Fear of being homeless worries Bhujel community

Published On: June 3, 2019 09:56 AM NPT By: Sabita Shrestha

CHITWAN, June 3: There is a small settlement of indigenous Bhujel community in the forest area of Gaidakot Municipality-3 of Nawalpur. Altogether eight households live in this area while others are scattered across the country. Twenty-two years ago, landslide displaced these families from their original settlements in Chipchipe-8 of Tanahun.

After losing their house and property, these people moved to Jethi Aanp Bhir of Nawalparasi. Suk Bahadur Bhujel, one of the residents, laments that they were obliged to pack their bags and move from there also after being troubled by landslides again. It has become 13 years since they moved to the forest of Nawalpur.

Over the years, these families have grown in terms of their members. All these people have inherited traditional skills and expertise in making bamboo products from their ancestors, which have helped them earn their bread. They have been making multi-purpose bamboo baskets which are used for carrying fruits, vegetables, gifts and fodder, among others.

Thirty-four-year-old Sukmaya Bhujel has been managing her family of four with the money earned from this profession. Her husband sometimes goes for, but most of the times he assists Sukmaya in making bamboo products.

They purchase a green bamboo pole for Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 depending on its height. A good bamboo pole can make up to four Dalo’s (hand-woven bamboo basket used for carrying food and grains). According to her, she earns around Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 while selling it in the village but the shopkeepers only pay them Rs. 110 to Rs. 120 per piece. They make the most money by selling Soli (gift baskets). Locals fetch Rs 400 or more from selling a basket.

Sukmaya has reached to Kawasoti of Nawalpur to Jyotinagar of Chitwan to sell her bamboo products. She says a person can make up to three Dalo’s in a day. According to her, she sometimes makes more and sometimes cannot as she also has to perform household works and also take care of her goats and farms. From mid-September to mid-February, they make bamboo trays, but during the rest of the year, they make Dalo’s.

Twenty-seven-year-old Sapana Bhujel says there is a high demand for Dalo’s. She has been managing the expenses for her family of five, including two daughters and a son with the money earned from selling such products. She prepares around 50 to 100 bamboo baskets in two or three, which she sells together to various shops.

She prefers selling them especially in the market of Narayangadh. “We keep making bamboo products throughout the year. Our family can’t sustain if we don’t do,” said Sapana, adding, “After selling our products in the market, we purchase all the necessary commodities and grains that our family needs from the earnings .”

Husbands of five of the women, including Sapana’s, are currently working in Kathmandu. All of these men make bamboo schools. Her husband too assists her in her work whenever he is at home during the holidays. Even though this ancestral profession is sustaining their livelihood, they keep worrying about their home.

By occupying a leased forest, Bhujel community used to grow maize, millet among other crops. “Now the forest office has restricted us from growing crops in the forest land. However, we have been allowed to stay here,” said Sukmaya, adding, “We have no idea where will we go if government evacuates our settlement one day.”

These people know that they will one day have to leave the forest but lament that they have nowhere to go. Earning two square meals for the family won’t be a challenge until they hold on to their ancestral skills but finding a permanent shelter is difficult, they say. It has been years since they started living in this land that lacks access to drinking water and electricity, among other basic amenities.

They are obliged to walk miles to fetch a jar of water. Though some of them have electric bulbs, they don’t work correctly. As there is no school near the settlement, Sukmaya sent her son to school only after he became seven years old. Her eleven-year-old son is now a fourth grader. Her seven-year daughter still can’t go to school as it takes more than an hour to reach there.

Many other children in the community are not going to school despite reaching eligible age. “Those who can walk, they go while the others stay at home,” said Sukmaya, adding, “We can’t send our children to schools until they are capable of walking the difficult route to school on their own.”

Even though a school has been constructed in the nearby settlement to benefit the children of Bhujel community, it has not been operating. Had the school operated on time, children of this indigenous tribe would have been able to send their children to schools on time.

Despite knowing that they can’t stay in the leased land forever, Bhujel’s have no option but to stick around. “We don’t have the money required to purchase land, and no one will provide us land for free,” said Sapana.

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