Maghi through Kamalaris’ eyes
Maghe Sakranti, the first day of Magh, marks the onset of warmer days and renewing of one’s faith. Despite the winter chills, people bathe in rivers in the early morning and visit temples of Lord Vishnu.
In Deukhuri, Dang the impoverished Tharu community (Chaudharis) observes the day as Maghi — a day to seal the agreement of employment of Kamaiyas and Kamalaris. When a Tharu daughter turns five, parents send them to work as Kamalaris (housemaid), who will serve her master till she is 14.
“Cunning landowners rendered the Tharus homeless during the land survey of sixties,” said Krishna Kumar Chaudhari, a social motivator.
The Kamlari contract renewal day was fixed on Magh first. “The agreement is usually verbal between a Kamalari’s parents and employer. One has to wait till next Maghi if one wants to renew or terminate it,” said Chaudhari.
The serving Kamalaris pay a big price for the nominal pay they get. They have to wait for another Maghi to see their parents or make a plea for freedom. “No matter how they are treated, it is a deal for a year that cannot be violated,” said Chaudhari.
Karmu Chaudhari, now 14, worked as a Kamalari for one year. She was 10 then. She waited eagerly for Maghi so she could meet her parents and if possible secure freedom. But by the time it was Maghi, her parents were no more.
Karmu secured her freedom last Maghi when the Society Welfare Action Nepal (SWAN) rescued a number of Kamalaris. After a six-month training, Karmu now sews school uniform along with five other rescued Kamalaris in Sishriya. She earns about Rs 1,500 to support her sister (11) and brother (9).
Plan International launched the ‘Kamalari Abolition Project’ to support Kamalari children of Deukhuri valley for their rescue, rehabilitation and development through provision of educational and income-generating activities. Some 800 children have been admitted to schools, and a few have received skill trainings.
“I am told there is an organisation that looks after orphans,” said Karmu referring to Bal Mandir, “I want to become a teacher. I am not too old to go to school, am I?”
Other rescued Kamalaris who work with her are Lalita, Binita and Sita. For them, Maghi was never about merriment, just another bond renewal.
“We had accepted we were destined to be Kamalaris. Many still believe so, but we don’t any longer,” said Binita, who is happy with what she earns now.