"I worked more than 40 years for landlords, I don't have a piece of land, what else can I do?" Jaga can't remember the exact year of his birth, though his citizenship card says 1938.
"There is so much land here, but there is not a single piece for us. Maybe it is not in our destiny."
So say the women from the Musahar community around Sapahi VDC of Bara. They have spent their lives working for landlords, yet remain as impoverished as ever.
Over the last few decades, the landless people here have built meagre huts to accommodate themselves and their children. They have been here for all or most of their lives, but have no formal title to the land they live on.
Society and state has sidelined these people, but there is no shortage of those who wish to exploit their plight for political gain. The recent clash between state security and squatters in the forests of Dudejhari resulted in the deaths of six people. If a way isn't found to address the needs of the landless, Dudejhari may prove to be just a precursor of things to come.
This story was produced as part of the OUC-Pathshala-photo.circle photography exchange program that took place from 11 January-7 February in Kathmandu.
Jaga Majhi walks into his village of landless squatters in Sapahi VDC, Bara district.
There's not much of note inside Jaga Majhi's mud hut, where he lives with his eldest son and grandchildren.
"I worked many years for political parties. I have two children and I want to send them to school but I don't have a job. I go to the jungle to collect firewood and sell it. We are totally dependent on the forest," says Sat Jivan Sharma, 27.
A local youth teaches children from the village. But most children here don't go to school, and if they do, drop out early.
The locals struggle with the cold in the early winter mornings.
Cutting straw is dusty work.
Women of the Musahar community work the fields. "We can't actually remember since when we've been working for landlords. We get Rs100 for a day's work."
Shyam Chaudhari, 17, studies in Class Seven at a local government school but works the fields in his spare time.
The level of human misery and indignity these people are suffering is unacceptable by any standards. Tall promises and rhetoric from Kathmandu is not going to solve these problems. This is our collective failure over the last sixty years' of politics and "democracy". We are still lost in the same quagmire. I feel ashamed to be a Nepali.
Let the so-called political leaders, policy-makers, bureaucrats, human rights activists, development workers, international organization activists see these pictures. Pause for a moment, and search your souls. Do you guys ever feel guilty spending thousands of dollars in lavish five star hotels, attending international conferences on development, climate change, peace, human rights and governance? Have courage to free yourself from slavery! Enough is enough!
07 MARCH 2010 | 8:24 PM NST
2. The Development Slave
I work in development sector, for an INGO that is working in 'inclusive democracy and peace' in Nepal. I am their project manager based in Terai. In the last 3 years, we have held 17 conferences in 'inclusive democracy' in 2 hotels of Kathmandu, namely Hotel Himalaya and Hotel Summit, published quarterly progress reports, liaise with government secretaries and politicians, take them abroad on fact finding and observation visits, and publish two research books that I have not bothered to read. I feel sick that I am working in this sector, trying to please donors while grave issues are blatantly ignored and Nepalis like Jaga Majhi continue to live wretched lives. My superiors, most of them British and Europeans imported as 'experts', come to Terai like they come on some adventure holiday. They do have good intentions but they have this very condescending tone when they talk to us. I have felt like quitting so many times. But I come home, and look at my 9 month old daughter and I forget everything. I want to be able to provide her with everything a father is humanely capable of. So I sleep the night, and following morning I am back in the field with a grin, with an eagerness to please my imported bosses. Life just goes on...
07 MARCH 2010 | 10:38 PM NST
Dear Development Slave,
Your frustration and dissatisfaction with your bosses and work is a universal trend, and unfortunately it happens all over the world. So, don?t feel bad. However, as a fellow worker and a family man I would like to give you some positive advice for your benefit and the people like Jaga Mahji. First, stop looking at life as half empty and start looking at it as half full. Be proud of your work and your family, and as you look into your 9 years old child learn to be motivated and strong. After all, life is full of obstacles and struggle, but it is up to us to overcome these small difficulties and obstacles and come out successful and victorious. As an honest and hardworking person you are your good deeds will never go in vain, especially when you work to help the most destitute and poor in our social food chain. Even if the world and your bosses (imported or domestic) doesn?t appreciate your work you should know the God almighty appreciates your work and your faithfulness and honesty. Your reward may not be in glitters of gold, but it will be the blessing in the forms of your own child who must look like an angle in your hand. So, don?t worry about the rest! Just move full speed ahead. GOOD LUCK! For sure someone above is watching you.
08 MARCH 2010 | 8:12 AM NST
Hey, wasn't the people's war fought to help communities like the Mushahar? Wait, the benefits of war is trickling down right through the Maoist leaders and their families, their agents, the YCL, their fighters in the cantonment.... ...takes time...this trickling down effect....
08 MARCH 2010 | 9:17 AM NST
Dear Development Slave,
I completely empathize with you. I also worked in the development sector for a few years ...and left it with disgust! But it's only because I was young and single and could afford to change careers. I realize it's not that easy for you. Like you say, problem is that "development" has become a West-driven industry. It's a "developed-country-driven" industry when it should be "developing-country-driven". It's a source of an interesting job and lifestyle for these Westerners to go around visiting the rest of the world. They set all the agendas in their headquarters in London or Washington, Brussels and Geneva, and come on their pleasure-trips while the Nepali workers' job is to ensure their trip is "successful". We work for the western masters rather than the poor in our country. I really think that the way out is to severely limit the work and role of all these INGOs. The development strategies and agenda should be set in Nepal. Nepalis themselves should prepare them. If these western agencies don't like that idea, then they should be asked to pack up and leave! I think there should be a union of Nepali workers in all these development organizations, and they should work together to ensure that Nepalis have more say in development activities and there are less "foreign masters" coming on short visits and dictating the terms. If this is not acceptable to foreigners then just tell them goodbye and look forward to welcoming you in Nepal as a tourist! I know this sounds difficult and challenging, but in the long-run it is better this way. There are too many foreigners and foreign agencies engaging in "development" nowadays for their own pleasure. Nepal government and Nepali ppl will have to build the strength to resist them! I hope you will find a way to make the development business more "Nepal-driven". Hope this will help to make your job and life more meaningful!
08 MARCH 2010 | 3:30 PM NST
6. Manac'h Patrick
Yes, indeed, "the level of human misery is unacceptable".
Of course we are frighten to see how many delegatiosn from Nepal came to Stockholm...
What to do? so many actors,probably of good will, interfere without coordination with Gvt. and local gvt. sturctures: would it be possible to check, evalaute, coordinate, all thso eindividual actions
I personally know so many NGo, of parochial dimensions, who interfere without any coordination. Why? because such a program is not proposed by the Gvt. of Nepal. This is true for Development, for Health, for Orphenages...
- all NGO should be registered
- send a report, yearly, to a State Agency
- be evaluated and checked. Functionning cost, results, programs...
- all that administrative coordination could be supported by a tax on all NGO active in Nepal.
08 MARCH 2010 | 4:58 PM NST
To Patrcik (#6) : King Gyanendra had tried to to do exactly these things. But all these parties and journalists (and of course the NGO/INGO workers) rose up against his idea. If people have the courage and honesty to be open and fair, they will see that king Gyanendra had a number of good ideas. But the parties, civil society and activist media ensured they all failed. Monarchy was a good force for Nepal. It should be restored.
08 MARCH 2010 | 10:16 PM NST
Interesting article. It clearly says the central problem for the Musahar is that they are landless and have to spend their lives working for landlords.
But fighting for land even to build huts on is dismissed as "exploiting for political gain".
No wonder the discussion quickly turns to INGOs. After all if one cannot actually take land away from landlords without it being "exploiting for political gain", what is left but for foreign donors to find some other way to help?
There are no INGOs working for land reform and there will be no solution for the Musahar and many other problems without land reform.
Surely the "work" done by Nepal Government agencies is no better than that done by INGOs. Isn't it actually worse?
09 MARCH 2010 | 7:50 AM NST
Well, if Maoists didn't go around extorting and shutting down all businesses, then perhaps employment could be found for Musahars and many other poor people in factories and industries. In today's world better to have employment than land anyway. How many Nepalis are dirt-poor sustainable-farmers? Having a small piece of land is no good for eliminating poverty. It's only good for politics so that parties can raise a big ruckus about 'land reform' and whatnot, like Arthur is doing! The real way out of poverty is employment, whch has disappeared from Nepal because of the Maoists themselves!
09 MARCH 2010 | 2:39 PM NST
Actually I agree with Budabaaje that employment is more important than land and land reform to small plots will not eliminate poverty. But land reform is a necessary first step for removing the grip of the landlord class that also results in pure "rent seeking" in all economic activities instead of actual productive investment. Blaming the Maoists for lack of employment is obviously absurd. Long before the Maoists appeared in response to Nepal's backwardness there was no significant industry and there won't be until after they have actually succeeded in removing the rent seekers from power.
Employment in unproductive jobs for "well meaning" INGOs, like employment in the bureaucracy, is just another form of "rent seeking".
People like the Musahar, who do actual productive work, produce the rent which others seek. They produce so little rent that the rest has to be provided for the rent seekers by foreign donors. That system has totally failed and will end soon.
People living off it should be planning for more productive future livelihoods rather than wasting effort on trying to prolong it, or to feel better about it.