Sunday, September 12, 2004

Chamars gird loins to win basic rights

Kathmandu, September 12:

In an era when every Tom, Dick and Harry is shouting himself hoarse demanding equal rights for all, this community of Dalits, numbering around 350,000, still does not possess citizenship certificates. Baldev Ram, a leading member of the Chamar community of Siraha and Saptari, told journalists here today that they have vowed to wage a war and win some basic rights denied to his community for so long. Their demands include issuance of citizenship certificates to Chamars and that ownership of land they are tilling be transferred to their names, and reservation. But they have not been able to say what exactly they want under ‘reservation’. They insist that they be given 25 per cent reservation for 100 years in every walk of life including foreign employment, constitutional bodies, judiciary, legislature and education, among others.

According to Nepali law, citizenship is needed for a person to acquire and possess land.

Baldev Ram, who is the chairman of the action committee of Chamars, said that no one from his community possesses even an inch of land as they do not have citizenship certificates. Hence, they have also demanded that they be allotted one bigha of land. “We are not birds or monkeys. We cannot live in nests on trees. We, too, need to own land so as to build our homes,” he said. Laments are unending. Vice-president Guthi Ram said: “The authorities allege we must have come from across the border in India if we apply for citizenships.” They have also demanded that the state declare untouchability a crime tantamount to homicide. Members of the Chamar community have from time immemorial been involved in the removal of animal carcasses. They complained that though they have been doing their job, the so-called upper castes say they have not. But this is nothing compared to Guthi Ram’s narration of a harrowing tale of arrest, intimidation and torture at the hands of government authorities, alleging him of being a Maoist sympathiser. “They framed me and charged me with harbouring Maoists on the run,” he said. The Chamars will hold a 48-hour hunger strike in Rajbiraj, Saptari, from September 29-30, which will culminate in a mass rally on October 1.

Source: The Himalayan Times, September 12, 2004

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