste-based and community based autonomous regions in the country, Kamaiyas might also want one such autonomous state!

Maoists and the government should realize that further injustice and “lip-service” towards helping these people can only incite more protests and produce worse results. It would be better if the government and the Maoists address the issues of the Kamaiyas properly and without any further delay. Any delay in this will surely give some “elements” opportunities for politicking and further hinder the process of rehabilitation of the “freed” Kamaiyas.

[Submitted by kylemoseby, Image from flickr sharing]

source::http://www.cjnepal.org/story/573/freed-kamaiyas-a-distant-dream-the-kamaiyas

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Entry filed under: Articles.

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