Rautes in deep crisis amid prolonged lockdown

Published On: July 11, 2020 01:53 PM NPT By: Nagendra Upadhyaya

“Folks are dying of hunger, we are going through a huge crisis.”

SURKHET, July 11: The only nomadic tribe in Nepal, Rautes, have been dragged into a deep crisis due to the nationwide lockdown which has been enforced since March 24 earlier this year in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

The lockdown has been dear to them as the Rautes cannot carry out their traditional occupation of carving wood tools and selling them for managing their daily expenses. “When it was normal, we used to go to nearby forests, fell trees, carve wooden utensils and sell them,” said the head of the clan [Mukhiya] Surya Narayan Shahi, adding that they have submerged into a deep crisis owing to restrictions in movements.

The community also counts on the grants offered by the donors, however, this is not possible these days either as they cannot reach the Raute settlements.

The Rautes have three norms: no farming, no education and no permanent settlement. The community migrates to a new place after any of the members dies. Following this tradition, the community moved to Gurans Rural Municipality-9, Bubairakhe in Dailekh District from Surkhet two days ago.

Rautes setting up a settlement at Bubairakhe of Gurans Rural Municipality-9 in Dailekh District Photo: Nagandra Upadhyaya/ Republica

Due to outspread fear amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the people from other communities do not allow the Rautes to enter the villages, affecting their business of selling hand-made wooden utensils.

We are not allowed to go to the forests, let alone entering cities. We are starving due to this pandemic,” said Bir Bahadur Shahi, another Mukhiya. “Folks are dying of hunger, we are going through a huge crisis.”

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal, donors used to flock around the Raute settlements donating food stuff, clothing and even cash to these nomadic people in western Nepal. Life of 154 Rautes from 46 households used to be comfortable.

They lamented that their traditional occupation has come to the verge of extinction due to this unprecedented global crisis. “We have stopped making wooden tools as their sale has come to a complete halt,” said Surya Narayan.

The government provides them with social security allowances, which, however, does not feed them for more than a week. At the same time, the allowances are not timely distributed. They received the allowances for the last three months only two days ago. “It would be easier for us to manage bread and butter issues if the government provided it on time,” argued Surya Narayan.

After finding it difficult to make both ends meet, they mortgage their tools used in carving wood to purchase food items. The senior among the chiefs [Maha Mukhiya] Mahin Bahadur Shahi said that they have been mortgaging their tools including the axe at the nearby shops and buying rice and other foodstuffs.

Gurans Rural Municipality had distributed identity cards to the Rautes which helps them receive social security allowances since they have not acquired citizenship certificates yet owing to the lack of a permanent address. Khemraj Oli, chairman of the rural municipality, acknowledged that the community is going through a serious crisis due to COVID-19. “They have neither received donations nor can they carry out their age-long occupation.”

In recent years, people from other communities have been obstructing them from felling trees in the forests. Disputes erupt between the Rautes and other communities time and again as these nomadic people cut down trees haphazardly.

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