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Nepal - Hvad er der sket med de frigivne gældsslaver - Kamaiya'erne
NEPAL: Focus on former bonded labourers
IRINnews.org, 21. marts 2005
Da Nepals regering i juli 2000 foretog den historiske beslutning at ophæve "gældsslave-systemet" (Kamaiya-systemet), mistede mange af de tusindvis af kamaiya-familier, samtidig deres indkomst - uanset hvor lille den måtte være. For mange af disse familier har hverdagen ikke ændret sig i synderligt omfang. De blev smidt ud fra de landområder, hvor de arbejdede som gældsslaver, og hvor de engang var ejere af den jord de dyrkede, men som smarte større jordejere tidligere har sikret sig retten til som led i dette "gældsslaveri". En aldeles utilfredsstillende og ofte håbløs situation, hvor børnene ikke har mulighed for at gå i skole, og den eneste udvej for at forsøge at sikre sig en fremtid er at tilslutte sig maoisterne.
Kaliram's family had been bonded as agricultural labourers since the time of his grandfather, more than four decades ago and lived under the same oppressive regime suffered by all Kamiaya’s. The low caste indigenous community of Tharus were turned into Kamaiyas by exploitative landowners.
A large number of Tharus were evicted from their own lands in the far west of Nepal by high caste migrants from the hill areas after they started settling in the rich fertile lands of the low plains, known as the terai, in the early 1960s. In five districts of Dang, Banke, Kailali, Bardiya and Kanchanpur, about 450 km west of the capital, Kathmandu, the Tharus allege that the new settlers used violence or tricked the illiterate community into signing false loan documents, using their lands as collateral. In the process, most of the Tharus lost the land they had farmed for generations.
In order to buy seeds, agricultural implements and other goods, local people began taking loans from their new landlords. In a cruel irony, the Tharus were asked to work on the agricultural land they used to own until they had repaid the loans. But most could never clear their debts as the rate of loan interest kept rising every year. In this way, the Tharus were kept in perpetual servitude.
The exploitation was extremely harsh. Kamaiya families were made to work without any wage for over 18 hours a day in return for food and shelter. It took over twenty years of concerted action by community and human rights groups to end the exploitation.
The movement, led by a group of educated Tharus, initially gained national and then international attention that eventually led to the government introducing legal reforms banning this form of slavery five years ago. It was designed to liberate more than 100,000 Kamaiyas. But today, the situation for the vast majority of Kamaiyas is little better than their former servile existence.
After their liberation, many of the landlords, fearing legal action from the government, forced them from their homes and lands. Most became destitute and with no food or work, many children died from starvation and disease.
"Hardship for my family is much worse than the time we were working for my landlord. At least we had enough food and shelter," Kaliram told IRIN in frustration. He has been unable to find a job, send his children to school or afford a decent house. Living in a makeshift thatched hut that often falls apart when the monsoon hits, Kaliram is living in extreme poverty in Kalika village, near the Bardiya highway, about 570 km west of the capital.
More than 1,000 former Kamaiya families are living in similar conditions at what is known as the ‘Liberated Kamaiya Camp’.
"It's difficult to find work. Most of the time my family has to sleep without food," explained 18-year old Bimla Chaudhary. The only place where the families can hope to find work is in nearby Nepalganj city but it is far from the camp. Many, like Bimla, cannot afford to travel by bus to reach the city.
LAND RIGHTS NEEDED
Although the liberation of Kamaiyas was applauded in Nepal, activists argue that simply ending their slavery was not enough.
"Equal emphasis should have been made on land rights and not just their human rights. The fight does not end with their liberation but should continue with efforts to promote their economic and social welfare," Shiva Sharma, a Kamiaya researcher and activist, told IRIN. "The problem is that the former Kamaiyas who totally depended on their landlords for everything now have to start from scratch to become economically independent."
One of the serious concerns is the deteriorating health situation, especially amongst the children. As families live near to contaminated water supplies, children are bound to suffer from diarrhoea and in severe cases they die. There is also a lack of health facilities near the liberated Kamaiya camps in all the five districts of far west Nepal where most of the former Kamaiyas have given up hope of help from anyone.
"Our immediate concern is for the safety and education of children. Despite freedom, the Kamaiya people are still the most vulnerable section of society in Nepal," Dilli Chaudhary of Backward Society Education (BASE), one of the main activists to lead the movement against bonded labour, told IRIN in Kathmandu.
After years of exploiting Kamaiya’s, the landlords who kept them in virtual slavery have not been called to account or prosecuted. There have been few moves to return the land to those it was taken from, according to the the local community.
"They were supposed to share the land with the Kamaiyas but that has not happened," explained Shiva Sharma.
LAND RESTITUTION SLOW
The government has been slow to fulfil its commitment to provide fertile land to the families. It has also failed to recognise all of the former slaves as eligible for assistance. Only around 17,000 families were officially recognised as Kamaiyas, yet the community itself says it is comprised of at least 40,000 families. So far, less than 10,000 have received small plots of lands which are mostly infertile, the beneficiaries say. This has also led to many families being forced to return to their former landlords or migrating to India in search of a future.
"I am worried about my children. I don't know for how long I can feed them," explained 35-year-old Sita Tharu, who lives with her five children in a tiny shack. Her 15-year-old daughter has started working for her former landlord for a pittance as a domestic servant, she said.
Local activists explained that many other children are sent to work for their former landlords. In addition, they are also working under exploitative conditions, underpaid and overworked, as servants in hotels, restaurants, households or as labourers at brick kilns.
In desperation, some of the former bonded labourers turned to the Maoists, who have been waging a liberation war against Kathamandu for the past nine years. At least four landlords have been killed by insurgents in the past three years. Many have fled their lands and property and have taken refuge in the Kathmandu valley.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 children of former Kamaiyas are unable to go to school.
“Since 2001, deteriorating security situations pushed them down on the government's priority list. One result is that ex-Kamaiya children are bearing the brunt of the difficulties," said columnist Ashutosh Tiwari, who has reported on the Kamaiya's situation for more than a decade.
After their liberation, many NGOs and international development agencies, including the UN, have organised humanitarian and development assistance for the Kamaiyas. The Maoist conflict has intensified in recent years and is now a major obstacle to rehabilitation efforts.
"It has become a challenge to work in the west due to the conflict situation but many organisations are still continuing their support," said Anil Pant from Action Aid Nepal (AAN), which has helped to build more than 300 low-cost homes for Kamaiya families.
"Blame goes to the previous government as it did not have a clear policy [on the Kamaiyas], which is why the poor conditions remain," said Debendra Adhikari from a leading Nepali human rights group, INSEC.
Experts believe that providing free land is not enough to deliver the group from destitution. They also need to be given training in skills development and provided with interest-free loans, they say.
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