What is to change?
By Kshitiz Adhiraj
And here it was a dream finally coming true, despite the Sita air flight from scorching Nepalgunj wasn™t the best of aviation Nepal had to offer, the stop across the mountains covered in the next 20 minutes was what I will be talking about as things from that moment on never stayed the same for me, I was in Jumla after all.
The next seven days I was spending there was to show me why after all they wanted change? Some interesting but shocking findings was soon to unfold.
A day long trek (mainly because I could not walk) took me to the narrow but long valley of Sija, hmmm Nepali Bhasa Ko Utpatti Thalo (The place Nepali language originated from), and at one point the strongest nation of Nepal. As I stood in front of the Kanaka Sundari temple and next to the ruins of the palace of King Soban Sahi, what laid in front of my eyes did not represent any aspects of this rich history. As the trip advanced further on, newer and exciting things popped up. The most exciting of them all was the one point from where I could walk no further towards my goal to reach Rara Lake, so I opted a stay at Okkharpata, one of the final villages I was to meet before reaching Rara. Anyway cause I wouldn™t make it, I am not gonna talk of it any further.
Okkharpata however was the best thing that happened to me in Jumla. A village of native khasan™s majority of the village were Chhetri™s with only a couple of houses owned by dalits. I was to meet a family of Chhetri tailor, the great grand son of the person who opposed working as slaves to the Sahi king and the common men at the blacksmiths corner sharing a pot of joint or catching up with Ganatantra guff. The bravery stories and the change maker guff apart, these were people who despite the extreme poverty and the disparity the government has thrown on their faces have learned to live it. There was never a sad face to be seen.
Not seeing sad people was a major challenge to me, as my stereotypical elite brain wanted to see sad faces when they are called poor, after spending the week with them conclusion to this state was that these people of Karnali have after the ekikaran of Nepal been time and again betrayed. They have been disrespected as people, neglected as citizens and hence pain improvised by the state.
Although there are not many good things to be talked about this evolution, there are a few aspects which seem to be playing a major role in keeping Karnali put despite the harsh socio economic conditions. The culture of not believing anyone is strong, and this was also something development workers deployed by both the government and the non government sectors had to share with me about Jumla. œJumli people do not trust anything we say, and the other thing these Bikashe (developed) people had to share with me was, œyahan bahira bata ayeka manchhe le jhutra luga dekhe tara tyesh bhitra lukeko dhan dekhenan. (visitors see tattered clothes but they do not see wealth hidden inside it)
Having said so, I remembered the headlines in Kantipur, which wrote about the crores of business that Yarchagumba has brought to Karnali. Walking down Okkharpata through the valley of Sija into Jumla again, I never saw a plot of land that was not cultivated, or a plot where yielding something, food most of all seemed to be a problem. Apart from the 4-5 months of snow that changes life in Jumla, this hilly district is home to some of the best quality paddy, beans, wheat, maize and millet along with buckwheat. But still we hear stories of people running hungry in Jumla, how true is that? Perhaps it is, may be those two other parts of Jumla has harsh living conditions but I believe it™s not about not having food, it about not having rice and it is this culture of only seeing rice as food which has deprived both the people and their mentalities of living a life where everything could have been better. The common food of a Jumli is rice and beans during the summer and Kodo or wheat with beans again during the winter. It is not that these lands which grow beans and wheat and maize and buckwheat are infertile when it comes to other food like may be vegetables. But it is the evolution once again, and the mainstream mentality that has time and again tried to establish them as poor hungry people with nothing to posess that has made a sharp impact on the people themselves.
A Jumli usually goes out to trade also across the borders of Nepal to India during winter to sell things that are collected from Jumla, or may be use their tremendous business skills to buy something somewhere and sell it off to people in high prices. It is believed that on a seasonal migration as this, an individual makes up to 30-50 thousand Nepalese rupees, which is in a course of something less than two months.
Are all these issues going to be solved simply by reaching Jumla with electricity and road? What exactly is it that we are looking at and what do we want from it? These are questions that popped up in my skull after my visit to Jumla.
Soon I am off to Singapore where I study something totally different from development and politics, but this thought keeps hitting me and more so after this trip, what are we doing to change what is happening? Why are things different the minute we step in Nepal?
Perhaps all we need to do is change the way we perceive.
All pictures by Kshitiz Adhiraj