Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas

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Fatal Legacy

Mostly, the problems of the present-day Khas of Chaudabisa reflects the exploitative traditions maintained to this day by the upper caste people of Jumla town, also known as Khalanga, and of the surroun­ding hills. Jumla town and Sinja retain the vestiges of the former exploitative feudal structure perhaps more than do most other hill regions of Nepal. This explains why the people here remain so poorwhereastheregion itself hasabundant economic potential.

The writer at field site.

Some members of the sixteenth century converts to high caste are still struggling to maintain and assert their caste and class status. This, by definition, means the mistreatment of the Chaudabisa population, "which is homogeneously Khas.

TheBahunsofJumlacontinuetocollect their dues of blankets, rugs, calves, goats, shanks of mutton, and cereal grains once a year from every household in Chaudabisa valley that hasadeath, a debilitating illness, a birth, or a marriage. They collect without having to provide any of the ritual services of a priest. Wedding, funeral,birth or illness, meanwhile, go on without the appearance of a priest. The Bahuns arrive in Chaudabisa at their convenience during fair weather. They visit their clients, collect the goods, and make them carry them to their homes in and around Jumla town.

Having lost this self-confidence and self-esteem over the course of centuries, the Chaudabisa Khas is will ing to submit to this kind of exploitation. Having sunk to the lowest rung of the economic, cultural, religious and social hierarchy, there is little self-respect left. To the Jumla people, these are the barbarious Khas, "khaspavai"—aterm that is still in use.

In Chaudabisa, it is common to hear the locals go on and on: "hami garib, hami dukhi, hamimurkha" (we are poor, we are hopeless, we are ignorant) .Partandparcelof accepting their lowly position, they continue to wear filthy rags, and maintain dirty habits. It is this syndrome of absolute apathy that the Institute hopes to attack.

The fatalistic philosophy is insidious because it destroys optimism and the ability to take the initiative. Fate is blamed for anything that they do not get, even though they may not have worked for it. The locals do not want to work beyond the absolute minimum required. With the pracitice of the government providing money for all kinds of development work, Chaudabisa's people have found it easy to sit back and show even less initiative.

Chaudabisa does not represent an isolated pocket of exploitation: its situation is multiplied many times over in otherKhasvalleysofthe Kama li region. Among this population, fatalism generates the view that one's entire life is a continuous present and is fated to be what it is. Instead, if the people could be persuaded to accept only the past as a n important ed ucator to provide gui dance for future, and treat the so-called present as the

flicker of the monfent that continuously moves along with the progression of our lives, we could probably have a healthy, future-oriented society led by optimistic political and cultural leaders. This, at any case, is the goal set by the Karnali Institute for itself in Chaudabisa.

At Cross Purposes

When the Institute landed in the midst of this caste- and class-ridden exploitative stru cture,it began work by trying to helpthe Chaudabisa Khas to learn to help themselves. The existing high school was expanded, health services were made regular, and training of locals began with carpentery and Stonework classes. Two micro-hydropower stations were installed in the valley.

The Institute is spearheading efforts to help local people to become optimistic and look into a possibly prosperous future. Besides helping raise the living standards and educational level, the Institute also hopes to cleanse them of the ways of child marriage, cow worship coupled with cow starvation (and no milk at all!), and ill-treatment of women including the selling of wives.

Perhaps inevitably, the Institute and whol will call the "Jumlalords" are working at cross purposes. The Institute is treated as a rival not only by these lords, but also some politicians who style themselves as progressive leftists. The Institute has had to face continuous attack from these forces, who feed contrived stories to population and do not miss an opportunity to put things in a bad light. Quite a few of the Chaudabisa locals were themselves initially suspicious of the Institute's motives, for they found it hard to comprehend why an outsider would want to help them without obvious benefit.

Those who do not wish the Chaudabisa Khas well can be categorised into three groups. Firstly, there are the political leaders whoareconcernedthattheymightlosetheir influence in the area. Politics providing the fastest route to in fluence; it remains the most appealing vocation for many. Because I was seen as a 'democrat', both the extreme left and extreme right decided that they would lose their vote bank if the Institute's work became popular.

Secondly, there are the economic leaders who feel that their base of economic exploitation will be pulled away by any

HIMAL May/June J995


activity aimed at developing self-awareness in Chaudabisa. Thirdly, are the priests whose role in Chaudabisa society would rapidly diminish if the people were to be educated. The priests, on the whole, work the most insidiously to undo the process of positive change.

Various strategems have been used to poison the minds of the Chaudabisa locals against the Institute, including the spreading of a rumour that the research work was only a cover for propagating Christianity. The canard is also doing the rounds that the Institute will exploit and hurt the population because it favours a specific political ideology. One political candidate during the general elections in November campaigned to throw the Institute and its founder out of the Valley (he lost). Jumla's inhabitants are know all over to be avid litigants, and two cases have been filed in the courts against the Institute. One of them has been won by the Institute and the other is still being heard.

Things will not remain static in Jumla district forever, however. The Karnali Institute, plus several other organisations are committed to widening the horizons the people of Chaudabisa. The economic lords who used to exploit the labour and the

valuable herbal resource of the region are watchinginten sely over aprocessing factory that has just been completed in Chaudabisa by the Agricultural Development Bank's Small Farmers Development Programme.

The two micro-hydropower units that have been set up will change lifestyles and expand horizons as children begin to read in theevening, as mothers begin to useelectric cookers, and as fathers get engaged in producing craft items at home.

Enrolment in the Chaudabisa schools has doubled over the last three years, and the number of girls attending classes is also up considerably. Plan International is supporting adult literacy classes at the high school during off hours. The Chaudabisa population is beginning to wake up to the possibilities that are open to them.

The overt and covert opposition of the Jumla lords notwithstanding, the Khas of Chaudabisa will have their day in the sun.

D.B.Bista, author of the longtime classic Hie Peop/e of Nepal and the best-selling Fatalism and

Development, spends his time between Chaudabisa and his home in Paten.
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