Freed kamaiyas: some key issues and considerations

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On July 17, 2000, the then government abolished the bonded system in Nepal. The decision was hailed as a landmark move in the history of the nation creating an avenue for heralding a prosperous and just society. The then United Nations Secretary General lauded the role of the civil society, academicians and other concern stakeholders in ending the century old ill practice. Similarly, the international partners also congratulated the government and Nepalese people for this feat and wished for the immediate resettlement and rehabilitation of the freed Kamaiyas in logical manner.  This indeed was country’s departure from serfdom towards an equitable and democratic society. To the most chagrin, fourteen years have elapsed since emancipation of the Kamaiya but there is no significant achievements made to that end.

Against this background, a national level advocacy workshop and press conference was held in the capital the other day. The overriding objective of the two events was to advocate for their cause and exert pressure on the government to resettle and rehabilitate them without any ado. Both events provided mammoth opportunities for government representatives, lawmakers and freed kamaiyas to come together under one roof for finding the permanent solution of the problem that has remained a long overdue. The events were jointly organized by WVAF and BASE under the aegis of DFID.

On the occasions, several ideas, opinions and insight were put forth by lawmakers, government representatives and Minister for land reform and management. Lawmaker Dili Chaudhary, who led the movement in western Nepal, warned that of stern protest if the government failed to rehabilitate and resettle the freed kamiaya at the earliest. He stated that it is not the problem of one group but it is the nation’s problem. Moreover, he opined that fourteen years have elapsed since the signing of the agreement between government and freed kamaiys but nothing substantive has been achieved till date. It’s time for the government to walk the talk, he further argued.  

Human rights advocate, Dinesh Tripathi, said that the government should work towards ensuring substantive quality of life of freed kamaiyas. Fourteen years is a long time and no significant achievements have been made so far. It is the time to view the problem with priority and address their problems.

While addressing the press conference at the reporters club on Friday, the minister for land reform and management, Dal Bhadur Rana, underscored the initiatives and efforts on the part of the government to resettle and rehabilitate them. He stated that majority of the freed kamaiya has been provided the relief package as per the agreement while remaining freed kamaiya will receive their entitlements and other support within two years. Such remark on the part of the government was a welcome move as it brought some respite among the freed kamaiyas who were in the capital not only to exert pressure on government but to celebrate their 14th emancipation day- 17th July.

Several programs announced for the resettlement and rehabilitation of freed kamaiya have not been implemented with heart and soul, said Deshraj Chaudhary, a freed Kamiaya from kanchanpur, who was present on the occasion. He expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s move to provide justice to them. He blamed that the governemnt has remained indifference towards their plight and grievances. If we monitor and assess the situation of freed kamaiyas, the government has not make any breakthrough to that end, he lamented. According to him, many kamaiyas and their families have been residing in river banks and barren land under poor living conditions. There is lack of employment opportunities and their children cannot afford to go to school though the government claims free education until the secondary level.

Similarly, Biniti Tharu, another freed kamaiy, said that majority of kamaiya are unable to eke out a living and leading a miserable life with no sign of relenting. Most of them have even returned to their masters for several reasons.

The event succeeded in bringing the concern stakeholders under one roof for benevolent cause. The event indeed provided freed kamaiya the opportunity to highlight their concern urging the government and minister to leave no stone unturned in addressing their problem that has taken heavy toll over the years. The advocacy workshop followed by the press conference should be viewed as a platform that has heralded the beginning of new era of ties and relationship between freed kamaiyas and government. In the event, the minister for land reform and management vowed to resettle and rehabilitate them within two years. Kudos to the organizers, and funding agency for its support in bringing them together that will narrow the differences and bring sea of changes. 

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