DHANGADHI, July 21: When most of the children of his age would go to school, Tej Ram Tharu worked at somebody else’s home as a Kamaiya (bonded laborer). At age 27, he became a free man when the government declared all Kamaiyas free. At that time, he had dreamt of starting a new life and having a house of his own. But even after waiting for 17 long years, he has not yet been able to live his dream.
On Monday, he was found at a function organized to celebrate the emancipation of the Kamaiyas. “We no longer have to work at others’ houses but we are still struggling for our rights,” laments Tej Ram, now 44. His family of four has been living in a small hut on the land of the old airport of Dhangadhi. Continuous rainfall has made their lives even worse. Similarly, Lauha Tharu, 80, of Pratappur Mainavdhara camp, Kailali is yet to be provided a piece of land. “I spent my whole life working in others’ land but I want to die in my own land,” he said, adding, “But it seems that will remain just a dream.”
Even 17 years after their emancipation, many freed Kamaiya’s are still living in others’ land. “The moment we were freed we thought we would no longer have to live a painful life and we were optimistic about a better future but unfortunately our suffering seems endless,” said 60 years old Ram Das Tharu.
According to Pashupati Chaudhary, chairperson of Mukta Kamaiya Samaj (MKS), around 600 out of the 8,910 freed kamaiyas of kailali are yet to be provided with their land though they have land ownership certificates. Meanwhile, 381 of them don’t even have land ownership certificates. “More than 1,000 families are waiting for rehabilitation,” he said. They have been living in makeshift tents and huts. “Those who don’t have land are living a miserable life as they lack basic facilities like electricity and drinking water, among others,” said Basanti Chaudhary, a local.
The freed Kamaiyas lament that their huts are often waterlogged in the monsoon and it’s hard for them to spend their nights in winter due to cold and they often suffer from various diseases. Most of them are living in barren land, river banks and jungles. Every year, many of them die of snake bites and various diseases.
The government had assured to provide them with land, grants for building houses and conduct programs to increase the economic condition of 27,570 families of freed Kamaiyas of Dang, Banke, Bardia, Kanchanpur and Kailali. As stated by MKS chairperson Chaudhary, more than 1,200 families are still deprived of land in the five districts. But many are still waiting for rehabilitation despite having land as they lack training, while some of them have not been provided with money for the construction of their house. They have time and gain accused the government of ignoring them.