EDITORIAL: Left in the lurch

The SC has rightly observed that it is a matter of shame if human beings are exploited in the name of customs and practices

The Haliya system, a feudal system in which a well-to-do family had customary right to keep tenants and their entire family as slaves for life for the small amount of loans they took from their masters, was abolished on September 6, 2008. It has been one decade since the system widely prevalent in 12 districts of the mid- and far-western regions – Surkhet, Jajarkot, Kalikot, Humla, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Dadeldhura, Doti, Achham, Bajhang, Bajura and Darchula – was done away with. The government had also waived the loans borrowed by the freed Haliyas – mostly the Dalits – whose main jobs were to plough land of their masters, work in farmland and rear livestock for free. The system was also outlawed by the then Interim Constitution. Following the liberation of bonded labourers, also known as Kamaiya Pratha, in five Tarai districts of mid- and far-western region, in 2002, the Haliyas had also launched a social movement demanding liberation from the clutches of the traditional system after the success of the second Jana Andolan which also abolished monarchy, a symbol of feudalism. As per the government data, there are as many as 19,059 freed Haliya families living in those districts without any basic amenities.

In its full text prepared on Friday, the Supreme Court has issued a directive to the government asking it to start the rehabilitation process of the freed Haliyas within three months and complete it within three years. The directive is mandatory. A division bench of Justices Deepak Raj Joshee and Ananda Mohan Bhattarai issued the order in response to a writ petition filed by Dumre Kami, chairperson of Rastriya Mukta Haliya Mahasangh. The court has ordered the government to start the rehabilitation process, including issuing the identity cards, constructing quake-resistance houses, providing safe, arable land and employment opportunity and nutritious food till they are able to harvest their own crops. The court also told the government to make provisions for education and healthcare of their children and families. The court observed that “it is a matter of national shame if human beings are exploited in the name of customs and practices and if they are forced to work as the Haliyas for generations”.

It may be noted that a joint-secretary-level panel formed by the then peace and reconstruction ministry had recommended their rehabilitation in appropriate locations with provisions of housing, education, healthcare facility and employment opportunity. The freed Haliyas had also demanded that they be provided with 10 katthas of land in Tarai or 10 ropanis of land in the hills and Rs 100,000 in cash to meet their basic needs. Right to housing, education, healthcare facility and employment, among others, are fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed by the new constitution. These rights hold even more significance for the weaker section of society, like the Haliyas, who have been neglected by the state for generations. The constitution has envisaged a “socialism-oriented society”. The goal of socialism will not be achieved if the most vulnerable group is left in the lurch. Delaying the rehabilitation of the freed Haliyas for long will mean the state’s denial of their basic rights.

Snakebite deaths

Monsoon now is at its peak; and with the rains come snakebites. As rainwater starts filling the pits where the serpents stay, they slither out and find shelters in shrubs and bushes, and at times in people’s houses in search of a warm and cosy spot to curl up. That’s why snakebite cases go up during rainy season. Three minor girls have died of snakebites in Rautahat over the last seven days. While one girl died because she was taken to a local shaman “for treatment”, another died while being rushed to the hospital. One was found dead by her parents.

Going by the cases, it seems lack of awareness and timely treatment is resulting in deaths. There is a general tendency among locals in rural areas of taking people to shamans instead of health facilities. Since there is a sharp rise in snakebite cases during monsoon, the authorities need to raise awareness about measures to prevent snakebites as well as about what people should do if people are bitten by snakes. Similarly, authorities also need to maintain a constant supply of anti-snake venom, as an antidote on time can save lives.