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land of the landless

3 weeks ago, i visited badarjhula, a remote village located in chitwan, to illustrate an article about the work of a local ngo (samari utthan sewa) in improving the lives of the villagers, most notably in the construction of a new, multi-storey school. the ride to the village was a long and arduous one – about 11 hours in a 4-wheel drive that had to traverse rough, rocky terrain and even small rivers.

the people of badarjhula were victims of floods and landslides in their place of origin before they decided to move to their current location, when they heard that land had been released by the government for agriculture. till today, they are merely squatters on the land and at the mercy of the government.

without land to their name, the villagers are continually trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, since they are unable to procure loans from banks for business and development purposes without any collateral.

children play cricket in front of the newly-constructed rastriya primary school, the only multi-storey, concrete structure in the entire village. the government is partly funding and supplying the school with teachers, and villagers are hopeful that this is a sign that they will soon be officially recognised as the legitimate owners of the land.

l-r: community leaders jagaran praja, also a pastor, and karna bahadur b.k. chat with farmer bhim bahadur gurung inside an empty classroom. schools such as this cater to pre-primary education, before students move on to schools like rastriya.

jagaran praja, other than catering to the spiritual life of the villagers, 90% of whom are christians, is also a member of the school board and part of a micro-loans and savings cooperative as well.

indu nepal, the writer of the badarjhula story, also the online editor at nepali times, listens intently as she gathers material for her story.

ganesh k.c., founder of the first school in the village. he used to teach in return for rice and eggs from families.

a villager washes up at a manual pump. groundwater provides a major portion of the village’s water needs. water tapped this way is unsafe for drinking and has to be boiled and/or filtered beforehand.

a local girl stands amidst wheat fields in the height of harvest season. when school is out, the children will usually assist their parents in the day-to-day chores.

hay brought in are stored as bales, as seen above, on an elevated wooden platform.

a stall selling women’s garments and accessories.

some village children lazing around on a particularly hot day.

hari chepang, who stays in a tiny hut because she cannot move her legs and she needs essential items to be near her. her husband, who had 13 wives, left her and some of her stepchildren are supporting her now.

dwellings and other structures in badarjhula are mostly constructed of wood, dried hay and whatever other materials available in the proximity. during the dry season, these structures are extremely susceptible to fire, a phenomenon which has become an annual affair. due to the poverty and the distance of the village to major towns and cities, development is slow.

fire rages on the hills bordering india. the entire area faces the risk of widespread destruction by fire. a day after we left, flames swept through badarjhula, leaving in its wake houses reduced to ashes. photos below courtesy of samari utthan sewa.

it’s tough to consider myself blessed and fortunate to have escaped the inferno when placed in the context of the villagers’ hardships, but i am thankful. i hope that having their story told will inspire others to help.

read indu nepal’s article on badarjhula here.

for more posts direct from nepal, click here.

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