[Stop-traffic] Liberation and Oppresion in Nepal

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] Liberation and Oppresion in Nepal
From: Kevin Bales (kbbales@hotmail.com)
Date: Thu Sep 21 2000 - 08:28:52 EDT

Dear List,

In July I was very happy to tell you about the proclamation ending bonded
labour in Nepal. That joy has turned bitter as the landlords and
slaveholders in the countryside evict and brutalize the ex-bonded workers.
In the same way that ex-slaveholders in the American South acted to
intimidate freed slaves in the 1860's, the slaveholders of Nepal are not
giving up. What follows is a report just received from Nepal:

Fact sheet On Kamaiya Relief

(from Keshav Gautam, ActionAid Nepal)

 Since July 17, when Nepal's government announced the historic
decision of Kamaiya (bonded laborers') emancipation, the physical situation
of freed bonded laborers, especially in Kailali and Kanchanpur districts,
has been very distressful.

 The population of Kamaiyas being displaced from their previous
dwellings is in a state of flux. This is an important point to keep in mind
for further relief work.

 That is because it is hard to capture the exact number of moving
Kamaiyas at any given time. This is a continuing procedural difficulty. Most
Kamaiyas and their families are in makeshift temporary camps. Others are
living temporarily with their relatives and friends. Still, others missed
being counted as such by the visiting governmental teams because either they
were not informed on time about the government's survey work (i.e. the
surveys designed to identify the Kamaiyas that had been rushed through in a
week) or the NGO sectors involved both in the movement to emancipate bonded
laborers and to do relief works were not consulted.

 The government's own relief work so far has failed to materialize
despite promises, plans and committees that have especially been set up to
do relief work and rehabilitation.

Making the relief work extremely difficult are these three factors.

a) The season of Monsoon.
With rains, the Monsoon poses difficulty to set up shelters. Second,
construction-related works do not take place in this season. Because of
this, daily-wage work is not available to those who want to work under the
Food for Work and other such related programs. Third, epidemics such as
those of encephalitis, diarrhea and typhoid are common in this season.

b) Uncooperative local administration.
The Central government assures Kathmandu-based activists that relief is
actually underway. This is far from the truth. What is really happening is
that most local representatives of the central government (i.e. the VDCs and
DDCs) are not co-operating with the relief work. This is because until July
16, they themselves owned Kamaiyas. The government's announcement has made
them all the more hostile to the plights of the Kamaiyas. As such, they are
reluctant to support any relief work, and mobilize resources. Their
reluctance and hostility have been seriously hindering necessary relief
work, so much so that lives have seriously been jeopardized.

c) Severely scarce resources
Some local NGOs have responded to help the Kamaiyas with their own limited
resources and manpower. This included their borrowing rice and tents on
credit from local merchants, mobilizing supporters to provide medicines and
doing other such related relief work. In all fairness, however, since these
NGOs have never done relief work before, their efforts, though
good-intentioned, are only stopgap measures. In the absence of government's
own program any time soon, these NGOs desperately need financial and
technical support as soon as possible.

 Against this background, informal estimates provided to us by the
local NGOs doing emergency relief work put the number of displaced Kamaiya
families in Kailali at 1412. Likewise, the number of displaced families in
Kanchanpur is 800. (Each Kamaiya family has, on an average, 6 members)

What is important to keep in mind here is that the problems faced by
displaced Kamaiyas are acute in Kailali. They desperately need medicines,
food and shelter. This is where much of relief work first needs to be
concentrated immediately and fast. There are also speculations that once the
Monsoon wears off, more Kamaiya families, up to 4000 more, in need of
relief, will be visible in camps and the surroundings in Kailali alone.
Similarly, in terms of needing relief work, Kanchanpur is not that far
behind too.

 Thus, despite repeated and continuing pressures on the government
through delegations, letters to editor, media reports, no clear governmental
leadership on this relief work has emerged so far. As such, the local NGO
sector has moved in with its scarce resources, manpower and limited
expertise to respond to the humanitarian challenges of providing food,
medicine and shelter to the displaced Kamaiyas.

 These NGOs report that they are overwhelmed by the challenges that
they face in the camps. They do not have adequate financial and technical
expertise to deal effectively with the relief scenarios. As such, they are
in desperate need of immediate help.

The help they need for the next one month, with the hope that the government
will then take the responsibility, is as follows:

Estimates for 3000 families; 18,000 family members for one month:

a. Rice Rs. 35, 10,000 (approximately: $50,000)
(That is, at the rate of: 3000 families x 3kg/rice x Rs. 13/kg x 30 days)

b. Supplement to rice (such as pulse, peas, oil etc). = Rs. 13, 50,000
(That is, at the rate of: 3000 families x 30 days x 15 Rs./day)

c) Implements for Food for Work program Rs. 4,20,000 ($6,000)
(That is, at the rate of: 3000 x Rs. 140 for two spades)

d) Medicines (types of disease encountered: encephalitis)
So far, the local NGOs have already spent Rs. 500,000 out of their own
resources. The situation at the camps is deteriorating day by day, with
flooding, human refuge and solid waste. All these have produced unsanitary
health conditions, affecting the Kamaiyas with typhoid, encephalitis,
diarrhea, malaria, dyssentry, fever, cold, asthma and the like.

The presence of pregnant women in these unsanitary conditions makes the
situation all the more complicated. As such, the NGOs have come up with a
best guess figure for a month-long medical relief.

That is: Rs. 12,00,000 ($ 17,142 per month)

e) Shelter (tents) Rs. 25,00,000 ($ 35,714)
(That is, 2000 families x Rs. 1250/tent)

f) Drinking water Rs. 7,50,000 ( $ 10,714)
(That is, 5000 x 150 for temporary hand-pumps that can be used later in
permanent settlements.

g) Transport and contingency Rs. 7,00,000 ($10,000)

TOTAL: Rs. 1,04, 30,000 $ 149,000

 Many freed Kamaiyas have been evicted from their previous small
patches of land and their mud-huts. As such, many are presently homeless and
landless. For shelter, many living on the banks of rivers and near forests
in precarious conditions without adequate/proper shelter, food, water and

 Infectious diseases, such as Encephalitis, have struck the places
where Kamaiyas have grouped together. Suffering Kamaiyas have no money to
travel to hospitals, let alone pay for treatment. Local hospitals and health
centers are filled to capacity

 Kamaiyas who want to work and earn some money have found no work.
Being independently-minded, most of them do not want to beg for food. But
having no work, therefore no money to buy food, many are going hungry, with
children starving.

 So far, NGOs such as Backward Society Education (BASE), CCS and
NNSWA have provided rice and some medicines, raising money and food from the
public in some cases. INGOs such as ADRA-Nepal have provided emergency food
and medical help. Other INGOs such as Save the Children (US) and Action Aid
have provided monetary help, totaling Rs. 500,000

 Kailali District Development Committee (DDC) and GRINSO (an NGO)
have joined forces to provide spades and 'tasla' to the Kamaiyas so that,
with those tools, they can find construction-related works for Food for Work

 For food, some freed Kamaiyas have been eating leaves of wild
potatoes and guima (a kind of vegetable found in the wilderness).

 For immediate relief against rain, sun and evening mists, each
freed Kamaiya family needs one tent. So far, the supply of tents is severely

 So far, the government, or local agents of central Kathmandu
government, has not felt its responsibility for relief. In fact, some NGOs
have bought 700 KGs
(7 Quintals) of rice so that the government can distribute that to the
The NGOs hope that such a measure would pressure the government to take up
its responsibility seriously.

For freed Kamaiyas to work under Food for Work program and other such
related work-programs, it is necessary for each family to have two spades
and one axe.

To provide medical relief, the Kamaiya Mukti Andolan Pari-chalan Samiti
has mobilized 19 CMAs. These CMAs travel to villages, and assist with basic
medical works. More medicines are needed urgently, despite the fact that
the Kamaiya Mukti Andolan Pari-chalan Samiti already owes Rs. 71,000
to local dispensaries and infirmaries.

To co-ordinate and streamline the Relief Operation, the Kamaiya Mukti
Andolan Pari-chalan Samiti (or The Committee of NGOs for the Movement
of Kamaiya Emancipation), has decided to adopt transparent "One Window"
policy system so that works will not duplicated and that everything remains

The government has left out a number of freed Kamaiyas in its recent
data-collection due to:
a) Many freed Kamaiys's not having certificates of citizenship
b) Their previous and current landlords' unwillingness to give the data
c) The Kamaiya's not knowing about the visits of governmental teams.
d) Shortage of time

 In Pabera VDC in Kailali, on Aug. 28, 2000 the local police and
forest rangers destroyed the temporary housing set up by five families of
freed Kamaiyas.
This is only one incident that is worth highlighting to show that, as far as
the freed Kamaiyas are concerned, the law and order situation is not

Professor Kevin Bales
School of Sociology and Social Policy
University of Surrey Roehampton
London SW15 5SL

(44) 208 392 3606

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