Kailali - Since the government abolished the bonded labour system nearly three years ago, the ex-kamaiya have not been able to enjoy their biggest festival-Maghi. For some, it is a time for merrymaking but for others it is a time for more debt and sorrow. While rich Tharu landlords are preparing to spend lavishly on their biggest festival, freed bonded labourers in far west Nepal are struggling to make ends meet. They are concerned that Maghi, the day when kamaiyas traditionally decide which owners they're going to work for the rest of the year, is here.
Despite the abolishment of the kamaiya tradition by the government, the tradition of bonded labour is still alive in this part of Nepal. With the approach of Maghi, many landowners are scouting the kamaiya camps in search of bonded labourers. "They're promising a lighter workload," says Ananta Chowdhary, a freed kamaiya of Durgauli VDC - 9 in Jagatpur.
Last week, Chaudhary sent his eldest daughter to work as a dishwasher in a hotel in Tikapur bazaar for a year. With no certainty of food, shelter and an education for his children, Chaudhary was compelled to take the step despite being a freed kamaiya. This year, it's been harder for the kamaiyas in the camps. If there is no help from support organisations, he'll have to put his other children to work.
Tarka Bahadur Sawad of Baliya VDC - 8 is on the lookout for a kamaiya to look after his young children at home. The older children go to school, his wife is busy with home affairs, and he has to look after the business. The family requires house help. As most of the freed kamaiyas don't have the basic necessities it's difficult to talk about their rights, says social worker Laxman Kunwar.
The careless and unplanned manner in which the government announced that bonded labourers were free has resulted in more abject and miserable conditions for the kamaiyas. Previously, the kamaiya were oppressed by their owners, now they are oppressed by the government. More than 300 freed kamaiyas have been given identity cards. Says Jokhram Tharu of Narayanpur VDC "Last year various NGOs and Ingos helped the kamaiyas celebrate Maghi by providing a pig, a goat, rice, lentils, salt and oil to each of the kamaiya camps. This year, there's no sign of them. They must be enjoying their warm houses and big cars at our cost."