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Nepal Social Life - Minorities
The Kamaiyas - Former bonded labourer
Former bonded labourers appeal for help from the government
Facts about Kamaiyas
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Nepal Social Life
The Kamaiyas- Former bonded labourer
Who are the Kamaiyas?

The term "Kamaiya" means bonded labourer. Literally being bonded to a landlord due to the inability to pay off a debt.

An estimated 93% of the Kamaiyas belong to the indigenous Tharu community of the south-west region of the Terai (lowlands).

Even today, Tharu people live in a mainly cash-less society. What land they may own is in constant use growing staple foodstuffs such as rice, mustard oil and lentils to meet the families needs. Few men have the time or ability to work outside the family home and what little cash they do have goes on other basic necessities such as kerosene for light, clothing and festival expenses. For larger purchases, such as a new buffalo to pull the cart, wedding expenses etc there is very often no other recourse but to borrow money.

Kamaiyas lived as feudal serfs with whole families live on a landlord's estate, providing labour in return for the very basic necessities of life - a roof over their head and the minimum of food. Often the debt due to the landlord was incurred one or more generation before and usually consists of a relatively small amount. With a system of interest and the non-access to cash - 96% of all Kamaiyas are illiterate and 98% are landless - the Kamaiyas face a continual circle of being bound to the landlord for life with their children being born into this modern day slavery.

Life was a constant struggle of labouring for an often harsh landlord and trying to supplement their basic needs. Many Kamaiyas know of no other way of life and despite the fact that the Kamaiya System Liberation (KPUS) was established in 1997, most were unprepared for the event that took place on 17 July 2000.

Land in Nepal is scarce. And, when it comes to fertile agricultural land, it is far scarcer. Scarcity breeds competition; and competition in turn opens up possibilities for deceit and the use of unfair means. These phenomenon pervade the history of land ownership in Nepal. Scarcity, competition and inequality characterize land distribution in the country today.

The Kamaiya system that was prevalent in the five districts of western Nepal-before being finally banned by the government on July 17, 2000-was one of the unpleasant by-products of Nepal's checkered history of land ownership. The Tharus are indigenous to the Terai. They were the natural owners of these vast tracts of fertile land.



Facts about Kamaiyas
16% of Kamaiyas are under 20 years of age
76% of Kamaiyas are under 40 years of age
Average Kamaiya family size is 6.3 members
73% of Kamaiyas do not have their own house
Kamaiyas yearly minimum expenses are Rs. 3,894 for wedding ceremonies, Rs. 415 for birth rituals, Rs. 1,851 for death rituals and for festival and clothing Rs. 5,365 (US$ 1= NRs. 75)
Kamaiya families face serious food deficits in order to feed the family yearly (an average of 433kg of rice is required per annum)
96% of all Kamaiyas are illiterate
Source: INSEC
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Hindu Religion
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