Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Failure of Nepal's Maoists

When Nepal's government outlawed bonded labour in 2008 and promised to compensate victims, farmworker Hiralal Pariyar was elated to walk away from a life spent in virtual slavery. But the compensation never came, leaving a homeless and penniless Pariyar little choice but to return to his old landlord. "Nothing has changed in six years. From the day I was born until now, the landlord has owned my life," the 38-year-old told AFP. 

More than six years after it was outlawed, bonded labour remains rife in Nepal, where landless farmworkers known as "haliyas" (ploughmen) are born into slavery and passed on from one generation of landlords to the next. Many hoped for change when a newly-elected government led by former Maoist rebels freed them from bondage in September 2008, months after Nepal cast off a 240-year-old monarchy and became a republic. The Maoists had promised to end centuries of inequality and write a constitution that would transform a country where one out of four people survive on less than $1.25 a day. Successive administrations have pledged reparations for the haliyas, but no one has received any financial compensation and a long-promised programme of land ownership reform has yet to materialise. This has meant their lives have remained much as they were before being 'freed' - they are still reliant on landlords. Pariyar's calloused hands and chronic shoulder pain testify to a life spent pulling the plough. A sixth-generation bonded labourer, he started working when he was just 13, clocking 15-hour days in exchange for room and board.

"We are like the landlord's inherited property - my grandfather worked for them, then my father, now me," he said. In all those years, little has changed in his village, Thehe, home to segregated haliya settlements with no electricity or running water. Like Pariyar, most haliyas belong to the impoverished Dalit or "untouchable" Hindu community and are forbidden to work indoors, enter temples or even take water from taps used by upper-caste villagers and their animals.

As Pariyar dragged a plough across his landlord's hilly plot on a wintry morning, he said nothing would make him happier than to see the practice end. "But I can no longer imagine a day when I will be out of this prison," he said. "I don't even dream of it any more."

Although the ties connecting landlord and labourer are binding, they are rarely intimate. "They see us as untouchables, they don't interact with us, they only care if we come to work or not," said Nani Biswokarma, a 23-year-old haliya working in Baraunsi village in Nepal's remote north-west. The mother of two told AFP she worried "all the time" about her children's future. “We have no money, no house, no land, nothing - we can't afford to educate them," she said. "I want them to have better lives but I can't see how it will happen."

Parbat Sunar was one of a handful of haliya children able to attend school thanks to a bargain his family struck with their landlord. Even the classroom was not free from discrimination - he and other low-caste children were told to sit on the floor, not on school benches. "I felt very hurt and wondered why we were always on the floor. I used to feel tormented by it," said Sunar, who now heads a non-profit group fighting for haliya rights. "This country's laws were written solely for the benefit of the upper castes. All the land belonged to them, haliyas had no option, we had to agree to their terms to survive."

Laxman Kumar Hamal, a government official responsible for haliya resettlement, blamed a lack of money for the delay.  "I know it's taken years, we are trying to resettle them but we have budget constraints and cannot purchase land for all of them in one go," Hamal explained. "We hope to resettle more haliyas in the months to come," Hamal said. Although the 2006 peace deal between the Maoists and the state underscored the need for a "scientific land reform programme...ending the feudalistic system of landholding", no political party has asked landlords to hand over land to haliyas. Sunar says just 80 of the 19,000 haliya families identified by the government had received land.  "We had high expectations from lawmakers after their claims of building a new Nepal, but they have done nothing," he said.


Anonymous said...

I'm from Nepal and I found this post of the Socialist Party Of Britain very offensive. We try to assure our people all fundamental rights they deserve, but unfortunately, we have been facing an intense economic war since we're in power. Resources outflow and artificial scarcity are created to destabilize the government, impede social investment and generate the impression of chaos and misery. Without money, we cannot fund social programs to dig people out of poverty, even if this is our major priority. Economic actors are boycotting production, distribution and exchange processes, and consequently, our economy is not able to grow or expand considerably, which leaves the government in a fragile position, although we are trying our best to punish those responsible for boycott.
I think the SPB is a colorful, bright, important, virtuous and vigorous institution, worthy of substantial respect and due to such vast qualities we invite you to visit our country to investigate our political and economic situation closer. Establishing socialism isn't easy. Many antagonistic forces will attempt to push the flow against you to make you give up, but our duty is to confront such forces democratically and preserve and safeguard the public interests.
I hope my comment can offer a new perspective on Nepal's issues. We, in the left, have the obligation to exchange interpretations of global phenomenon, so we can work out the best options from which will emerge a vector that will lead us a certain way.
Best regards.

ajohnstone said...

Our obligation as socialists is always to be forthright even if the truth hurts.

Many people in Nepal maybe sincere but as in so many cases in history, change is not merely determinant upon will alone. As you point out there are material conditions that would retard any establishment of socialism but even with your caveats there are many major reasons why socialism was NEVER going to be seriously on the agenda. The best the Nepali citizens could ever expect was various palliative measures and welfare reforms but these should never be considered as socialist policies.

There are so many social problems that even with the best will in the world no Nepal government of any political slant can fix. For instance, 3 million Nepalese children aged between 5 and 17 (up to 40 per cent of the population) are used for child labour; 1.6 million engage in exploitative labour, and more than 600,000 work in hazardous environments.

As part of the global economy Nepal will inevitably suffer the ravages of globalisation. see this article

"It’s useless to expect the government to serve the interests of the poor." -

You suggest that "we invite you to visit our country to investigate our political and economic situation closer." This we will happily do but we ourselves suffer from lack of funds to investigate first-hand