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The Tamang epicentre

Sunday, July 5th, 2015
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A Tamang woman injured in the 25 April earthquake sits next to the ruins of her house in Chhapgaun, Sindhupalchok. Photo: Devaki Bista

Santa Gaha Magar

Nepal’s earthquakes killed people belonging to all castes, class, ethnicities and religious groups. But it was the Tamang people who traditionally live in the 15 worst-affected districts who were disproportionately hit.

The death toll from the 25 April earthquake and its 12 May aftershock has been put at 8,844 by now, with 3,012 of them members of the Tamang community. More than half the people killed were in Sindhupalchok district northeast of Kathmandu, which has a high concentration of Tamangs. As many as 1,385 Tamangs died in Sindhupalchok.

It may seem inappropriate to break down the victims by caste, ethnicity, gender, or religion but the fact that more than half the victims were women has gender implications. So does the fact that more than 50 per cent of the people killed were from marginalised communities ranked low in the Human Development Index (HDI).

Analysing these statistics offer glimpse into which communities are most vulnerable to natural disasters, and how they should be protected while designing post-earthquake reconstruction projects.

tamang“In Tamang villages worst affected by the earthquakes, we should now implement integrated reconstruction programs with their active participation,” said economist Keshav Acharya.

The most apparent reason behind why the earthquakes killed more Tamangs than people from other castes and ethnic communities is that they lived in Sindhupalchok, which bore the brunt of the shaking, and their stone and mud homes didn’t stand a chance. Sindhupalchok also got a double whammy: from both the 25 April and 12 May earthquakes.

The Tamangs are the largest ethnic groups in eight of the 14 worst-affected districts. Even in the other six districts, the Tamang population is significantly high.

Anthropologist Mukta Singh Lama says despite living in the vicinity of the capital the Tamang community which he belongs to have historically been as neglected as the people from Nepal’s most underserved Karnali zone in the HDI listing. It is the poverty, neglect and outright discrimination against Tamangs that makes them even more vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes, landslides and floods.

The literacy rate in the Tamang community (62.6%) is lower than the national average (65.8%). Only 38.3 per cent of the Tamangs can reach nearest health facilities by walking for 30 minutes. In terms of access to safe drinking water, the Tamangs rank sixth from the bottom. Almost all indicators show that the Tamangs have not benefitted from their geographical proximity to the capital Kathmandu.

Kumar Blon, General Secretary of the Nepal Tamang Ghedung says most houses built by the Tamangs are on unstable slopes, exposed to rockfalls, and along river banks. “These places are not safe to live in even when there is no earthquake,” Blon said, “the earthquake just made everything worse.”

Around 80 per cent of concrete houses in the Kathmandu Valley withstood the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April and its 7.3 magnitude aftershock on in May. But houses made of stone and clay-mortar by untrained masons in unsafe areas went down. Most Tamangs were living in such unsafe houses.

According to the latest report by the Ministry of Home Affairs the earthquakes damaged 607,212 buildings (private, public houses, health posts and schools). Of them, 381,976 buildings were in areas dominated by Tamangs.

Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel, former Vice Chair of National Planning Commission, says it is also an opportunity to understand why the Tamangs are vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities. He says the government needs to learn from its past experience to help the Tamangs rebuild their lives.

Pokhrel cites the example of the Tamang families displaced when the Kulekhani reservoir in Makwanpur was built in the early 1980s. Around 500 Tamang families whose lands were acquired by the government didn’t want cash compensation, but to be resettled elsewhere. “But the government gave them money anyway, and very few bought land with that,” Pokhrel said. “Soon, the money was gone and they were destitute.”

Pokhrel says that mistake should not be repeated in helping survivors of the earthquake from the Tamang community. He said: “Before we plan reconstruction, we must have an understanding of the community’s economic activities, social status, education and literacy level and cultural aspects.”

Anthropologist Lama agreed: “If the government does not come up with effective reconstruction programs, us Tamangs will be even poorer and we will be pushed back 50 years.

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10 Responses to “The Tamang epicentre”

  1. Rabindra Shakya on Says:

    One of the ways to deal with this problem is to come up with a specially tailored plan to address the needs of Tamang people and get it implemented.

  2. God Father on Says:

    Now let’s not make the pain of earthquake amplified by classifying deceased in caste or other basis.8844 people died… Irrespective of caste.
    They have gone to rest in eternal peace…
    To Gods, there is no discrimination….

  3. Shambhu Bhattarai on Says:

    the quake suffered zone had dominant population belonging to Tamang. Let’s not talk irresponsibly.

  4. Raju Karki on Says:

    i suggest u not to be biased. if the Terai region was hit then what would ur research show. it was Tamang majority this time.

  5. David Seddon on Says:

    and where most of them live. this kind of ethnic focus is problematic – would like to see how many dalits etc died as % of pop.

  6. Tsering Tamang on Says:

    Thank you so much Santa Gaha Magar for bringing the issues of the most suffered community from earthquake. More than half of the mountain areas of Nepal is covered by the Tamang nation. Most of Tamang people are in low profile and poverty stricken in these areas due to exploitation, marginalisation and discrimination from past rulers in centuries long. Again disaster hit very badly. In Langtang valley, the whole community died, village wiped out off the map. There are many stories of horror, pain and heart broken.

  7. Tshewang Tamang on Says:

    The government needs to step up and address this critical situation immediately so that reconstruction and redevelopment is carried out sustainably.
    This is indeed an important point in our country’s history, more so for the Tamang community.

  8. One step on Says:

    Tamangs suffer most because of imbalance of power in Nepal. This article is necessary to show that in the mountain areas, the impoverished and backward group are the Tamangs. Caste based census is necessary to highlight the needs of the backward ethnic groups. Underrepresentation in government jobs and businesses alike is high lighted that even in death there is prejudice.

  9. SL on Says:

    It is one thing for the Tamangs to be continually neglected and marginalized by the state, but how come the omnipresent, do-right, and propnents of level playing field and equal rights donor community in Nepal also failed to influence for the good of Nepal as a country. I believe in USAID’s health sector RFP several years back, right after the Maoist revolution ended, there was a clause of inclusiveness in proposing the proportion of the staff. This effort is laudable. However, it was diluted in the name of the gender and other issues, and moreover, those who rule from the Ministry side cold shouldered this effort.

    Another blatant example of negligence. More than two decades ago, the World Bank funded a basic primary school education program in Nepal. The basic objective was to raise the literacy rate among the so far unreached peole. The program, well justified, covered many of the Tamang villages where a basic education was in dire need. If I remember correctly, the total amount of the project was in the neighborhood of $22million, quite a hefty sum then and now too.
    There is one reason why this well conceived program failed hopelessly. It died of the same cause like most other WB funded projects as there was so much lacking in the actual implementation.
    All primary school teachers in these Tamang villages were imported from outside of their community. Most of the teachers had no interest or whatsoever in the issues and problems that the community was dealing with. In fact, holidays, rain or shine, these outsider teachers were conspicuously absent most of the time from the children of the community that they were supposed to educate. These teachers were NOT part of their community, be it language, culture or anything else.
    Had the project first trained some of the educated Tamang youth (there were many even at that time) and deployed them to teach in the villages, this would have opened eyes to the parents and others as to what benefits the education can bring.
    This leaves one wondering whether Tamangs are even treated equally as Nepalis. This is a very serious point and all need to take a note of it seriously.

  10. Ravi Raj Kaur on Says:

    Women are neglected, this takes so many generations. We paid a very high price in the west, but there is no other way than do it yourself. The world bank can not get your husband to do the dishes you have to do that yourself.
    Nepali women are understanding, but the indifference and cold heartedness towards elderly women I observe everywhere, the absolute certainty that no one cares one fuck.
    so if there is any law that can erase the overdosis of MEN on tv that will be a blessing. Jay nepal. And what community? that is a federal invent or what, it is a new devise for corruption and self determination by the wrong people?
    Forget labels you all die we all die and respect honour your mothers and sisters. Do the dishes, clean the windows and find the money . amen.

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