Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
Free of bondage

My parents were kamaiya: bonded labourers. In fact, all 11 family members worked as slaves at our landlord's house from dawn to dusk, starved and neglected. Our parents used to collect gava (young taro leaves) from the wild on their way back home from work for stew to feed us and they would sleep hungry. We would often take gruel with a lot of salt as dinner and sometimes went without any food.

I was born in 1980, in Laxmipur VDC, Dang. The western Tarai districts had a custom of trading Tharu people, like animals, as kamaiya. We had a makeshift hut in Dandagau. I had six sisters and three brothers, who were already working as kamaiya. My sisters lived at the landlord's.

Maghi is the biggest festival of the Tharus, in mid-January, but it's only for the rich. It was the end of life for poor people, as landlords would come and buy poor Tharus like people buy goats during Dasain.

I was bought at the age of eight. While other children where celebrating Maghi, I was being separated from my parents. It was painful, because even if I had had many nights without food, I'd never been without my parents.
I never had rest at the landlord's house. The landlady would pull me by my hair and wake me up at 4am. I used to start by cleaning up cow dung, worked in the fields, and ended by cleaning utensils at 11 pm.

I was once asked to fetch water in an earthen pot that was way bigger than myself. I could never refuse orders. I couldn't lift the pot, and it fell on the ground and broke into pieces. The landlady took a piece of the pot and drove it through my skull. I was completely drenched in blood. My stories scare people and they wonder why the landlords were so brutal and barbaric toward us. Even a convict is treated more humanely than I was I fell unconscious many times because of my landlady's torture but I got used to it as I was subjected to it from the age of eight.

I never knew childhood and adolescence. I never knew about love. I was locked within the walls of my landlord's house. When I was married off at the age of 16, all I knew was that I had become the wife of somebody.

Immediately after the kamaiya system was abolished in 2000, my husband lost his job. We then moved to a jungle, built a makeshift hut, and started living there. It was just a day before Dasain and I had a nine-day-old child in my lap when so-called respectable people came with the police and set fire to our hut, saying it was on public property. All our food and clothes were burned. I lived on water for five days, I was so worried about my child.

But the abolition of the kamaiya system gave us new hope. I joined the Dang Women's Centre and saw the world gradually. I also joined the National Land Rights Forum. My landlord did not like it. Even my parents thought that if we revolted, things would get worse. My understanding was that we had already hit rock bottom, and we had to fight for our rights.

I quit my landlord's house in 2006 after 18 years of service. It was the ultimate emancipation. I felt like a warrior who had won a battle.

More revolts followed in Dang district, and Laxmipur VDC was finally declared kamaiya free. In 2007, I became the vice president of the National Land Preservation Forum, and now I am a CA member.

Life is as challenging now working as the president of the Natural Resource Committee in parliament as it was to work as bonded labour. Only the form of struggle has changed. To become a CA member was never my dream but I do want to help the landless. My dream will be fulfilled only when bonded labourers get the land they work on and do not have to stay hungry.

Death threats
Dreaming for others
Dalit disgrace
Milking it
In line

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)