Nepal's slave girls | 101 East

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Slavery is banned in Nepal. But hidden behind the walls of city homes, some still keep young girls as slaves called kamlaris.

The girls are from the Tharu community, an indigenous group that was stripped of its land and forced into bonded labour after Nepal’s first social order was introduced 160 years ago. Tharus farm the land of their landlord and, in return, give back half of what they produce. Often, they trade away their daughters as well.

In June 2013, kamlaris from all over the country protested in a bid to bring an end to slavery once and for all. They want to be free from servitude and have their basic rights guaranteed. The demonstrations were triggered by the mysterious death of Srijana, a 12-year-old kamlari girl who burnt to death in her owner’s house. The police alleged it was suicide but the kamlaris were not convinced.

The police retaliated against the demonstrators with violence. Political organisations and rights groups were conspicuously absent from their demonstrations.

101 East travels to western Nepal, home of the Tharus, where Srijana’s mother, Draupati Chaudhary, is still in shock. Draupati had handed over her daughter in exchange for the right to till the land and the promise that Srijana would receive an education. Two years on, Srijana was dead.

In a nearby village, another kamlari, Sharda Chaudhary, talks about how she was abused. She slept in the bathroom and was raped by the landlord’s son. When she dared to complain, she was beaten up. Sharda worked for only three months. When she was sent back, her mother did not believe that she would survive.

While the government declared the practice illegal more than 10 years ago, many kamlaris continue to live lives of hardship and suffering. In the last five years, five kamlaris have died under mysterious circumstances while 27 are missing from the homes they worked in.

We speak to the official spokesperson of the ministry for women and children and ask what the government is doing regarding these grave abuses.

We also meet some who are working to change the fate of kamlari girls. Man Bahadur Chettri and his organisation, Indentured Daughter’s Programme, have rescued more than 12,000 kamlaris. For many of the girls, trauma and emotional baggage makes it hard for them to return home and reintegrate into society, so they end up at a hostel. Here, they receive education, food and shelter until they are able to support themselves.

Other former kamlaris have joined forces with NGOs to create awareness among parents who might otherwise send their daughters away. They also take on the more active role of rescuers, in a bid to end the kamlari system by freeing one girl at a time.

During our filming, we see young girls working behind the high walls of many city homes and ask one man why he continues to keep a kamlari. He tells us that he provides her with education, food and a good place to stay, treating her like his own daughter.

We follow a mother on her journey to free her daughter. In the process, we realise that there are many grey areas when it comes to kamlaris and that what is good for most, is not necessarily good for all.

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