It is the responsibility of the government to provide basic amenities to the underprivileged groups

The Badi community is one of the most disadvantaged and downtrodden groups in Nepali society.

Although caste-based discrimination was legally abolished in 1963 by amending the Muluki Ain, the discrimination still exists in the mid- and far-western region of the country, where a large number of Badi community members live without any basic amenities for their survival. The Badi, badhyabadak in Sanskrit, is basically a so-called 'untouchable' community, who make their living by making and playing musical instruments, fishing and woodcutting. The entertaining community does not have its own land to till and make ends meet. According to the last census of 2011, there are around 38,000 Badi people spread across various districts of Karnali Province and in Banke, Bardiya and Kailali districts of the plains.

Their plight first hogged the national spotlight before and after the first Constituent Assembly election, when a group of leading Badi women, assisted by some NGOs and rights activists, stripped themselves in front of Singha Durbar, to make their voices heard.

Then Peace and Reconstruction Minister and NC leader Ramchandra Paudel had signed an agreement with them, in which he, on behalf of the government, pledged to address their grievances.

Their basic demand for livelihood support from the government has remained unaddressed although it has been 14 years since the deal was signed. They are still languishing in the areas where they have been living since time immemorial. Various commissions have been formed to address the plight of the Badis and other oppressed communities, including the Haliyas, in the hilly districts. But their living condition has not changed for the better even though the country was declared a republic in 2008. The new constitution has guaranteed every citizen the right to shelter, food, health care and education, among others, as fundamental rights. So, it is the duty of the government to provide the basic amenities to the underprivileged groups.

After the federal government failed to address their plight for so many years, a total of 440 Badi families in Karnali Province have been staging a sit-in in front of the office of the Karnali Chief Minister, demanding land for housing and farming for the last 10 days. They are spending days and nights under the open sky in the chilly winter with no one coming to their rescue. The provincial government should address their plight in close coordination with the recently-formed high-powered Landless Squatters' Problem Resolution Commission, led by Devi Gyawali. The commission must especially focus on addressing the problems faced by the Badi women and girls, who have been sexually exploited by the so-called "upper caste" people. While the school-going girls can be offered scholarships or free education, their parents can be given further training to enhance their traditional skills in making drums, madals and sulpa, which can be sold in the local markets. Simply providing a piece of land for housing and farming is not enough. They need long-term support from the three tiers of government so that they can become self-employed in the future.

Preserve our heritage

Heritage sites must remain as such, and it is the duty of the Department of Archaeology (DOA) to see to it that their ethos and aura are not overwhelmed by modern elements. Kathmandu Durbar Square at Basantapur, with its ensemble of Malla period palaces, monuments and buildings, is a major tourist attraction, but its charm and appeal are being eroded by modern eateries and shops selling imported fancy goods, in violation of UNESCO World Heritage rules. The Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Museum is said to have rented out the space to operate such non-traditional shops in and around the heritage site to raise revenue – to the tune of Rs 30 million annually – to manage the expenses of the museum.

Therefore, there is a conflict of interest between the museum and the DOA and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City that want to evict the shopkeepers that do not sell traditional goods and handicrafts. With tourists unlikely to arrive in large numbers until the next year, opening a handicraft shop does not look like a good idea at the moment. So the two sides must arrive at a solution that is a win-win proposition for both. Also, the durbar square should be declared a pedestrian zone and made free of vehicular traffic.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 5, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.