Role reversal for resilient folks as they shrug off squatter tag

Ramhiti residents help their own cause

Kathmandu, October 4:

The squatters are represented as a population deprived of basic necessities in life. But, within

the Ramhiti locale of Kathmandu Metropolitan City-6 in Boudha, the idea is just a reversal.

About 125 households among the 1,065 people living in the squatter community in Ramhiti have found homes, founded a school, a community hall and a saving and credit group of their own. They have access to water facility, toilets and electricity, blacktopped main road and stone-paved inner roads along with other civic amenities.

Each of the community members is engaged in one or the other enterprise.

Bimala Lama, one of the members living in Ramhiti, is the president of Nepal Mahila Ekta Samaj. She runs an enterprise of thread weaving for carpet industry and she has sent her daughter to study abroad. Lama says despite the whole surrounding considered a squatter community and an until a few years back; hard work made the community a model.

Children from each of the households go to schools. Locals have started Nawa Jagrity Lower Secondary School in the community, where all children get English-medium education till Grade VIII. The school set up in the squatter community has also been serving the children from other communities as well.

Thakur Kakurel, principal of the school, said around 692 children are enrolled in the school, and 75 per cent are from outside the squatters community.

“In the beginning, people did not trust us, but later they got attracted because of the cheaper price and qualitative education we offered to their kids,”

he said. Various organisations have supported the school by providing it with computers, books and other goods.

Meanwhile, students are also generating income for their families by making liquid detergent and selling it to the parents in just Rs 30 per litre, he added.

Although deprived of tap water facility, two roar pumps, tested healthy for consumption, meet the water need of the locals. “Many homes have hand pumps and people use the SODIS technology to purify drinking water,” said Lakpa Lama, vice-president of the community development committee.

“Nothing lacks in the community save land ownership for the people who are settled here for more than three decades.”

Despite having everything but the land ownership certificates, they face difficulty in acquiring citizenship and it in turn creates problems in education of their children and getting professional jobs. The government has not paid any heed to our the community’s problems, says Lama.

A study report prepared by LUMANTI Support Group for Shelter has shown that 12,726 squatters’ population is living in 2,735 households in 40 different squatter areas of Kathmandu and with rapid urbanisation, the squatters and slums are growing fast.

Lajana Manandhar, director of Lumanti, said lots need to be done to manage the squatter population, as they are struggling for identity and land rights. She said the government should make some plans and policies to facilitate their living. “In urban areas, squatter settlements cannot be demolished, but they can be properly managed,” she added.

The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October as the World Habitat Day. This year, the day is being celebrated with the theme of ‘Harmonious Cities’.