Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Conserving sikki arts and crafts

A beautiful sikki basket

Have you noticed the beautiful baskets carried by Tharu women on their heads during festivals and processions? The baskets made of sikki or golden grass hold a special significance – they are not only important during the festivals but also during rituals like marriage and worships. However, once a daily-use item woven in every household, the basket is getting rare these days, only to be found in some handicraft selling shops. 

I remember my granny giving me puffed rice and snacks in sikki baskets when I visited them during my minpachas, the winter school breaks in the 80s. during the summer vacation, I would see most of my neighbours weaving sikki baskets in their free time. The bunds on the rice fields would have clumps of sikki grass. The banks of ponds and riverside had abundance of sikki grass. Interestingly, we could find the sikki grass even in the low-lying fields of the Kathmandu Valley. 

However, it’s difficult to find sikki grass on the bunds, instead farmers have started growing lentils like black gram on the bunds to better use their land. The community ponds and water sources are vanishing and together with them the sikki grass. This has impacted the sikki basket weaving culture as well. Together with sikki grass, a softer variety of silver grass called gabaha in the local language in the southern plains is also getting rarer. Women have been using this grass to weave bigger baskets to store grains and agriculture produce. However, due to prevalence of plastic containers, the making and using of these baskets is dwindling. Not only these baskets but beautiful sikki hand fans and boxes to put jewellery and other valuable items are a rarity these days.  

Despite the slump in the sikki and gabaha basket weaving, some non-government organisations and cooperatives have been training and encouraging women to take up this old tradition of weaving these beautiful baskets. They collect these baskets and sell them at handicrafts shops and even export to foreign countries. 

Since sikki is considered pure, many people use these baskets while offering pooja and flowers to gods. They are also used as decorative items to decorate walls and rooms. In neighbouring India, they have been creating golden grass craft items, selling them online and exporting them. They have been making boxes of different shapes and sizes, hand fans, artistic files, dining table mats, pen stands, and gift boxes among others. 

Sikki grass products

It is the need of the moment to diversify the sikki products and come up with better and beautiful designs to find more customers. However, the first and foremost thing we need to do is to conserve the golden or sikki grass and plant more of them near water sources where they grow naturally. Once the raw material is found in abundance and the young people are trained in the art of weaving different items of sikki grass, they will continue with this tradition of making beautiful sikki baskets. And the baskets will reach a wider audience rather than just being showcased during the festivals and processions!

Republished from ECS

Friday, June 11, 2021

A multipurpose jungle vine and flowers that make you tipsy

 Text and pictures by Hari Pd. Chaudhary

Can you guess what are these? They are seeds of Phanera vahlii, a multipurpose wild vine found in abundance in the forests. Not only seeds but the whole vine is important for Tharus. Called ‘tata’ in the western Tharu and ‘malhan’ or ‘dama’ in eastern Tharu languages, its seeds, leaves and vines – all are useful.

Its seed pods are flat and long. They burst with a loud sound during the hot summer days in months of Chaitra and Baishakh (April). Don’t get scared of the sound when you’re in the jungle! 

It leaves are flat and coarse. The vine starts flowering during the months of Ashadh – Shrawan (July) and the pods are almost ready to ripe by the time the festival Dashain arrives. Tharus collect its leaves to make plates, bowls, umbrellas (chhatri), and raincoats (jhim). The plates and bowls are used in community feasts. 

Its pods burst open during the month of Chaitra (March – April). It’s also the season to pluck ‘mahua’ (Madhuca longifolia) flowers. People collect its seeds while plucking mahua flowers. Its seeds are roasted or boiled in water and eaten after removing the outer skin. 

Mahua flowers are used to make alcohol. People say no other alcohol can beat the taste of mahua! Fruits of mahua are also edible and sweet. You can get tipsy even chewing mahua flowers!

Tharus distribute mahua trees among themselves just like other ancestral properties and land. The brothers distribute mahua trees as well after deciding to stay separately. There’s, however, an understanding between all – they don’t pluck flowers from the trees in jungle belonging to others!

The post has been adapted from this Twitter thread.

Read the mahua story

Sunday, May 30, 2021

7 finger-licking good mushrooms from Nepal’s southern plains

 Text and pictures by Hari Pd. Chaudhary

Tharus from western part of Nepal’s southern plains have been collecting and consuming different varieties of wild mushrooms that are finger-licking good. They are not just mushrooms for them but they have special names for each variety. That’s the beauty and richness of their tradition and local Tharu language they speak.


This mushroom grows around termite hills. Termites are called ‘sina’ in Tharu language (both eastern and western). These mushrooms are tubular and around 22-25 inches long. 

They are normally found near the root of trees with thick trunk. They grow in troops and are found in an area of maximum 12 – 20 square feet. If you’re lucky, you can gather loads of bhemti from a single place. 

It is found from May till December. It also grows near adobe houses. 

Termite hill by Flickr user jbdodane. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Phutki, bhutki or kutki     

Called phutki, bhutki or kutki in Tharu language, these mushrooms grow in the ashes from forest fire. Thus, it is black but after washing it with water it looks like semi-white.


The black mushrooms are called ‘phutki’ while the white ones are called ‘gangadhur’ due to their white colour. Both phutki and gangadhur look like button mushroom but they are completely round. 

Normally, after harvesting wheat, the remaining stubble is burnt. Called ‘larwaa’ In Tharu language, the stubble is burnt in April – May so that it is easier to plough the fields. These mushrooms grow in the ploughed field after the first rain and sunshine, as soon as the monsoon arrives. 


Shaggy inkcaps by Flickr user Derek Parker. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Normally found during the month of July, these mushrooms grow in grazing field around dried cattle dung during monsoon season. 

Generally, gangadhur and gogwaa are washed and cut into two, and cooked over coal embers wrapped in saal leaves  for 5-10 minutes after adding a pinch of salt, turmeric powder and mustard oil. 

Naak bilariyaa          

Parasol mushroom by Flickr user Anita Gould. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

As it looks like a cat’s nose, this mushroom is called naak bilariyaa as a cat is called ‘bilariyaa’ in Tharu language. It is found during monsoon season in jungle and around houses. 


Buselaa means hay in Tharu language. These mushrooms grow in the wet and moist hay. 


It’s wild oyster mushroom and generally grows on timber. They are differentiated as edible and non-edible based on the timber on which they grow. 

Mushrooms growing on logs of mango, saal (Shorea robusta) and aasna (looking like a saal tree) tree are edible. These mushrooms grow on dried logs when they get wet and moist during monsoon. 

Caution: Wild mushrooms can be poisonous. Take advice of local people while collecting and consuming them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Wild and spiny, this superfood tastes amazing

Text and pictures by Hari Pd. Chaudhary

Have you seen this strange looking vegetable? A bit round and pointed at ends, it looks like a bitter ground with hairy spines all over it. Called कन्ठेस्का (kantheskaa) in western part of Nepal’s southern plains and chatthel in the eastern part, the spiny gourd (Momordica dioica) has several health benefits. It lowers blood sugar and controls diabetes. According to sources, it also prevents hypertension, supports heart health and digestive system, treats cough, reduces excess sweating, improves eyesight, helps remove kidney stones, and also works as anti-aging agent among its many other benefits.

Mostly collected from wild during the rainy season, they are either pan fried or ground in a mortar and pestle to make finger-licking chutney. 

Here’s how you can make its chutney.

Step 1:

First, you need to roast kantheskaa on hot red burning coal or you can use hot oil to roast it. You have to roast until it becomes light brown. Slightly burn few red dries chilies over red coal.

Step 2: Grind it in mortar and pestle, called ‘silautaa’, ‘dokni’ or 'khal' locally.

Step 3: After grinding, put some turmeric powder on it.

Step 4: Now, put heated oil on the turmeric and temper it. 

Step 5: Now mix the turmeric throughout the chutney.

It’s ready now to serve.

Try it and let us know how it tastes!

Friday, January 22, 2021

5 Myths about the Tharu

 Clearing some common misconceptions about the Tharu on their New Year on Thursday

One misconception about the Tharu people is that they never got malaria. In fact they did, but less than hill settlers. A US-led insecticide spraying campaign against malaria in Chitwan in the 1950s. Photo: USOM RECORDS, US NATIONAL ARCHIVES, COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND.

Republished from Nepali Times with permission. 

The Tharu make up 5% of Nepal’s population. One in every 20 Nepalis is Tharu. They outnumber the Gurung, Limbu, and Newa peoples. And yet, most Nepalis often know very little about Tharu culture and history. There are many things told about the Tharu. Most are wrong.

The first day of the Nepali month of  माघ which this year falls on 14 January is ‘Maaghi’, the Tharu new year. Chitwan Tharu celebrate the day with pwakaa (पोका in Nepali) — anadi sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves reheated in the coals of a fire. Dangaura Tharu in western Nepal celebrate with feasts and dancing. They also elect new community leaders known as barghar.

Maagh 1 is also the day when tenants would decide whether to continue with their landlords–some of whom were Tharu and some पहाडी hill people– or move elsewhere. Before the 1950s, because labourers were hard to find to work in the malarious animal infested Tarai, they had more leverage over the terms of their work than in later years.

Several different Tharu groups live across the Tarai, each with its own language: The Kochila in the East, the Chitwan Tharu in the central area, and Dangaura, Deshauria, and Rana Tharu in the western Tarai. One anthropologist wrote a book about Nepal’s Tharu called Many Tongues, One People.

The Tharu are the original inhabitants of much of the Tarai, because although they sometimes got malaria, they got it less often and with less severe consequences than hill people and people from the plains.

The malaria eradication project in the 1960s dramatically changed Tharu lives. In Chitwan, for instance, in 1955 the Tharu (and related groups such as the Bote and Darai) formed almost 100% of the region’s population of 25,000. By 1970, they had dropped to 14% of the population as 125,000 migrants moved in during those years.

Birendra Mahato, Director of the Chitwan Tharu Culture Museum outside Sauraha, says: “Tourist guides and hotel owners used to spread very inaccurate ideas. They often put us down. Now NTNC (National Trust for Nature Conservation) is giving training to new guides. They now have a much better idea.”

Indeed, there are several misunderstandings about Tharu communities. Some of them are:   

Misconception 1: Historically, The Tharu Were Hunters

The Truth: Tharu were farmers who herded cattle and fished but did not hunt.

In The Kings of Nepal & the Tharu of the Tarai, Gisele Krauskopff writes: ‘The hunting practices of the Tharu have been stressed in many hunters’ books and are part of the biased image of ‘the savage forest dwellers.’ But hunting, and especially hunting as a subsistence technique to provide meat, is not central to the Tharu way of life…Their subsistence is based on a close relationship between paddy cultivation and fishing. The Tharu used to live near the forest, but not in it. They were first and foremost forest clearers, which means that the forest had to be pushed back.’ 

Misconception 2: The Tharu Lived in an Ancient Tarai Forest

The Truth: Tharu lived not in the forest but near it, often near grasslands, and over the years the forest grew and fell back.

Krauskopff writes: ‘Because of the relative isolation of the Tarai, a previously malaria-infested land, prejudiced observers of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries created a false image of the Tharu…as savage dwellers of a primeval forest — which the Tarai is not. Old kingdoms have risen and fallen there for at least 2000 years. The forest retreated when farming expanded under prosperous political conditions; the jungle took over in times of instability and conflict.’

Misconception 3: Tharu Are Uncivilised जंगली

The Truth: The Tharu made many ingenious adaptations to their Tarai environment

According to this derogatory inaccuracy, the Tharu are forest dwellers little smarter than animals. They lack knowledge and skills. They collect forest products but don’t use their brains. They do not farm. They are ignorant of the outside world. They are too backward to wear clothes.

“Even now some people in Kathmandu and Pokhara call us uncivilised,” says museum director Mahato. “The Tharu live in the jungle, they say. Many hill people don’t know about the Tarai.”

But in fact, the Tharu have developed many skills useful for their Tarai environment: agriculture, irrigation, house construction, fishing, handicrafts, herbal medicine, forest vegetables, midwifery, wood carving, and animal domestication. All require deep knowledge about the environment.

“If Tharu weren’t smart in this environment, they couldn’t have survived. They were knowledgeable in irrigation, agriculture, जडीबुटी herbs, and fishing. They were skilled in lots of things. That was civilised.”

When outsiders from the hills came to places like Chitwan, they often misunderstood because the Tharu had unfamiliar habits and spoke their own languages. Migrants learned from the Tharu about irrigation, wild animals, and Tarai agriculture. Some learned the Tharu language and respected the Tharu and their traditions. 

Misconception 4: The Tharu Never Got Malaria

The Truth: Tharu got malaria less often than other groups, and died less often than others, but infants often got it, and some died.

Many outsiders, and even some Tharu themselves, think that the Tharu never got malaria. They say Tharu did not get malaria because they ate snails, rice liquor, and spicy chilies. This is wrong. Elderly Tharu will tell you about malaria fever and shivers.

Tharu got malaria and sometimes died from it. ‘It should be remembered that resistance to malaria is acquired after a certain time and that even in a generally resistant population,’ writes Giselle Krauskopff. ‘Tharu children died of malarial fever.’

Compared to hill Nepalis, the Tharu acquired malaria less often and with fewer consequences. They had genetic immunities– high rates of alpha-thalassemia, a genetic pattern common in populations who have lived in malarial areas for generations that reduces both vivax and falciparum malaria, decreasing morbidity by up to tenfold. They also acquired immunities: Those who survived one or two malarial fevers often developed an ability to fight off later attacks.

These immunities meant that malaria posed less of a threat to those who survived infancy. But there was a high infant death rate. A visiting journalist noted in 1962: ‘In hundreds of villages, the child population was destined for malaria in their first year of life as surely as if the mosquitoes flew in with a list of names of the newly-born.’

Mahato says, “Sometimes outsiders, and even the Tharu themselves, say the Tharu never got malaria. Both are wrong. Sometimes I get into arguments with Tharu people who say this. They say to me “नचाहिने कुरा किन गर्छस?” Many are politicised. Older Tharus tell me that they got it.”

To say the Tharu sometimes got malaria should not undercut the argument that the malaria and resettlement programs of the 1950s and 1960s often misunderstood, overlooked, and pushed aside Tharu interests.

Misconception 5: Tharu Society Was Disconnected from Nepali Society

The Truth: Tharu groups before the 1960s had many interactions with other Nepalis and the Kathmandu government. 

Tourist brochures often describe Tharu society with phrases such as ‘untouched by civilization’, ‘timeless’, ‘in total isolation’, ‘living in another time’, and ‘forgotten by civilisation’.

That is hardly the case. Even during malaria days, the Tharu had regular contact with groups from both the north and the south. Traders from the north would come every winter. In many places, Tharu tenants worked for hill landlords. The Tharu worked for the Nepal’s rulers as land clearers and tax collectors. In some places, Rana and other elite visited Tharu areas for huge hunting expeditions. They relied upon Tharu workers to build roads, provide supplies, drive elephants, and find tigers.

That said, it is true that the Tarai’s malaria limited the interactions of the Tharu with outside groups, and gave them limited autonomy.

To learn more about the richness and complexity of Tharu life, please read any of the books cited here or visit the Chitwan Tharu Culture museum near Sauraha, Chitwan. Happy New Year.


Americans deride Tharu knowledge, 1959

Photo Source: Six Years of Nepal-American Cooperation, 1952–1958 (Kathmandu, 1959)

These official US photos compare traditional Tharu agriculture and modern ‘scientific’ agriculture. The images appeared on facing pages of a book produced in 1959 by the US government to celebrate its assistance to Chitwan and Nepal. At the time, the US ran a large resettlement program in Chitwan. American officials often wrongly saw the Chitwan Tharu as part of an outdated past. According to the implied narrative in the photos, the Chitwan valley was evolving from unproductive ‘backward’ traditions to super-productive, science-based civilisation along the lines of the American Midwest. The photos suggested that the Tharu had little to offer this new Nepal. That was wrong. Tharu taught migrants many things. Some of the new methods succeeded, but some often failed or brought environmental problems.

Rescuing Tharu history from the shadows

A foreign envoy resting on dead rhinoceros, 1913. Photo: Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya.

Rana hunting expeditions couldn’t have happened without expert Tharu mahouts, as this 1913 photo (above) from a hunt connected to Tribhuvan’s coronation shows. But Tharus themselves rarely hunted. Instead they farmed, grazed cattle and buffalo, fished, trapped small animals, and gathered herbs and other resources from the grasslands and forests.


Writings on Recent Tharu History

Dr. Gisele Krauskopff. ‘From Jungles to Farms: A Look at Tharu History’ in The Kings of Nepal & the Tharu of the Tarai, ed. Pamela Meyer (Los Angeles: Rusca Press, 2000).

Dr. Arjun Guneratne. ‘The Tharu of Chitwan, Nepal’. In Disappearing Peoples?: Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Minorities in South and Central Asia, edited by Barbara Rose Johnston and Barbara Brower (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 91–106.

Guneratne, Arjun. Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Muller-Boker, Ulrike. The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Ethnoecological Approach. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1999.

Thomas Robertson. ‘DDT and the Cold War Jungle: American Environmental and Social Engineering in the Rapti Valley of Nepal’. Journal of American History 104, no. 4 (March 1, 2018): 904–30.

Locke, Piers. “The Tharu, the Tarai and the History of the Nepali Hattisar.” European Bulletin of Himalayan Research. 38 (2011): 61–82.


Dr. Thomas (Tom) Robertson is creator of the YouTube Mitho Lekhai video series about writing techniques. He is a historian and the former director of Fulbright Nepal/USEF. He is an advisor to the Chitwan Tharu Culture Museum in Bachhauli, Chitwan. He researches the history of development and environmental change in Nepal.

            He first came to Nepali in 1988 and has lived and worked in Nepal for 12 years. Before working for Fulbright, he taught American and global history for 10 years at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts. Tom received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a B.A. from Williams College.

            Recent publications include “DDT and the Cold War: American Social and Environmental Engineering in the Rapti Valley (Chitwan) of Nepal,” Journal of American History (March 2018). Tom's current research examines the environmental history of US development projects in Cold War Nepal.  


This article was published in Nepali Times on 13 January 2021. Republished with permission from the author and Nepali Times. Read the original article.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

जोखन रत्गैँया: व्यक्ति एक, व्यक्तित्व अनेक

कलाकार लवकान्त चौधरीले रिक्रियट गरेको जोखन रत्गैँयाको डायरी । अनुमतिमा प्रकाशित। 

वि.सं २०५८ साल जेठ २९ गते । कैलालीको लालबोझी गाविसको करमदेउ गाउँलाई शाही सेनाले एकाएक नियन्त्रणमा लियो। शाही सेनाले घेराबन्दी गरेपछि जोखन रत्गैयाँ अलमलमा परे । उनी साथीहरूसँग भन्ने गर्थे, म ज्यानको आहुति दिन्छु, तर दुश्मनको अगाडि झुक्दिनँ । उनको त्यही अठोटले शाही सेनाको घेराबन्दी तोड्ने प्रयासमा लागे । अनेकन जुक्ति निकाले उनले। तर बहुसंख्यक सेनाको अगाडि उनको कुनै जुक्तिले काम गरेन । उनले प्रयास पनि छाडेनन् । अन्ततः उनी घेरा तोडेर भागे । सेनाहरु फायरिङ खोल्दै लखेट्न थाले । जोखन र सेनाको दूरी करिब दुई सय मिटरको थियो । फिल्मी शैलीमा शाही सेनाले जोखनलाई लखेट्दै थिए । सेनाको अनगिन्ती गोलीले अन्ततः जोखनको घुँडा आरपार भयो । उनी केहीबेर त्यही ढले तर आत्मसमर्पण भने गरेनन् । उभिन नसक्ने भएपछि उनी अग्ला भग्रा (घाँस) भित्र घस्रिदै खोलासम्म पुगे । नजिकैको खोलामा हाम फाले, पौडिँदै परसम्म गए । उनलाई खोज्न हेलिकप्टर गस्ती थालियो । सबैतिरबाट घेरिएपछि उनको उपचार बेलैमा हुन सकेन, निरन्तर ब्लिडिङका कारण उनको देहान्त भयो । त्यो कालो दिन सम्झिँदा शरीरमा काँडा उम्रिनेगरेको बर्दियाका खुसी प्रसाद थारू बताउँछन् । शाही सेनाको अप्रेसनमा त्यो दिन कैलालीमा ६ जनाले शहादत प्राप्त गरेका थिए । त्यसमध्ये जोखन एक थिए ।

करमदेउ त्यस्तो गाउँ थियो, माओवादीहरू सेनाको ट्र्यापमा परिहाल्थे । जोखन यसअघि पनि त्यो गाउँबाट उम्किन सफल भएका थिए । तर पार्टीको जिम्मेवारी निभाउन त्यहाँ जानैपथ्र्यो । जानुअघि जोखनले साथीहरूलाई भनेका थिए, ‘यो गाउँमा होस पु¥याएर बस्नुपर्छ ।’ घटना भएको दिन बाँच्न सफल खुसी प्रसाद चौधरी आफूहरू अघिल्लो रातको २ बजे करमदेउ गाउँ पुगेको बताए । बिहान ८ बजे खाना खाइरहेका बेला सेनाले गाउँ नियन्त्रणमा लिएको थियो । जोखनका टिममा अन्य पाँच जना भने बाँच्न सफल भएका थिए । त्यतिबेला बौद्धिक तथा शक्तिशाली नेताको रुपमा उदाएका जोखनलाई टार्गेट गरेरै हत्या गरेको माओवादीभित्रकै नेताहरूले बताउने गर्छन् ।

जोखन रत्गैँयाको जन्म वि.सं २०२५ सालमा कैलालीको हसुलियास्थित रानामुरा गाउँमा भएको थियो । आमा सुखलीदेवी चौधरी र बुबा धनबहादुर चौधरीको उनी जेठो सन्तान थिए । सामान्य परिवारमा जन्मिएका उनले आइएसम्मको अध्ययन गरेका थिए । आइएसम्मको अध्ययनले होला उनले त्यहाँ थारू समाज राम्रोसँग बुझेका थिए । दिनप्रति दिन हुने हरेक प्रकारका विभेदबारे उनी जानकार थिए । पछिल्लो समय पहाडबाट बसाई सरी आएका गैरथारूहरूले खाइपाइ आएको थारूहरूको खेतबारीमा आफ्नो वर्चस्व कायम गरेका थिए । जसका कारण थारूहरू आफ्नै खेतबारीमा कमैया, कमलरी बन्न बाध्य भएका थिए । यी सब कुराको चित्रण जोखनले राम्रोसँग विश्लेषण गर्न सक्थे । त्यसैले त उनले यस्ता विभेदहरूबारे चर्को आवाज उठाउँथे । आफ्नो गाउँ, टोल र छिमेकका थारूहरूलाई यस्ता विभेदविरुद्ध एक भएर लड्न प्रोत्साहन गर्थे । उनले थारू गाउँ गाउँ पुगेर विभेदविरुद्ध नाटक देखाउँथे, थारूहरूलाई प्रशिक्षण दिन्थे र साहित्य लेखनमार्फत् जागरण ल्याउँथे ।

पश्चिम तराईमा हुने आक्रमक बसाइसराइले थारूहरू झनै थिचोमिचोमा परेका थिए । राज्यबाट हुने विभेद त थियो नै, त्यसमाथि आफ्नै खेतबारीमा थारुहरु कमैया बस्नुपर्दा उनी मुर्छित पर्थे । जातीय, वर्गीय विभेद सधैंका लागि अन्त्य गर्न उनी माओवादी पार्टीले सुरु गरेको सशस्त्र जनयुद्धमा होमिए । त्यसअघि उनले अनेरास्ववियुमा बसेर विद्यार्थी राजनीतिसमेत गरे । माओवादी पार्टीमा गएर नेतृत्व लिइसकेपछि उनले धेरै अभियानहरु सफल पारेका थिए । उनका सहपाठी हरि ज्ञवाली अखण्ड सम्झन्छन्, ‘सुरुमा त लाग्थ्यो, हामी दुई जनाले के नै पो परिवर्तन गर्न सक्छौं, हाम्रो कुरा कसले सुन्छ र, तर गरेपछि हुनेरहेछ। हामीले हतियार सिजलगायतका ठूला अभियानहरु सफल परेका थियौं ।’

जोखनको बौद्धिकता र सफल नेतृत्वले पार्टीको केन्द्रीय तहमै चर्चा हुने गरेको थियो । पार्टीभित्र उनलाई बौद्धिक नेताको क्याटोगरीमा राखिएको थियो । तत्कालीन माओवादी नेता वर्षमान पुनले जोखन रत्गैयाँ क्षमतावान नेता भएको बताए । पार्टीले उनलाई बौद्धिक नेताको रुपमा लिनेगरेको पनि उनले बताए । कैलाली र बर्दियामा हुने हरेक कार्यक्रमको नेतृत्व पनि उहाँहरुले गरेको पुन सम्झन्छन् । ‘जोखनजीलाई भेटेको छु र वहाँबारे मैले धेरै सुनेको छु । उहाँ बौद्धिक, निडर एवं क्षमतावान नेता हुनुहुन्थ्यो । उहाँको शहादतपछि पार्टीले ठूलो क्षति व्यहोर्नुप¥यो,’ ऊर्जा, जलस्रोत तथा सिँचाइमन्त्री पुनले भने ।

जोखनले माओवादीमा आफ्नो राम्रो उपस्थिति जनाए । उनको उपस्थितिले केन्द्रीय नेताहरूमा तरंग ल्याइदियो । उनले थारू मोर्चालाई राम्रोसँग कमान्ड गरे । थारूमाथि हुने विभेदको अन्त्य गर्न धेरै थारूले उनको साथ दिए । उनकै पछि लागेर सशस्त्र जनयुद्धमा होमिए । उनले आफ्नो पोजिसन राम्रो बनाइरहेकै बेला दुश्मनले त्यहाँ पनि सुखसँग बस्न दिएनन् । उनकाविरुद्ध शाही सेनालाई सुराकी गर्न थाले । सेनाले उनलाई खोज्न नसकेपछि उनको परिवारलाई सताउन थाल्यो । सेनाले हदैसम्मको दमन उनको परिवारमाथि ग¥यो । सेनाको यातनाका कारण जोखनले वि.सं २०५७ सालमा बुबा धनबहादुर रत्गैयाँलाई गुमाए । बुबाको मुख हेर्नसमेत उनी आउन पाएनन् । साहित्य लेखनमा अब्बल मानिएका उनले आमाका नाममा चिठी लेखी भनेका थिए–

आमा तिमी रुनु तर आँशु नझार्नु । विरोधीले देखे हाँसोको पात्र बनाउनेछ । तिमी हाँसोको पात्र बन्नु हुँदैन । 

बुबाले ज्यान गुमाउँदा पनि उनले आमालाई अनुनयन गरेका शब्द हुन यी । उनी विरोधीसामु शिर निहुराउन जानेका थिएनन्, विरोधीसामु हार स्वीकार्न जानेका थिएनन् । उनी आफ्नो लक्ष्यमा सधैं अडिग रहेर अगाडि बढे । यता सेनाको यातना दिने क्रम भने रोकिएन । उनीहरूको अनुपस्थितिमा सेनाले घरका महिला सदस्यहरूलाई समेत यातना दिन सुरु गरिसकेको थियो । सेनाको टार्गेटमा परेका भाइ जगत रत्गैँया (प्रवेश) पनि लुकीछिपी बस्नुपर्ने अवस्था थियो। उनलाई विसं २०५९ सालमा सेनाले बर्दियाको झबहीमा हत्या ग¥यो । जेठी छोरी इन्दु थारू माओवादीकी छोरी भएकै कारण स्कुल जान सकिरहेका थिएनन्, उनलाई भर्ना नगर्न सेनाले निर्देशन दिएको थियो । कलिला दुई छोरा सुरज र निरजको अवस्था झनै दयनीय थियो ।

परिवारका सदस्यमाथि यतिका दमन भइरहँदा पनि जोखले क्रान्तिको बाटो छाडेनन् । तर सोच्दै नसोचेको कुरा उनले आफ्नै जीवनमा भोग्नुप¥यो । पार्टीभित्रको बलियो उपस्थिति र उनको क्षमतादेखि जल्ने उनका केही आफ्नै साथीहरूको ट्र्यापमा फसेँ।

हसुलियाबाट सदरमुकाम धनगढी आएका जोखनले त्यही कर्मथलो बनाएका थिए । उनले मेडिकल शिक्षा प्राप्त गरेपछि धनगढीमै मेडिकल क्लिनिक चलाए । मेडिकलबाट उनले आफूलाई पुग्ने आम्दानी गर्थे । मेडिकल अलावा उनी पत्रकारिता र साहित्य लेखनमा धेरै रुची राख्थे । उनले युवाअवस्थामै थारु मुक्तिको विषयमा कथा, कविता लेख्थे । थारू समुदायमा व्यवसायिक पत्रकारिताको सुरुवात पनि उनैले गरेका थिए । उनले थारू मुक्ति नामक साप्ताहिक पत्रिका प्रकाशन गर्थे । माओवादीमा लाग्नुअघि नै उनले मुक्तिक डगर नामक वार्षिक पत्रिका प्रकाशन गर्थे । जुन ९ वर्षमा ७ अंक प्रकाशित भयो ।

उनले आफ्नो पहिलो कृति चोराइल मन प्रकाशित गरेका थिए । जुन थारू समुदायको पहिलो गजल संग्रह भएको साहित्यकार कृष्णराज सर्वहारी बताउँछन् । उनैले प्रगतिसिल साहित्यको अगुवाई समेत गरेका थिए । थारू समुदायभित्रका आवाजलाई साहित्यमार्फत् उजागर गर्नुपर्ने उनले सल्लाह दिन्थे ।

जोखनले दर्जनभन्दा बढी किताबको पाण्डुलिपी तयार पारेका थिए । जसमा भुत्वा– महाकाब्य, लाल गुलाब– खण्डकाव्य, अग्रासन– कथा संग्रह आदि छन् । यी किताबहरु क्रमशः प्रकाशन गर्ने भनेर जोखनले डायरीमा उल्लेख गरेका थिए । जुन उनको डायरीमा प्रष्टसँग लेखिएको छ । तर दुर्भाग्य डायरीबाहेक उनको परिवारसँग यी किताबका कुनै ड्राफ्ट छैनन् । जोखनले आफ्नो मृत्युसँगै यी सबकुराको राज सँगै लिएर गए । बर्दियाका विश्वबहादुर चौधरी शिशिरले जोखनजीको भुत्वा महाकाब्य त्यसबेला प्रकाशनको अन्तिम चरणमा रहेको बताए । किताबको आवरण पनि उनैले तयार पारिदिएका थिए । ‘बर्दिया आउँदा उहाँले भुत्वा महाकाब्य किताबको प्रकाशन गर्न मसँग सहयोग माग्नुभएको थियो । किताबबारे सुझाव पनि माग्नुभएको थियो । किताबको लागि मैले आवरणसमेत तयार पारेको थिएँ,’ शिशिरले भने । लाजुराम चौधरी अंकितका अनुसार भुत्वा महाकाव्यको प्रकाशनका लागि शहिद प्रवेश र आफू इन्डिया गएको सम्झिन्छन् ।

जोखन गोचाली परिवारका कैलाली अध्यक्ष पनि थिए । गोचाली परिवारमा आबद्ध भएर उनले थारु सांस्कृतिक कार्यक्रम गर्ने, मुक्तिका नाटकहरू लेखेर प्रहसन गर्थे । गोचाली परिवारमा बसेरै उनले थारू मुक्तिको लडाइँ सुरु गरेका थिएँ । किनकि यो आफैंमा एउटा संगठन थियो । यसमा आबद्ध थारुहरुलाई विभेदविरुद्ध बुलन्द आवाज सहित  एकीकृत हुन आव्हान गरिन्थ्यो । ऊबेला निस्किने क्रान्तिकारी पत्रिकामा उनी नियमित थारू मुक्तिका आवाज उठाउँथे ।

आदर्शका स्रोत जोखन

जोखन रत्गैयाँ थारूहरूका आइडल थिए, प्रेरणाका स्रोत थिए । उनले देखाएका बाटामा आज अनगिन्ती थारूहरू हिँडिरहेका छन् । अहिले जतिपनि कम्युनिस्ट थारू नेताहरू छन्, सबैले जोखनको विचार र सिद्धान्तलाई आत्मसाथ गरेका छन् । लक्ष्मण थारू जसले जोखनकै छत्रछाँयामा राजनीति सिके, कृष्ण्कुमार चौधरी जसले जोखनको विचारबाट प्रभावित भएर माओवादीमा लागे, लाजुराम चौधरी, वीरमान चौधरी, गौरीशंकर चौधरी, सूर्य चौधरी, लक्ष्मी चौधरी जसले जोखनलाई आदर्श मानेर माओवादी जनयुद्धमा होम्मिए । त्यतिमात्र नभएर बर्दियाका खुसीप्रसाद चौधरी, शिवप्रसाद चौधरी, विश्वबहादुर चौधरी, मनकला चौधरीलगायत सयौं नेताहरू जोखनका विचारबाट प्रभावित थिए । जोखनले दिएका प्रशिक्षण, जोखनले जनतासँग घुलमिल हुन सिकाएको आइडिया उनीहरुले आजका दिनसम्म आत्मसाथ गरेका छन् । उनले साहित्यमा देखाएको बाटोलाई आत्मसाथ गरेका छन् । जातीय, वर्गीय विभेदबारे दिएको अभिव्यक्ति अनुसरण गरेका छन् । उनका सहकर्मी भगत बडुवाल, हरि ज्ञवाली सबैले भन्ने गर्छन्, जोखन बहुप्रतीभाशाली व्यक्ति हुन् । उनमा अध्ययन गर्ने अदभूत कला थियो । आदिवासीका सबालमा, थारुका सबालमा उनले धेरै अनुसन्धानहरू गरेका थिए । आज भलै जोखनको शरीर हामीमाझ छैन, तर उनले देखाएको बाटो, उनले प्रस्तुत गरेको विचार, सिद्धान्त र आइडियोलोजी जीवन्त छ र रहिरहनेछ ।

लेखक :मदन चौधरी, पहिलोपल्ट नागरिक दैनिक र मुक्तिक डगरमा प्रकाशित । मदन चौधरी र इन्दु थारूको अनुमतिमा पुन:प्रकाशित गरिएको। 

Jokhan Ratgainya: one person, many personalities

Jokhan Ratgainya's diary, recreated by artist Lavkant Chaudhary. Used with permission.

June 11, 2001, Kailali District, Lalbhoji Village Development Committee, Karamdeu Village

The Royal Nepali Army suddenly took control of the whole village. The army had surrounded the village and Jokhan was in danger. He had always told his friends that he would sacrifice his life but he would never bow down to the enemy. With this determination he tried to break the hold of the Royal Army. He tried many strategies but nothing worked out, they were clearly outnumbered. But he didn’t give up. In the end he managed to escape from the siege and ran. The military open fired and started chasing Jokhan, he was only ahead by 200 meters. The Royal Army was pursuing him—just like a scene in the movies. After innumerable rounds of firing, a bullet shot went through his knee. He fell for a few minutes but he refused to surrender. He couldn’t get up. So he decided to crawl through a thicket of tall grass and ended up next to a stream. He jumped into the stream and swam across it, gaining some distance. A helicopter was dispatched to search for him, he was surrounded. Jokhan did not receive immediate treatment, after continuous bleeding—he died. As Khusi Prasad Tharu from Bardiya recounts that ill-fated day, shivers run down his spine. Six people were martyred on that day at the hands of the Royal Nepali Army. Jokhan was one of them. 

Karamdeu was such a village where the Army could easily trap the Maoists. Jokhan had previously managed to escape from this very village. But he had to travel there to fulfill the duties of his Party. Prior to leaving, Jokhan had been warned by his friends, “tread carefully in this village.” Khusi Prasad Chaudhary managed to survive, he remembers that they had arrived at two, under cover of night, the day before the incident. While they were eating at eight in the morning, the Army took control of the village. The other five members of Jokhan’s team managed to survive. At that time Jokhan was regarded as an intellectual and powerful leader, Maoist leaders remark that he was targeted and killed. 

Jokhan Ratgaiya was born in 1968 in the village of Ranamuda, nearby Hasuliya in Kailali District. He was the eldest son of Sukhali Devi Chaudhary and Dhana Bahadur Chaudhary. His family was simple and he received a high school education. Maybe it was his education that helped him grasp Tharu society. He was aware of all the quotidian discriminations. The non-Tharus from the hills who had migrated to the Tarai still dominated and made a living off of Tharu lands. The Tharus were bound to work on their own lands as kamaiyas and kamalaris. Jokhan was able to finely articulate this scenario; that is why he would speak up against such discrimination. He inspired the Tharus of his village, his quarter, and his neighbors to unite and fight against bigotry. He would travel Tharu village after Tharu village to show anti-discrimination performances, to spread awareness, and to enlighten people through literature.

The aggressive resettlement of people into the Western Tarai had added to the Tharu’s yoke of oppression. There was already discrimination from the State, on top of that when Tharus had to become bonded laborers on their own land, they were crushed. To end caste and class based biases Jokhan decided to be a part of the People’s War started by the Maoist Party. Before that he was a student activist affiliated to the Pan Nepal National Independent Student Union. He was successful in many campaigns after taking leadership roles within the Party. His colleague Hari Gyawali (Akhanda) recollects, “At first we used to think what on earth could we change, just the two of us. Who would listen to us? But after you start something things do change. We were successful in many large campaigns such as weapon seizing.”

The central command of the Party had taken notice of Jokhan’s intellect and accomplished leadership, and had categorized him as an intellectual leader. Maoist leader Barsaman Pun remarks that Jokhan Ratgaiya had potential and he was noticed for his intelligence. Pun reminisces that all programs in Kailali and Bardiya were under their helm. Pun, who is the Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Minister, says, “I have met Jokhan-ji and I have heard a lot about him. He was a leader with intellect, fearlessness, and great potential. After his martyrdom the Party faced a great loss.”  

Jokhan left a mark on the Maoist Party. He brought out the vitality of central leaders. He commanded the Tharu Front with great skill. Many Tharus who wanted to end the discrimination they faced supported Jokhan. Many followed his footsteps towards the People’s Liberation. As he was getting comfortable in his position the enemy did not let him stay in peace. The Royal Nepali Army began pursuing him. The Army was unable to find him, so they decided to harass his family. They persecuted his family to the full extent. Jokhan’s father died in 2000 as a result of military torture. He could not even return to see his father’s face for the last time. Considered to be a skilled penman he wrote a letter to his mother:

Mother, cry, but do not shed a tear.
If the antagonists see you,
they will laugh.
You are not to be a subject of ridicule.

These were his words to his mother upon the death of his father. He was not going to bow his head in front of the enemy, he did not know how to accept defeat in front of the enemy. He was focused on his goal and he moved ahead with this determination. But the military’s persecution was incessant. In his absence, they had already started to torture the women of his household. His brother Jagat Ratgaiya (Pravesh) was in hiding after the military started targeting him. In 2002, Pravesh was murdered by the Royal Army in Jhabahi, Bardiya District. The military even instructed schools not to admit Jokhan’s daughter Indu, as she was “a daughter of a Maoist”. The condition of Jokhan’s two younger sons Suraj and Niraj was even more pitiable. 

Even though his family was tormented, Jokhan did not leave the path of revolution. But he was subjected to something that was unthinkable. He fell victim to a conspiracy of a few of his own friends within the Party who had grown envious of his strong presence and rising potential.

After coming to Dhangadhi from Hasuliya he made a living in the city. Upon receiving a medical education he opened a clinic and pharmacy in Dhangadhi, through which he made his earnings. Other than his medical engagements, he was drawn to journalism and literature. Ever since he was  a teenager he had written stories and poetry on the liberation of the Tharus. He had also started commercial journalism within the Tharu community with the weekly Tharu Mukti. Prior to joining the Maoists he had already begun publishing a yearly magazine, Muktik Dagar, which had seven editions in nine years. 

His first published work was Chorayil Man (Stolen Heart).  Which according to Krishnaraj Sarbahari is the first ghazal of the Tharu community. Jokhan was at the front of a progressive literary movement. He was always of the opinion that the voice of the Tharu community could be highlighted vis-à-vis literature. 

Jokhan had prepared manuscripts for more than a dozen publications, which included the epic Bhutva Mahakavya, the poem Lal Gulab, and the short story collection Agrasan. In his diary Jokhan clearly indicates that he wanted to publish these works in this order. Unfortunately, other than his diary Jokhan’s family does not have any of the other manuscripts. In his death, Jokhan took all these secrets with him. Bishwa Bahadur Chaudhary (Shishir) from Bardiya says that Bhutva Mahakavya was in its last stage of edits prior to publication. In Shishir’s words, “Jokhan had requested my help for the publication of Bhutva Mahakavya when he had come to Bardiya. I had even designed the cover for the book.” According to Lajuram Chaudhary (Ankit), he and Jokhan’s brother Pravesh had gone to India for the publication of the book.   

Jokhan was also the President of the Gochali Pariwar (Family of Friends) in Kailali. When he was affiliated with the Gochali Pariwar he organized many Tharu cultural programmes, and presented comedies and plays on the liberation of the Tharus. He had started his fight for Tharu liberation from the Gochali Pariwar. This was an organization in its own sense. The Tharus involved in it were called upon to be a unified and robust voice against oppression. In the revolutionary publications of his days, Jokhan used to regularly voice the cause of Tharu liberation.  

An ideal source of inspiration

Jokhan Ratgaiya was an ideal leader for Tharus and a source of inspiration. There are numerous Tharus who at present are following the path he paved. All the communist Tharu politicians of date have taken Jokhan Ratgaiya’s principles to heart. Laxman Tharu who under his mentorship learnt politics; Krishna Kumar Chaudhary who was influenced by Jokhan to join the Maoists; Lajuram Chaudhary, Birman Chaudhary, Gaurishankar Chaudhary, Surya Chaudhary, Laxmi Chaudhary who all joined the People’s War regarding Jokhan as their ideal. Additionally Jokhan’s thoughts have made an impression upon hundreds of leaders the likes of Khusi Prasad Chaudhary, Shiva Prasad Chaudhary, Vishwa Bahadur Chaudhary, and Mankala Chaudhary all from Bardiya District. The guidance provided by Jokhan and his grassroots level engagement have remained important for all of them. Even his pathbreaking work in literature remains an inspiration, in addition to his expressions against caste and class based discrimination. His colleague Bhagat Baduwal and Hari Gyawali say that Jokhan was a multitalented individual. He had an extraordinary skill for scholarship; he had conducted many researches on themes related to indigeneity and Tharu identity. While Jokhan may not be physically with us today, his path, thoughts, principles and ideologies are alive and will remain so. 

Author: Madan Chaudhary, translator: Priyankar Bahadur Chand. Republished with permission from Priyankar Bahadur Chand and Indu Tharu.