“When you have your own land, you reap all the benefits of your labour too, the result of my hard work is mine alone unlike when you slave away at someone else’s farm,” says Jaglal, who has managed to send a son to Romania for work, and bought another plot where he is finally building a home of his own.
In July 2000, the Nepal government abolished the kamaiya system and liberated some 32,500 bonded labourers from districts in the western plains including Dang, Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur.
Many of the former bonded labourers now have land in their own name thanks to state sponsored land distribution. With better access to education and healthcare, their lifestyle has also improved.
Ramkumari Chaudhari, 45, was also born into a bonded labourer family near Dhangadi. Her parents married her off when she was young to a man who was also forced into a life of indentured servitude.
Ramkumari with her husband Sanjay managed to sharecrop on land from the zamindar for vegetable farming. But when the landowner saw their success, he nullified the agreement and decided to farm himself.
“If you want to make something of yourself in this country and be independent, you need a land of your own,” says Ramkumari, and the couple has managed to buy a small plot for their farm with a government grant.
What started as a small business with two pigs has now expanded into a large swine farm spread in 0.2 hectares of land which earns them Rs40,000 a month. Ramkumari also runs a profitable vegetable farm on the side so the pigs get to eat the excess vegetables and the farm benefits from fertiliser from the sty.
“We just had a hut before, but now we have a nice house. We have also bought a tractor for our farm,” says Ramkumari. “We no longer face the kind of hardships and mistreatment we did when we were kamaiya, we work without a worry. And the best thing is that your hard work earns you money.”
Ramkumari and Sanjay can now afford to send their two sons to college, but the fact that many other neighbourhood children have not been able to continue their study worries her. They risk falling back to leading a life of indentured servitude, she points out.
Radha Chaudhari, 36, of Dhangadi municipality is also getting ready to build her own house. Her husband Navaraj was a bonded labour from birth in Rajapur of Bardia and came to this town after being freed.