Friday, January 21, 2011

The trap of servitude

By Bhawana Upadhyay

Sita Chaudhary, 12, helplessly watched as her uncle contracted her into an additional year of indentured servitude. She had returned to her village in Dang district of Western Nepal to visit her aunt and cousins during Maaghi, the Tharu community’s winter festival commonly observed across Nepal as Maaghe Sangkranti.

She didn’t have much to offer in her reaction; tears didn’t even well up in her eyes. An orphan since she could remember, she had learned to accept this happening as an annual ritual.

Though there is no reliable data on how many young Tharu girls are trapped in the Kamlari system, the most commonly quoted estimate is 25,000. The Kamlari system is a practice common among indigenous Tharu communities in Western Nepal wherein the family sells off their daughters—as young as six-years-old—through middlemen as bonded servants to local landlords or wealthy families in urban centres. During Maghe Sankranti (which usually falls in mid-January), Kamlaris are permitted by their landlords to visit their family to celebrate the annual winter festival. This is also the time when local middlemen are most active in villages to ‘recruit’ new Kamlari girls as well as ‘renew’ the contracts of existing ones.

As noted by many studies, poverty is the primary reason for the continuation of the Kamlari tradition. Often, indebted parents sign their daughters into servitude as the only way to settle their debts. One father who sent his children to work as a Kamlari said, “We are poor and only have a small piece of land for subsistence agriculture. It is very difficult to feed a family of seven. If the girls go to work elsewhere, we have less people to feed.”

Ignorance, narrow perspectives and regular payments to parents—though often as meagre as Rs. 5,000-6,000 a year—often result in these girls remaining Kamlaris for years with no way out of the illicit practice. The pity is that their own parents and extended family members, particularly men, fail to recognise the exploitation and abuse that these innocent girls are subjected to during their period of servitude.

In December 2008, the National Human Rights Commission urged the government to take immediate action to bring the Kamlari practice to a complete halt, citing severe human and child rights violations. But eradication of the practice has not been easy. Members of the Freed Kamaiya Society say that the system is entrenched in Tharu culture, with even some wealthy Tharu families sending their daughters into domestic servitude. This practice has been happening since indigenous Tharus lost land ownership to hill-dwellers migrating to Dang and nearby
districts in the late 1940s. This loss of land dramatically changed the existing power dynamics and most Tharu people suddenly found themselves tilling the patches they previously owned on a share-cropping basis as bonded labourers—commonly known as Kamaiyas.

In earlier days, under the Kamlari system young Tharu girls were sent to work as domestic servants in landlords’ houses in nearby villages. As soon as middlemen entered the picture, girls were increasingly brought from far-away cities, thereby enhancing their vulnerability to other forms of crime including cross-border human trafficking.

Thanks to advocacy and campaign programmes supported by various I/NGOs, civil society in Dang district achieved a notable milestone towards ending the Kamlari practice and supporting former Kamlaris. As of Jan. 14, 2009, Dang has been declared a Kamlari-free district by the District Child Welfare Committee. But unfortunately, there has not been a notable change in the local practice. I/NGO efforts need to be urgently augmented with projects that have practical behaviour-changing components.

The Supreme Court declared the Kamlari practice illegal in 2006. It was half a decade after the Supreme Court decree that corresponding regulations were introduced to outlaw the Kamlari practice. As a part of the Supreme Court decision, the government also set up a Kamlari rehabilitation fund to look after the education and welfare of former Kamlaris. This initiative has not, however, effectively rehabilitated Kamlaris to produce the desired result of ultimately eliminating the Kamlari system. With deep cultural and economic roots, this gap again substantiates the need for interventions directed at bringing about changes in community behaviour.

On May 16, 2010, there was a rally jointly organised by the Freed Kamaiya Women Development Forum (FKWDF) and the Kamaiya Women Upliftment Society (KWUS) in Dhangadhi demanding free education for ex-Kamlaris and action against those who push them into forced labour.

Later, an appeal was also submitted to the prime minister through the District Administration Office with a 12-point list including demands for rehabilitation facilities and cultivable land for the families of freed victims.

These promising pressure tactics need to be continued with greater involvement of local community-based organisations and informal groups to encourage social mobilisation. However, as the issue involves prevention, protection and prosecution elements, coordination between and support from regulatory, enforcement and other line agencies are crucial. For instance, as effective post-rescue rehabilitation and social integration are critical to ensure that former Kamlaris don’t fall back under the control of exploitative landlords, there is a need to look beyond current I/NGOs initiatives.

Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Barasingha and the Tharus

I like to ask my conservation students to pick a current controversy in wildlife management and explain how they would resolve it. Most say they would implement policies that meet the needs of both people and wildlife. Yet I worry that this is more easily said than done. When the needs of vulnerable species and vulnerable people overlap, win-win situations are appealing, but difficult to achieve. Take, for example, the plight of the wetland barasingha, or swamp deer, and the indigenous Tharu people in the lowlands of southern Nepal. In this situation, the biological traits of a wild species interact with a history of policies that have inadvertently fostered resource depletion and marginalisation of native people, thereby creating a complex dilemma.

The plains, rivers, hills, and mountains of Nepal provide an intricate mosaic of contrasting microhabitats. People, plants, and animals with unique adaptations to their environment populate this landscape, resulting in extraordinary biological and cultural diversity. Some of Nepal’s peoples and species, like the Sherpas of the high mountains and the tigers of the lowland jungles, are famous. Others, like the barasingha and the Tharu, are not so well known.

The barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii) is a relative of the North American elk (Cervus elaphus) and the European red deer (C. elaphus). Breeding adult male barasingha often has a dozen or more tines on their gracefully arching antlers. This gives them a regal appearance. Kipling wrote of a holy man helping a barasingha shed the velvet from his antlers: “little by little the royal stag nudged up his shoulder. Purun Bhagat . . . soothed the fretted beast.”

Barasinghas occur only on the Indian subcontinent. In the past, they lived along the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra floodplains, in areas that are now within the borders of India, Pakistan, Bhutan, and Nepal. Since the 1960s, over 20 local populations of barasingha have become extinct, and they are now classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Scientists recognise three forms, or subspecies, of barasingha. Of these, the wetland barasingha (R. duvaucelii) is the most numerous; however, at least 11 populations of this subspecies have disappeared in the past four decades, leaving just six populations in India and two in Nepal.

The wetland barasingha inhabits the Terai, a fertile alluvial plain extend¬ing along the base of the Himalayas. Much of the Terai supports 15-foot-tall grasses and groves of floodplain trees, with shorter grasslands, savanna, and forests of sal, a commercially valuable hardwood, on slightly higher ground. The main areas of open grassland are known as phantas. Many of the phantas were settled and farmed in the past.

The Terai is a land of contrasts and changes. Daily deluges during monsoon alternate with a prolonged dry season. Fires during the dry season and floods during the monsoon clear away vegetation. At the beginning of the dry season, groups of wetland barasingha congregate in open grassland, where they spread out in a line, standing or resting with their heads up and ears cocked. This behavior allows them to detect approaching predators and to communicate with each other (and also makes it easier for field workers to census them).

In addition to the wetland barasingha, other rare species live in the Terai, including the Bengal tiger, Asian one-horned rhinoceros, Asian elephant, hispid hare, and Bengal florican (a critically endangered bustard). Some of these species need open grassland; others require dense cover or a mixture of vegetation types. Some need wet places; others must have dry ground. Some are high priorities for tourism. Some, like the Bengal tiger, eat barasingha.

The Terai is culturally diverse as well. Partly because they have some genetic resistance to malaria (though they are not completely untouched by this debilitating disease), the Tharu historically inhabited the lowlands that outsiders considered a mysterious, dangerous, and disease ridden jungle.

As people of the frontier, Tharus occupied a subordinate position in the Nepalese social hierarchy. Nevertheless, the Government of Nepal sprayed DDT to control the malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, that large numbers of hill people, or pahari, moved into the Terai and cleared the hardwood sal forests for cultivation. Conflicts over land ownership between the Tharus and the immigrants intensified.

The outcomes of these interactions were almost always unfavourable to the Tharus. Some colonists settled on unclaimed land, but others, taking advantage of Tharu illiteracy, coerced them into signing over their fields, or appropriated their land and registered it to a new ‘owner’. New landowners then loaned money back to those who had lost their land. The borrower could supposedly pay the loan back with farm labour, but usually the arrangement led instead to permanent debt-bondage. Although this practice was outlawed in 1992, it continued because many Tharus were unaware of their legal rights. The Tharu economy is based on farming and fishing, supplemented with wild grassland and forest products. Grasses are used for walls, ceilings, baskets, mats, fans, and beds.

Actually, there are many Tharu cultures, each with its own language and custom. Until recently (when Tharus began to work together to fight poverty, discrimination, and violence), members of these groups did not intermarry, understand each other, or consider themselves to belong to the same ethnic group. But in spite of this diversity, all Tharus share a history of living in the the Terai. It was economically important to Nepal’s rulers, because of the labour Tharus supplied (as farmers and as highly skilled elephant drivers) and the revenues they paid to the state.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, some immigrants moved to the Terai from densely populated areas across the Indian border. But it was not until the 1960s, when nial lamps come from one type of grass, rope is fashioned from another, and lamp stands for the Diwali Hindu festival come from the stems of yet another.

For centuries, Tharu villagers harvested grasses from the phantas at the end of the monsoon and set fire to the remaining stubble. After studying habitat use by barasinghas in Bardiya National Park during six field seasons, biologist John Henshaw concluded that cut¬ting and deliberate burning benefit the wetland barasingha “because tall, dense and rank dry grasses provide little food value and also inhibit movement, social aggregation, and predator avoidance”. Furthermore, if the grasses are not burned, lightning strikes trigger hotter, more destructive conflagrations.

The fates of Tharus and the wetland barasinghas are intertwined. Because of the steep terrain and thin soil in Nepal’s mountains, land for agriculture is in short supply. Much of the nation’s farmland is concentrated in the fertile, well-watered Terai. As a result, this 15-mile-wide sliver of land is far more significant than its limited area (17% of Nepal) would suggest.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, government policy toward the Terai had two contradictory objectives. One favoured exploitation; the other, protection. In order to raise revenue from farming and from timber exported to British India, the state encouraged deforestation and cultivation. In order to maintain a buffer of dense forests to discourage invaders from India, the state set aside substantial tracts. These often took the form of hunting reserves for the use of Nepalese rulers and their visitors.

A single hunting party could kill scores of tiger, leopard, rhino, wild buffalo, boar, deer, and other wildlife. Although deer were not the preferred quarry in these hunts, the number killed was not trivial. Dr Henry Ambrose Old-field, surgeon to the British residency in Nepal, described a shooting excursion in 1851 in what is now Chitwan National Park. The prime minister “proposed that he would shoot any male deer we should meet, while I was to take the females,” wrote Oldfield. Although he did not say what kind of deer they killed, the fact that the hunts took place in “tall grass which in the rain grows luxuriantly and to a great height,” suggests that many were barasinghas. Conventional wisdom has it that the hunting reserves were a plus for conservation because they protected habitat. A popular guidebook on Nepal reaches the surprising conclusion that “despite the periodic massive slaughter of such hunts [emphasis added], the wildlife population remained relatively stable”. Contrary to this version of events, it is likely that royal hunting – along with the loss and fragmentation of critical habitats – did contribute to the depletion of big game in the Terai.

Until recently, most land in Nepal was the property of the kingdom’s rulers. Only they could grant or sell land. This system created a small, wealthy landowning elite and a large population of landless tenants. In 1957 Nepal’s forests were nationalised. Although this policy sought to curb deforestation, paradoxically it had the reverse effect. To avoid losing their lands to the government, many landlords cleared their forests and converted them to private farm lands.

In the early 1970s, the Government of Nepal set aside land for the protection of wildlife and their habitats and removed all people living in the designated areas. Today approximately one fifth of the nation is in national parks, wildlife reserves, hunting reserves, conservation areas, or buffer zones. Wetland barasinghas live in two reserves at the western end of Nepal’s Terai: Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve (which contains the world’s largest population of this sub-species) and Bardiya National Park. Several villages were initially relocated to create the park at Bardiya, and another 9,500 people, in 1,572 families, were evicted when the park was subsequently enlarged. Some left voluntarily, but 220 families were forcibly removed.

What happened to those people? As one would expect, their welfare deteriorated dramatically when they had to move. Conflicts between relocated villagers and park personnel intensified, and attacks by wildlife on people and crops increased as well. Other consequences were less obvious but no less devastating. The social organisation of the Tharus and the transmission of traditional knowledge and skills between generations were interrupted. A Tharu woman in a resettled village explained that “There is no unity. One house is Tharu, another is hill people, and another is another caste. . . Social work is very difficult. We are not getting help from each other.” “We are missing our traditions,” stated another Tharu; “There is no place to collect snails . . . The snail is very important food for us. There is not enough water here. It is a very hard life here. Even during the festivals we are compelled not to do some things because we are not able to collect resources for the festivals.”

In an attempt to mitigate some of these problems, the Government of Nepal is moving toward a more decentralised approach to managing resources. In 1994, the government and the United Nations Development Program initiated the Parks and Peoples’ Program (PPP), which designated buffer zones within which local people are allowed to harvest resources such as fodder, fuelwood, and grass. Clearly, villagers in buffer zones within the Terai are better off now that they have access to economically and culturally valuable resources within parks. When Arun Agrawal of the University of Michigan and Krishna Gupta of New Delhi’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry interviewed households participating in the PPP, however, they found that richer and higher caste households are more likely to participate in these programmes than poorer, low-status households, the very people who depend most heavily on resources from the buffers.

Conservationists and park managers want limits to grass-cutting to be set conservatively, to avoid triggering a decline in the barasingha population. Conversely, advocates for local user groups argue that overly cautious limits on the use of park resources have negative consequences for people outside the park and point out that barasinghas benefit from open habitats. Katrina Brown at the University of East Anglia calculates that local vil¬lagers are already feeling the pinch. The amount of thatch available under park regulations is not enough to keep up with the demand for thatch to replace existing roofs when they deteriorate.

Restrictions on the availability of thatch have encouraged some households to switch to clay tiles. These are expensive. Many villagers do not have extra income to spend on tiles, but they do have time to cut thatch. Furthermore, tile production also involves its own set of ecological problems, associated with extracting and firing clay. Since fuelwood is already scarce in Nepal, replacing thatch with tile may increase, rather than reduce, environmental costs.

Barasinghas and Tharus in the Terai are caught in a situation that is not of their own making. Both are vulnerable to ecosystem degradation. The wetland barasingha is vulnerable because of its specialised habitat requirements, limited geographic range, and the isolation of its sub-populations. Tharu vulnerability stems from poverty and social disadvantage. Beacause they are cash-poor and land-poor, the Tharus rely heavily on harvesting grass and other wild products, but because of their low status they have had little say in how protected lands could be used. Unlike the deer, however, Tharus are not passive players. They are affecting the direction of change by organising to improve their welfare and increase the power of their voices. In the 1980s, young Tharus began organising literacy classes and teaching villagers about their rights. One Tharu organiser, Dilli Bahadur Chaudhari, received the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1994 for his work toward empowering Tharus.

Part of the difficulty in developing policies that sustain both biological and cultural diversity stems from the fact that biologists and social scientists look through different lenses. Fortunately, this is starting to change. Many biologists now realise that people are part of ecosystems, and social scientists recognise the dependence of human societies on biological diversity.

The legal picture is evolving as well. In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, extending the concept of human rights to include economic, social, and cultural rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to participate in one’s com¬munity. Another half century passed before the UN formally articulated a right to be “protected against being arbitrarily displaced”. Finally, in 2007, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples explicitly applied this concept to native peoples, stating that “indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. . . without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned.” Although international law is not legally binding, these agreements reflect cur¬rent legal norms and carry considerable weight as a moral force.

As complex as this situation is, I’ve actually simplified it considerably by focusing on a single species and a single (albeit diverse) ethnic group. The picture becomes even more complicated when we include other species and ethnic groups, but the critical question remains the same: how can vulner¬able cultures and species be sustained?

The people living near protected areas in the Terai, as well as scientists, conservationists, development experts, tourists, and government officials, all value the Himalayan lowlands, but these groups value different aspects of that ecosystem and differ in their visions of how to manage it. The challenge is to meld these varied visions into fair and sustainable practices that conserve wild plants and animals, respect the rights of local users, and integrate the knowledge and insights of both villagers and outside experts.

Although the setting and the specifics are unique, similar scenarios are playing out throughout the developing world. Finding ways to meet the needs of vulnerable species and vulnerable cultures is a daunting task, but one that we cannot afford to shirk.

The author, Bertie J. Weddell, is a wildlife biologist. She can be contacted at

Courtesy: ECS

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tharus employ Maghi to promote their cause

The Tharu community on Saturday marked their biggest festival, Maghi. Falling on the first day of the Nepali month of Magh, the festival coincides with the New Year for the Terai community.

Unlike in the past, the festival has not been confined to mere enjoyment. It is also an occasion for advocating the rights of the backward ethnic community.

A two-day Maghi festival has begun at Tundikhel in Kathmandu. It features Tharu cuisines such as pigeon’s meat, rat pickle, crab pickle, fish, teel ko laddu (sesame seed ball), pork curry and a variety of bread like Bagiya, Dhikri and Jharra Roti. Typical Tharu dances like Sakhiya, Hridangwa, Ghumra, Jhumra, Maghauta, Jharra and Lathwa were performed on the occasion. The festival also saw traditional handicrafts and books of the community. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal graced the event.

“We started the festival in 2002 with a view to advocating the rights of our community,” said Premi Lal Chaudhary, coordinator of the festival organising committee. “Tharu people were suppressed by the state in the past and have been subjected to barbarous systems like Kamaiya (bonded labourer) and Kamalari (bonded female labourer).”

The Maghi day starts with the Tharu people taking a bath in nearest water sources. After the bath, they touch raw dal, rice and salt and take blessings from their elders. A special song called “Dhamar” is sung on the day. Khichri (flavoured stewed rice called “Khicharawa” in Tharu) is eaten the next day. The government announced Maghi as a national festival in 2007.

Maghi is also an occasion for the Tharu community to choose their community leaders, analyse the previous year’s activities, give gifts (Nisrau) to daughters, commence the new fiscal year and discuss family issues. The occasion is celebrated also as the day of liberation as it was the only time for the Kamaiyas to take a break from their regular chores before they were legally emancipated on July 17, 2000.

“On this occasion, we demand that the government fulfill its promise of liberating and rehabilitating Kamaiyas and give priority to the education, employment and political development of the Tharus,” said Shailendra Kumar Chaudhary, member of the Tharu Students’ Society.


Tharu community celebrates Maghi

KATHMANDU, Jan 15: Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal on Friday said the government is committed to protect the rights of the indigenous Tharu community.

Inaugurating a Tharu Maghi Festival 2066 organised by different Tharu organisations under the coordination of the Kathmandu valley committee of the Tharu Welfare Council on the occasion of the Maghi festival, the prime minister said the existing hurdles to the rights of the Tharu community should be ended.

Saying that the Tharu community is rich in its traditional culture and rituals, the prime minister said the Tharus are considered the sons of the land because of their relation with the soil since ages.

He said the traditions and cultures of the country have not been developed as per expectations as the country is underdeveloped. He said the government is committed to protect and promote the culture of different ethnic groups. He said the government is planning to establish an ethnic museum in Champadevi in Kathmandu and a separate Tharu museum in Nawalparasi.

Despite declaring the end to Kamaiya system by the government, the PM admitted that there is still a long way to go for the proper management of the freed Kamaiyas.

Central general secretary of the council Raj Kumar Lekhi said the Tharu community is still facing the risk of losing its language, culture and independent identity even after the restoration of democracy. Saying that there are conspiracies in the CA to politically enslave the Tharus, Lekhi warned that any betrayal to the Tharu community will lead to a strong movement under the leadership of the council.

CA members and leaders of different parties lamented the lack of progress in the uplift of the situation of the Tharus.

Tharus are settled in 23 districts across the Terai and inner-Terai from east to west of Nepal. The government started giving public holiday to Tharu employees on Maghi from 2058 BS. From 2064 BS, the government recognised Maghi as a national festival and started giving public holiday for all employees in all government offices.

Courtesy: Republica/RSS

Read how Tharus celebrate Maghi by clicking the link

photo credit: ILO in Asia and the Pacific via photopin cc

PM stresses representation of Tharus in state organs

Kathmandu, Jan. 15 - Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal Friday called for the representation of Tharus in all organs of the state.

Inaugurating a Tharu Maghi Festival 2066 organised by Tharu Welfare Council (TWC), Premier Nepal said that the government was committed to protect the rights of the indigenous community.

He admitted that many of ex-Kamaiyas were still living a miserable life as it failed for proper arrangement of them owing to various factors.

The PM asked the ex-kamaiyas for the optimal utilisation of the land the government provided to them. "They should try to be self-dependent."

He said that there should not be condition in which other communities took advantage in the name of reservation system and Tharus were deprived of benefits from this.

"Tharu community is rich in its traditional culture and rituals. They are considered the sons of the land because of their integral relationship with the soil," Nepal said and added that they were honest, hardworking and tolerant.

The government is planning to set up ethnic museum in Champadevi that will display the costumes, cultures and traditions of 103 ethnic communities to promote their diversities, he said.

He informed that the efforts were underway to open a separate museum of Tharus in Nawalparasi district. "Such museums will help keeping the history of the country alive."

Stating that the country’s socio-economic character was still feudalistic, he said that the state was continuously working to bring about timely changes.

Council general secretary Raj Kumar Lekhi said that the Tharu community was still facing the risk of losing its language, culture and independent identity even after the restoration of loktantra.

Lekhi said that Constituent Assembly was conspiring to curtail the rights of the Tharus.

The council will be compelled to create a storm of big movement if the attempts are made to snatch our rights, he warned.

Spread in 23 districts, Tharus make up 5 to 7 per cent of total population of the country. The government recognised Maghi as public holiday to Tharus in 2058 BS and since 2064 BS the festival has been observed as a national holiday for all government employees.


Tharu community busy celebrating Maghi

By Gorkhapatra Correspondent, Dhangadhi

The Tharu community of western Nepal has been busy celebrating Maghi. The festival is celebrated in a grand manner from the last week of the month of Paush to 3 Magh every year.

The Tharus celebrate this festival with the belief that the season changes and summer begins. During the festival, Bhalmansa (judge giving justice), Guruwa (a person responsible for treating people) and Chiragi (guard) is selected. Bhalmansa is also called Mahato, Mahakama and Badghar. The name of Bhalmansa is named differently in different places. Since a new individual is selected for handing over the responsibility of the village, this tradition is called Khojini and Bojhini.

The Tharu of western Nepal residing in Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya and Dang districts celebrate Maghi as the New Year. Ganesh Chaudhari, a Tharu journalist, said that as the festival is celebrated as the New Year, plans for the entire year are made during Maghi. The responsibility of each member of the family is also assigned. Moreover, while carrying out responsibilities, if any member of the family makes a mistake, the case is discussed during this festival. But discussions on such mistakes cannot take place before the festival. Even if they are not satisfied with the performance of the individual, he/she has to carry out the duties for one year.

In the past, the decisions on keeping, releasing or sending Kamaiyas to others’ houses was also made during the Maghi. Though the custom of keeping Kamaiyas had been abolished by the government nine years ago, small children still are kept in many houses secretly as Kamlaris to carry out the chores, Pashupati Chaudhari, central president of the Freed-Kamaiyas Society, said.

According to FNC, a non-government organisation, about 5000 Kamalaris had been freed from five districts in the west. But about 4000 are yet to be freed. Moreover, about 2000 children of freed Kamaiyas of Kailali alone are Kamlaris. Most of the Kamlaris are found to be girls.

The Tharus have already purchased pigs, boars, ducks and hens to celebrate Maghi. They make liquor at home for this occasion.

The well-to-do families of the Tharu community kill pigs and boars at their homes. The ones with weak economic conditions celebrate this together by contributing jointly. Various traditional cultural shows are also held and presented in Maghi.

Bahadur Chaudhari of the Bani Freed Kamaiya Shelter in Kanchanpur informed that the freed Kamaiyas had also purchased pigs and boars to celebrate the festival in a communal manner. He said that though many families of the freed Kamaiyas had not received land they were taking loans to celebrate Maghi.


Read how Tharus celebrate Maghi by clicking the link

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tharus’ Maghi begins on Saturday

The Maghi Festival of the Tharus is due to be held in Kathmandu on Saturday, following the formal opening of the Nepal Tourism Year 2011.

According to the Tharu festival organising committee, the two-day festival will be organised in Khullamanch and Ratnapark. It will feature typical Tharu dances like Sakhiya, Hridangwa, Ghumra, Jhumra, Maghauta, Jharra and Lathwa. Tharu food items like rat pickle, crab pickle, fish, teel ko laddu (seasame seed ball), pork curry and a variety of breads will add colour to the biggest festival of the community.

“The festival is an opportunity to promote our songs, dances, food items, books, handicrafts and other aspects of culture,” said Premi Lal Chaudhary, coordinator of the organising committee. “The festival will also help promote the tourism year.”

Since 2002, the festival is being celebrated in Kathmandu. This year, it will be celebrated for two days unlike in the past when it used to be marked for one day.

Maghi marks the beginning of the New Year for the community and is celebrated throughout the Nepali month of Magh. The festival has other names like Magh, Maghi Sankranti and Maghi Daywani, varying from place to place.

“Maghi is also a liberation day for us as it was the only occasion for the Kamaiyas (bonded labour) of our community to take a break from their regular chores before they were legally freed on July 17, 2000,” said former Minister Gopal Dahit.

Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post

An eye for conservation

When I met Bhadai Tharu, everything seemed usual – his way of talking, his gait and his mannerism. He didn’t have the aura of celebrity around him. He was just like one of us. I had heard about his bravery and commitment towards conservation which took me to the Khata Corridor that falls in the Bardia district of western Nepal. The corridor connects the Bardia National Park in Nepal to Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in India.

When Bhadai took off his pair of goggles, I was not only sad to see his plight but was brought to tears when I heard his story.

Bhadai rose from a landless bonded labourer to become a conservation hero in true sense. Out of his commitment towards conservation, Bhadai helped establish the Gauri Mahila Community Forest User Group in 1998 and became its chairman in 2002.

It was a sad day in 2004 which tested his dedication and made him a self-made figure in conservation. He had been inside the Bardia National Park to collect grass for thatching. The national park permits the local communities to collect grass from the park once a year. It is called “kharkhadai” and most of the households take this as a chance to collect enough grass to thatch their huts for the year round. Bhadai did not have a slightest inkling that a maneater could be prowling around the tall and dense grass. All of sudden, the tiger pounced on him with full might. Hearing the loud roar of the cat, others nearby fled the scene and he was left on his own to fight the beast.

“I had no other way than to fight back the tiger”, recalls Bhadai. “I also returned punches and by god’s grace, it left me.”

The tiger left him after he struggled against the giant for few minutes. When the tiger left him, he was badly wounded and one of his eyes had gone. Hearing his howls and cries of pain, his friends returned and took him to the local health post. After preliminary treatment he was referred to a hospital in Kathmandu.

It took him a month to recover. However, as everybody thought, he didn’t have any grudges left against the tiger. Instead, he turned into a conservation enthusiast. Nowadays, he is the treasurer of Khata Community Forest Coordination Committee, and a respected figure in his village.

When it was time to part ways, he started singing a song of conservation. He has a melodious voice and the lyrics composed by him talked about the trees, environment, animals and the people who have grown greedy with time.

Bhadai was awarded the Abraham Conservation Award in 2004 in recognition to his contribution to conservation. With continued efforts from people like Bhadai, the Khata Corridor is functional and wildlife numbers are increasing in the area.