Nepali Times Asian Paints
Nation
After 10 years, ex-kamaiyas


HEMLATA RAI


nlike 200,000 of their brothers and sisters in bonded labour until last year, they got their freedom a decade ago. But it has taken ten families of former kamaiyas a long time to find security through a unique effort at collective farming. But real freedom from poverty remains a distant dream. Even though the future still looks uncertain, the small patch of land they farm together means there is food for the children and they can go to school instead of herding animals.

Ten years ago, these kamaiyas from Kailali district managed to do thenthinkable?they repaid their owners the sauki, the perpetually mounting debts that required them to remain in servitude to their landlords. But their ordeals did not end with freedom. They faced extreme poverty and desperation, as they had to leave the small plots of land they cultivated for their families. When our children were hungry and crying, we thought about going back to the kisans (the landholding farmers who used&##########################################################################################################################################220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;220;to own the kamaiyas) to ask for loans. But then we thought the better of it?even death seemed preferable, recalls Thaga Chaudhary, a former kamaiya.

Things started looking up for them with the restoration of multiparty democracy 11 years ago. As the first local elections were approaching, political parties began casting about for new ways to woo voters. The Village Development Committee (VDC) office of Surmi Nala in Kailali district provided these few kamaiyas and other landless squatters plots of land to build huts. Once they had a roof over their heads, they began thinking of work. But they had only farming skills, and because their new land-holdings were far too small for anything but subsistence farming, they could never grow enough food to feed themselves.

The former kamaiya families were working independently, and had almost given up hope of ensuring proper meals for their children. In 1998, Creation of a Creative Society (CCS) a local group started by young activists in Kailali, gave them a chance to restore their confidence in their skills and experience. The kamaiyas realised that their most valuable asset was their knowledge of the seasons, crops, soil and water. CCS brought scattered kamaiya families together and provided them a seed fund of Rs 30,000.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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