MAHENDRANAGAR, Sept 17: Anita Sunaha has vivid memories of being able to catch bucketful of fishes within hours from the Mahakali River when she was a kid. And that was so when she was not even considered ‘an expert’ in fishing. “My friends would collect even more fishes within minutes. There were plenty of fishes in the river back then,” she reminisces.
Anita says that the Sunaha community traditionally relied on fishes and crabs from the river for their livelihood. The tradition was passed down from one generation to another. When Anita was a teenager, their means of livelihood was gradually threatened. The surroundings were changing and availability of fishes in the river gradually depleted.
“As the availability of fishes in the river started to decline, we gradually started working for construction contractors. We started collected pebbles and sand, filtering them and loading and unloading aggregates trucks,” Anita describes.
Sunaha community is scattered in two wards of Bhimdutta Municipality. The people who are in a very few numbers in ward number 12 and 13 say that their traditional occupations was long challenged and now their survival is also under threat.
Amid the lack of registered land, they continue to be deprived of basic amenities. According to the municipality data, there are around 75 Sunaha families in the two wards.
“Earlier, the nature provided for our livelihood. We would rely on what we could collect from rivers and jungles. But with time, everything changed and we were left more and more miserable,” says Anita.
According to Mahesh Sunaha, construction related stints are sporadic. And on top, contractors exploit their labor by handing far lower wages. “We are given very little money for the entire day’s hard work,” he lamented.
Children from these families hardly go to school. “We don’t have such a culture. Youths often head to India for job.
“Our children do not go to school as they never get such opportunity. In fact, we don’t’ have that culture. Rather, boys go to India as soon as they feel confident,” Mahesh reported.
Though members of the community have been in the area since their ancestors’ time, they still don’t own the land. They have demanded to the government for registering the land in their names, but so far their demands remain unheard.
“Since we never had anyone from our community in power, our voices have always been suppressed. Whenever a politician visits our area, we have requested for addressing our concerns. But so far, no one has shown interest to make our lives easy,” said Mahesh.
Mayor of the municipality, Surendra Bista stated that the registration of the land in their names cannot be pushed without having clear legal regulations. “We are waiting for some provincial and federal laws to become clear. Only after that we can take decision on their request for registering the land in their name,” he said. “Once the laws are clearly framed, we will make every effort to deliver justice to them,” he added.
According to mayor Bista, the community is among the oldest communities in the region and that it will be provided with social security and protection. “They are indigenous people with their own culture and identity. Over the years, their traditions and lifestyle have been endangered; we as the local government should pay attention to this,” he said. “If we protect our originality, we will thrive,” he added.
He also informed that the municipality has already enlisted the community under the groups of indigenous people and recommended the federal government for endorsing it.
“Despite being indigenous people, they were not yet included in the list. We have asked the federal government to identify them,” he said.
Bista further stated that the community needs urgent assistance for surviving. And added that the municipality is working in that direction.
“We have planned to provide them income generation trainings. We are considering providing them with farming, tailoring and other income generation focused trainings. “But we are equally careful about preserving their culture, traditions, lifestyle,” he added.
He further stated that health of the community members is also not good. “Due to extreme poverty, they are not able to manage even their basic needs. Malnutrition is one of the most common issues among the community’s members,” he said adding that such matters would also be taken care of by the local government.