Republica Files Freed Kamlaris participate in a rally demanding investigation into the status of 27 missing Kamlaris in Dang district, in these photos from 2014.
DANG, Dec 15: Beaten by extreme poverty, Chaturbhuj Chaudhari of Ghorahi decided a cruel fate for his 10-year-old daughter Sharmila, 14 years ago. Responding to suggestion from a relative he agreed to hand over the child to a Kathmandu based well-off family as domestic help. It was agreed that he would be paid Rs 4,000 annually for the full time service of the child to the family. In the initial days, she would frequently contact the family members back home. Later, the frequency decreased. And then, she went out of contact.
After few months, Chaudhari was told that his daughter was missing. She was reported to have left home for unknown reason. Chaudhari made inquiries, but he never got any good news. Later he died and his wife died, too. If anyone is still worried for the girl, who would be 24 now, if she is still alive, is her uncle Badhulal. According to Badhulal, he tried a lot but could not get a clue of his niece’s whereabouts.
“It has been 14 years since she was taken as a Kamlari in Kathmandu. We have not seen her since. Her parents died without seeing her. I tried all I could to find her, but so far I have also failed,” Badhulal said. He said that his son has personally gone many places with the missing’s photo but could not find any clue of her whereabouts.
Sita Chaudhari of Hekuli was also kept as Kamlari many years ago. She was sent to a landlord’s house in Tulasipur, Dang. Just like Sharmila, she was also reported to have disappeared from the landlord’s house one day and has not been seen since then. “I have not seen her from the day she left the house. Sometimes I feel that she will return home one day but than the pessimism creeps in and I loose all the hope,” her father Jhingu said.
Jhingu sought help of several NGOs to search her. However, that did not help. “I do not know if she didn’t come to us because of some grudges. Or if she was subjected to abuse at the landlord’s house or if she died,” Jhingu said trying to hold back tears. “I should have never sent her to other’s house.”
Himlal Chaudhari of Maanpur village has been also subject to similar grief. His daughter has been missing for the last 12 years. “She was taken as a Kamalari by a landlord in Nepalgunj. One day they reported that she was missing. Since that day I have searched for her everywhere, but to no avail,” Himlal lamented.
When he approached the landlord demanding answers, the landlord denied cooperating. After relentless efforts the landlord eventually spoke to Himlal. However the answers given were far from satisfactory, he says. “He said that my daughter left his house without any reason and he was not aware of her whereabouts”
Freed Kamalari Development Forum, a NGO working for the welfare of Kamlaris, informed that whereabouts of 27 Kamalires like Sharmila and Sita remains unknown. They were acting as bonded labor in landlord’s house in Kathmandu and other cities. Six of them were from Banke, five from Dang, four from Bardiya and 12 from Kailali alone.
“Most of these Kamlaris disappeared from their landlord’s house in Kathmandu,” said Urmila Chaudhari, advisor of the forum. “We are in touch with their families and trying to figure out their whereabouts. But the disappearances took place many years back and putting pieces together now is a complex feet,” she informed acknowledging that their investigations might not be able to meet the disappeared family’s expectations.
Urmila claimed that the practice of keeping bonded labor had not completely died even after the government banned Kamlari and Kamaiya system in 2000. “The practice continued though in a different form. Earlier Kamaiya and Kamlaris served the landlords by working in their farms and homes in the villages and in their town residences. But after the practice was abolished, landlords continued to keep Kamlaris and Kamaiyas in their city residences,” she said adding that all 27 disappeared Kamlaris were in servitude before the practice was banned.
Urmila feels that the girls might have abandoned the landlord’s house to escape cruel treatment and did not return to their home either because they did not know where it was or because they had grudges against the parents for putting them to servitude. “Nothing can be said with certainty. The landlords’ statement also cannot be trusted to the letter. Neither can we say if the girls left the house alive and that too on their own. And if they did left the house on their own, we cannot say they did not fall prey to traffickers,” she said.
“At this point we even don’t know if they are still alive or if they left the landlord’s house alive. What happened to them at the landlord’s house, why did they flee, and most importantly where are they now? These are some of the questions that the police have failed to answer so far.”
The only thing that the state has done in the cases of these girls is classifying them ‘missing’, she said. “Is the state only responsible to classify citizens as victims, missing, and convicts? 27 innocent girls went missing from their ‘masters’ house. And neither their ‘masters’ have been brought to the book nor has the state found their whereabouts,” she said.