Monday, June 13, 2011

NEPAL: Incomplete land distribution process causes serious food insecurity to the Gandharva Dalit community currently facing crop destruction and abuse by another community

May 12, 2011

12 May 2011
NEPAL: Incomplete land distribution process causes serious food insecurity to the Gandharva Dalit community currently facing crop destruction and abuse by another community

ISSUES: Right to adequate food; right to land; caste based-discrimination; child malnutrition; migration
Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned from field research that the Gandharva community is facing hunger and food insecurity. In 1993 Gandharva, a nomadic Dalit community was provided a piece of land from the Commission for Resolving Problem with Landless People (Sukumbasi Samasya Samadhan Aayog) without legal title. In October 2010, members of the neighboring Tharu community who own the land in the village came and destroyed the crops planted, threatening them to leave the land as they wanted to apply for the community forest. Despite the Gandharva persons calling the police for help, no assistance was received. The police came to the village two days later but did not make any intervention about the violence committed by the Tharu persons. The Gandharva neither cultivated crops last year nor planted crops this year fearing that the Tharu persons would come again to destroy the crop. Facing serious food insecurity, many male Gandharvas migrated to India whereas several women migrated to Middle East seeking food. The children are left behind, deprived of their education and adequate nutrition, often discriminated due to their caste and poor living conditions. A complaint was submitted to the local administration twice in December 2010 and April 2011, but no actual response has been received. 35 persons including Gandharva filed a Public Interest Litigation on the case in January 2011. 

CASE NARRATIVES (based in the interview with Gandharva community): AHRC-HAC-003-2011-01.jpg (photo 1 left: Gandharva community playing music)

Forty two-Gandharva families settled down in ward 5, Sarahawa village, Bardiya district in 1993 when the Commission for Resolving Problems with Landless People (Commission) under Ministry of Land Reform allotted land for them. As they are nomadic playing traditional musical instruments by nature, none of them had citizenship certificate at that time, which made it difficult for them to get a certificate for the land given to them. Only 19 families got land for house and cultivation out of which only five families have a certificate although they all were entitled to get the land certificate as landless. Irrespective of the land possession, all Gandharvas built the houses on the land given to the community.
AHRC-HAC-003-2011-02.jpg Later on when the families who have the certificate tried to pay the land tax to the administration authority, they found that the land was not legally registered in their name but categorized as forest land. Accordingly, they were denied to pay the tax. In addition, due to the restriction in the land redistribution, they cannot utilize the land as a credit for loan. It says that the land cannot be sold out or use as a credit within 25 years; the house on the land should be built within a year. (photo 2: Certificate issued by the Commission)

Some families who have less than 3 members were given about 0.34 acres (2 katta) and 0.85 acres (5 katta) for more than 5 members. Due to lack of irrigation and other agricultural facilities, the families merely manage to cultivate rice or other vegetables only during the rainy season and wheat in winter. However, the attempt of Tharu persons who own the land in the village to create the community forest on the land the Gandharvas and other landless communities live and cultivate causes serious food insecurity to them.

In October 2010, a group of Tharu persons living in Dhakhin Bakhadi hamlet located in wards 4 and 5 of the village came to Gandharva community and destroyed the paddies that they had already planted with agricultural tools. At that time, most of males had gone to India for migration work and mainly women and the children remained in the village. Tharu persons shouted "You cannot live here. Leave here." While Gandharva persons hided at home, Tharus' threat and destruction upon the paddies was carried out from 12 to 5pm.

Gandharva persons called the police of Maina Pokhari Banshghari police station to stop the violence committed by the Tharus but the police did not come on that day. Two days later, the police came to the community and said  "we will see you if the Tharu attacked you again." However, no action has been taken so far in this matter.

In December 2010, there was a village meeting in which about ten Gandharva women took part as many were still in India. They were told in the meeting that it was required to collect the signatures from all villagers for the national forest project. Gandharva women put their signatures and were also asked to sign on behalf of other Gandharvas who could not come for the meeting, which they did.

Later on, the forest department officials came to the Gandharva community to make a measurement on the land for the community forest. The officials did not inquiry anything about the land. At that time, the Gandharva community realized that the signatures collected in the meeting was not for the national forest but for the community forest, moreover the land the Gandharva community reside was supposedly targeted for the community forest.

The Gandharva could not harvest any crops in 2010 and even cannot plant any crops fearing that the Tharu persons might come again and threaten them. Without irrigation, they merely manage to cultivate rice during the rainy reason and Dal in winter, which is not sufficient at all to support the families.
AHRC-HAC-003-2011-03.jpg Only four households have water tap at home. After their crops were destroyed by the neighbour Tharus, the community cannot cultivate any crop on the land, and has to rely only on migration work and other casual work that they find. Consequently, children and women who are left behind in the village are more exposed to lack of food. In addition, they find it difficult to get health care, for which they do not have money to pay. (photo 3: land destroyed by Tharu persons who own the land)

It is clear that the Committee issued the land certificate without actual title which should be given by the revenue department after communicating with the Commission and measuring the land allotted to the Gandharva community. There has been no coordination between the authorities, which currently creates land conflict as well as food insecurity of the landless community such as Gandharva, in this case.

In January 2011, 35 persons including Gandharvas from the village filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) – case no. 067 WON 0617- proving that they have been living and cultivating the land since early 1990 and suggesting that the land they reside and cultivate should not be converted into the community forest. According to the plantiff's statement, 55.603 hectares land are applied for community forest in the village where 72 families currently reside.


Approximately 21,000 Gandharva persons live in Nepal. They are traditionally involved in music play and other artistic activities with a nomadic living pattern. As society changes and industrializes, they have been discouraged to move around and settled down with a piece of land for house allotted by the government in 1993. However, due to lack of coordination and unfinished land allocation between Land related authorities and the revenue department, those land given to the landless communities including Gandharva is often discovered that they are not given the land title.

On World Food Day, October 16, 2010, the Gandhrava Struggle Committee submitted the memorandum to the Chief District Administration Office (CDO) in Bardiya. The CDO responded verbally that the administration would look after the basic facilities such as school and health centre as well as the land issue raised in the memorandum. As the substantial action was not taken later, the Struggle Committee submitted another memorandum to urge the administration to take real step on behalf of their demands in April 2011.

Access to the land, a priority to ensure food security in Nepal

Access to land is the directly related to food insecurity and poverty in Nepal where more than 60% population are engaged in agriculture. Policies for land reform and management as under the Ministry of Land Reform and Management, three year interim Plan 2007/08-2009/10 in no . 3 included that land distribution with priority on landless and unmanaged dwellers, Indigenous and Madhesi and women. Despite, the policies for the landless have not been substantialised for many landless communities who are mainly Dalits. Instead, the villagers are encouraged to apply to the community forest which will be a public forest used by all communities living in the village. The land where the landless communities depend on are often targeted for community forest, which seriously causes displacement to the landless community, or Dalit in many cases.  

Food insecurity in Nepal has been creating serious human rights violation and women trafficking issues as well. It is reported that every day 60-70 Nepali women migrate to Gulf countries and till day over 240,000 women work in those countries. Those who work as a domestic worker confront serious human rights violation and low income shown in the above case and furthermore many of Nepali women before and after employment are trafficked as a prostitute by the brokers regardless of their will. It is found that a 17 year old woman in this case who migrated to Saudi Arabia has been missing.
Nepal is a state party of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the right to food is a fundamental right enshrined in the interim Constitution.  

Please join our petition and send letter to the government authorities calling for proper and immediate intervention in order to redress the most marginalized Gandharva community.

The AHRC will send a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Food.

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