CHITWAN, Sept 7: Chepang people, one of Nepal´s highly marginalized communities, have opposed the government´s efforts to relocate them to a developed area.
Instead, the Chepang people have demanded basic amenities like drinking water, electricity, schools and health facilities in their own villages.
“I was born here and I grew up here. I can´t live elsewhere,” says Ratna Bahadur Chepang, 70, a resident of Siddi VDC-7 of Chitwan district. “I don´t have skills to survive elsewhere. So, I don´t want to shift to any other place.”
Around 30,000 Chepang people have been living in different VDCs of Chitwan district. While their forefathers mainly survived on the roots and bulbs found in the forest area, today´s Chepang people, apart from farming, make a living working as manual laborers in nearby towns.
Most of the Chepang people do not possess land ownership certificates and their children rarely reach high schools. In Chitwan, only 25 Chepang students have passed out SLC examinations so far. Maternal and child mortality rates are also alarmingly high in the Chepang community.
In August, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai had spent a night in the Chepang-dominated VDC of Siddi. It is learnt that PM Bhattarai, after listening to the concerns of the Chepang people, had instructed government officials to relocate them to developed towns.
Following PM Bhattarai´s instruction, a committee has been formed to figure out the best options to uplift the Chepang community. The committee led by Rajendra Yadav, chief of the Central Regional Forest Directorate, includes Indra Prasad Sapkota, chief of District Forest Office of Chitwan, Prabhat Sapkota, under secretary at Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation and Jeeva Nath Sivakoti, under secretary at Ministry of Land Reforms and Management, as members. The committee members are now busy collecting suggestions from the Chepang people in Chitwan, Makwanpur and Dhading districts.
The committee has been asked to find out whether the living standards of the Chepang community can be improved by relocating them to developed areas. But the Chepang people have unanimously asked the committee members to allow them to live where they have been living now.
“Instead of relocating us, the government should give land rights to us,” says Dal Bahadur Praja, who runs a cooperative of Chepang people in Shaktikhor VDC of Chitwan district. “If we are given our rights, we can make a better living in our own village. If we are shifted to some other place, most of us will have no options but to start again searching for roots and bulbs in the forest.”