Wednesday morning begins at just after 5am when I’m picked up by the CSRC jeep to travel with other staff to the far west of Nepal. This will be a field visit to undertake a mapping exercise in a number of villages where the population is still denied any land rights. I’ve already done a number of long journeys in Nepal, which I’ve described elsewhere in this blog. There’s nothing significantly different in the ‘process’, although the journey west takes us to the Terai, where there are two significant differences to the Kathmandu valley. The plains become much wider and flatter as the mountains disappear into the distance. At the same time the temperatures soar to between 400 and 450 C during the day time, with a night time humidity that makes sleeping ‘interesting’.
Some 14 hours later we still haven’t reached our final destination, so an overnight stop in Nepalgung is needed before another 5 am start; this time to avoid a local bandh which has been called. The intention is to set off early enough to have travelled through the district in question before any road blocks are in place. It turns out to be an incident free trip with the bandh seemingly cancelled, although the fact that we are traveling with a couple of documentary film makers working on a project for CSRC would probably have assisted in any case. Journalists are usually afforded relative ease of movement during bandhs, providing that they have the necessary documentation and yellow bib indicating that they are journalists…
The next day we arrive at Masurya around mid-morning to a scenario that is going to be commonplace over the next few days; farmers who live on, and work the land but have no rights of ownership. 24 families live here, the majority of whom (21) are Tharu, along with 2 Dalit families and 1 Chhetri family. There are around 150 people living in the village, and the land that they are living on is government owned, but none have certificates of ownership.
I later learn from a lawyer who is working with the community to secure their rights, that around 80% of Tharu people are farmers. In the western districts of Nepal, Tharu account for between 27% and 50% of the various district populations, yet virtually none have any security of tenure, whilst many of them exist in haliya, which is a form of bonded labour.
The process, which will become familiar over the next few days, is to meet with the villagers and engage in discussions with them which will elicit more information about their present situation and seek to find workable solutions for the villagers, which will be taken forward. The key is ownership and not imposition. The watchword is therefore ‘listen’ to what the villagers have to say. To the western eye/mind, this process can sometimes seem a little haphazard, as the meeting is inevitably not ‘linear’ in its construction. However, what clearly emerges is the voice of the people, as the process ensures that virtually all voices are heard- a feat in no small measure due to the skills of the CSRC staff and the local activists who join us for the meetings.
There is also the important observance of custom and tradition to observe. We are welcomed formally into the village and eat with some of the villagers, as Tharu custom dictates…and the importance of taking tea is also something which must not be underestimated. A far cry from what ‘listening to the community’ sometimes means in the west….
To be continued.