Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, and although men too face enormous difficulties, women and girls, particularly those from the so-called 'lower' castes including the Kamaiya Community, are doubly disadvantaged because of the added burden of living in a deeply patriarchal society. In Nepal, society, institutions and communities continue to impede local women's ability to enjoy public life and limit their ability to negotiate their position according to their own interests and needs. Through long term development programmes, ActionAid is educating women and helping them to reclaim control over their bodies, reclaim their rights, instil confidence, build livelihoods and help those who are in a state of compromised citizenship drastically improve their situation.
The Kamaiya system was originally an age-old Tharu practice which literally means 'a hard-working family member'. Over time it turned into a kind of slave system based on sauki (a loan), with poor labourers serving as bonded labourers to pay back loans borrowed by their ancestors. The whole family worked for the landlord, even the children, who often could be found working long hours herding cattle. The landlord gave the family rice to eat, but this was added it to their accumulative debt. There was no time off, and Kamaiyas often had to work more than 18 hours in a day. They got neither remuneration for their work nor the opportunity to work elsewhere to earn money to pay the debt, which therefore increased day by day, year by year.
Although the original amount borrowed was minimal, the debt accumulated with compound interest and was passed on from generation to generation. Moreover Kamaiya were owned by the landlord and could be 'sold' or 'purchased' as seen fit. After having worked for more than half a century as bonded labourers, they finally gained their freedom in 2000 during the Kamaiya Liberation Act. 14 years later however, many are still waiting to get land that was promised by the Government. Those who have cannot afford to build proper housing and have been living in temporary shelters made of plastic, clothes, bamboo and thatches. Sadly these families are largely excluded from public services, such as drinking water, sanitation, basic health services, agriculture services, quality education and credit facilities. They are also excluded from access to basic government resources that we take for granted here in Ireland. The Kamaiya community is among the poorest and most marginalised in Nepalese society.
Actionaid supporters have supported a low cost housing project for the Kamaiya Community since 2008. To date, we have helped to house 900 families complete with sanitation and through our fundraising efforts we aim to house at least 15,000 more Kamaiya families. Once in permanent homes, the Kamaiya can access other government services.
The project aims to
Irish Aid, Irish Government's programme for overseas development, funds an ActionAid Women's Rights programme in Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and Vietnam. We use this funding to work with vulnerable communities in an effort to end early girl marriage, prevent gender based violence, gain land rights for women and help girls receive an education
Sadhana Tharu is a 17 year old girl living with her husband's family in Sorahawa VDC. Sadhana says: "I got married about a year ago and now I am already pregnant. I studied until class 8 but as I got pregnant it became diffi cult to continue my studies. Not only my poor health situation was hindering me but the community people would also say bad things to me, for example that I got married because my maternal home was poor and my in-laws were better off to cover my education expenses.
My in-laws are also never happy with my work; no matter how hard I try they are always unhappy. It puts a lot of physical and mental strain on me. I have lost my youth and my freedom and my heart shrinks when I see other girls of my age still enjoying their youth and gaining education. I hope I get an opportunity to attend out of school classes so that I fi nish my SLC (School Leaving Certifi cate – the fi rst government taken exam and considered as one fi rst big milestone in education system of Nepal). That would put me in a situation where I could get a decent job and continue my higher studies."
People do not understand the consequences of child marriage, nor do they know anything about the law that prevents child marriage & punishes the perpetrator. Children like Sadhana know what they have to lose if they get married early and we are building alliances with children like Sadhana and other young girls to carry out campaigns against child marriage. And with your support it is all possible.
"Rejoining school felt like starting a new life." Says a 17 year old girl named Puja Tharu from Sangharshanagar village who is currently studying in class 5 in Sri Amar Sahid Higher Secondary School.
Puja continues: "My parents didn't realise the importance of education. That is why I started school very late and quit at the end of class 4. I remember my parents were struggling a lot to earn money and were not able to meet my schools expenses so they asked me to help them work in the fi elds. I felt sad but didn't want to blame them either as they themselves never went to school so I guess it's hard for them to realise how education can improve one's life."
ActionAid established a children's group named Dev Child Club in our village and provided the group with workshops and information sessions on children's rights. One day a group member and staff from ActionAid came to my home and talked with my parents. Finally they agreed to send me back to school after a short discussion and some pleading. That was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was fi nally going to school again after working in the fi elds for two years. My eyes watered and silently I was thanking ActionAid and everyone for their help"
"I went on to join the same Dev Child Club and both myself and another 14 boys and 11 girls that make up the club meet once every month and learn about our rights. Along with 14 other children's clubs, ActionAid recently fi led a complaint on our behalf in the District Education Offi ce against the illegitimate fees the various government schools are asking for in the district. We are waiting for a reaction from the government.
Puja's fi nal words: "I am really thankful to ActionAid for helping me and four other children rejoin school and I hope that their support will help us in getting free education too."
"I see hope. The Farmer's Group and the Reflect Groups established in our community are the stepping stones for us. I am really optimistic for our future." says Gita Tharu who is 30 years old and living with her husband and 2 daughters in a joint family home consisting of 10 members in the village of Nayagaun.
Gita recalls her past: "In the Kamaiya system the children also had to work for the landlords and I started working at the age of 8. As I was growing older, I started to resist work so my father got me married. I was only 15 then and because my husband was a bonded laborer I automatically became what we call "Bukrahi" which is the name we give to the wife of a boned worker. It was heartbreaking and I felt like it was a never ending circle for me. I worked for the landlord for another 3 years before we were fi nally freed by the government. I remember every one of us being so happy that day. Life was very diffi cult and the landlords never paid us enough and we used to get scolding with harsh words for minor mistakes on top of this. I remember some particularly diffi cult days when my husband and I cried in the corner of our house. Freedom is something people take for granted sometimes."
"The home where we currently live belongs to my father-in-law and the day when he will ask us to move out may not be that far off. When the Kamaiya people were freed in 2000 the government promised to re-settle us and to give us rights to land. I hope this happens soon."
"These days I am learning about our rights in the Refl ect groups that ActionAid set up and also learning to read and write a bit. I have also become a member of the farmer's savings group and started saving NRs 20 (€ 0.18) per month. Soon we will have enough money in the group so that I can take out a loan to start a small business."
Gita's fi nal words: "I am thankful to supporters like you for giving us a hope of a better life."
"I had received agricultural training from an organisation three years ago but without any further support I could not practice my skills. When ActionAid came to my village this year they formed a farmer's group called Hariyali Farmers Group with 27 female members in my community, I immediately knew that I could get another chance to use my lost skills." Says 24 years old Bipana Tharu.
Bipana continues: "I became a member of the farmer's group and participated in a course called "Lead Farmers Training" along with 14 farmers from 14 other groups that ActionAid has established this year. After this training and further support from ActionAid, I started a vegetable plot and nursery on my small piece of land.
"My father had received 18,225 square feet of land from the government after we were freed. He has built a small house on it and I do the farming on the remaining land. I sold a batch of plants from the nursery this year and earned NRs 12,000 (€ 109.1). I have yet to sell the vegetables. My family is really excited about the new income."
Bipana adds with a smile: "In the farmers group I teach fellow farmers on the farming techniques that I have learned during our monthly meetings and when people talk about vegetable farming in the Refl ect meetings I go to, I like helping them. I will also soon share my skills as a trainer in the horticulture courses that will be happening in the other villages. All this makes me feel like I am becoming an expert.
"Thank you ActionAid for coming to our lives and making it so much better."
Bipana lives with her parents and nephew in the village of Shangharshanagar. She also has two brothers and two sister-in-laws but they work and live in India, our neighbouring country.