Promises to keep

The proclamation abolishing the Kamaiya system, a kind of bonded labour prevalent till a few years back in five districts of western Tarai, was an important step taken by the erstwhile Deuba government. But it was not enough. The Kamaiyas, suddenly losing their age-old bonds with their masters, had to fend for themselves. The government promised them relief and rehabilitation. It made some gestures. But the mission was not complete. So the ex-Kamaiyas had to struggle to make their ends meet. Since then, off again and on again, they have agitated for their rights, successive governments have made promises, but been unable to fulfil all of them.

After the latest round of Kamaiya agitation, the ministry of land reforms and management signed a nine-point deal with their representatives. The agreement seeks to address the demands “comprehensively”, stipulating that the process of the rehabilitation of the freed Kamaiyas will start “immediately”. Accordingly, for instance, each family is to be given five katthas of land, which should be a respite from an endless period of anticipation for the freed bonded labourers who have suffered decades of pain and humiliation. However, the success of the agreement will depend on the full implementation of the accord. Land is important for the ex-Kamaiyas who have tilled it for generations. But no less important for their families would be a focus on imparting training to them for skill development, so that they could expand their income-generating activities.