Biratnagar Jute Mills, the country's oldest jute mill, will close down this week following conflict between the government and employees. The mill will be handed over to the private sector once the government pays the workers.
Even if it continues operating, its image as the centre of the democratic movement will suffer. The surrounding place is also known as the Mills area and three generations of employees spent their lives here. These will become mere fables once the mill is handed to the private sector.
The mill is closing because of a short supply of raw materials, worn out machinery and poor sales. But this wouldn't have mattered had the management been strong.
The management weakened after the political changes in 1990, when party-backed unions overran the mills. Union members were corrupt, stole machinery parts and supplied low quality jute, yet no action was taken.
"We could not sack those who were found stealing on the spot," says a retired managing director of the mills. Directors were appointed by political parties, and cadre from the same parties were involved in theft and irregularities.
Of 1,039 employees who lost their jobs after the closure of the mill, about 800 have joined private jute mills in Sunsari and Morang, where the going has been harder. Jhamarlal Shah, who worked for 28 years in Biratnagar Jute Mills and now works in a private mill says, "We only get a 20 minute break and hardly any leave."
Khadga Rai recalls those days when he protected his corrupt colleagues. "I did so because I was in politics," he says. He says if he had not done so someone else would. "There was competition to protect those corrupt people."
Rai, who worked in the mills for 24 years, is now unemployed at the age of 46. His children still need his support and he cannot just stay home idly. It is difficult to find a job for a person who is already known as a union leader. "We never realised I would make life more difficult for my family," he says.