Monday, June 13, 2011

Suresh Gandharva

Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal

NEPAL: Call for appropriate process to issue the land title to the landless Gandharva community facing serious food insecurity

Dear Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal,

Name of affected community: 42 Gandharva families living in Sauraha Village wards no 5, Bardiya District
Name of alleged perpetrators: Tharu persons, who own the land and have attached the Gandharva community and other landless communities, living in Sauraha village wards no 4 and 5, Bardiya District
Name of the relevant authorities:
1. Ministry of Land Reform
2. District Landless Problem Solution Commission (Sukumbasi Samasya Samadhan Ayog)
3. District Forest Office
4. District Revenue Office
5. Chief District Administration Office
6. Maina Pokhari Banshghari police station
Date of incident: Since October 2010
Place of incident: Sauraha Village wards no 5, Bardiya District, Nepal

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding Gandharva community facing serious food insecurity since October 2010.

I am informed that In October 2010, Tharu persons who own the land living in Dhakhin Bakhadi hamlet located in wards 4 and 5 of the village came to Gandharva community living in ward 5 and destroyed their paddies that they had already planted by agricultural tools.

Most of males of Gandharva community migrated to India and mainly women, children and elderly were left in the village. Tharu persons' threat and destruction upon the paddies was carried out from 12 to 5pm.

I am surprised to hear that despite call for the help of the police on the same day, the police of Maina Pokhari Banshghari police station did not come and only two days later came to say that "we will see you if the Tharu attacked you again." However, no action was taken against the Tharu persons.

I am further informed that in December 2010, there was a village meeting on which about ten Gandharva women attended as many men 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 Gandharva persons 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 inquire anything about the land. The Gandharva persons 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 resides was supposedly targeted for the community forest. Thus the application for community forest was actually submitted with signatures collected in the meeting, which Gandharva persons were not rightly informed.

Consequently, the Gandharva community could not harvest any crops in 2010, which is one of the food sources and furthermore could not plant the crops this year as well fearing that they would be threatened and the crops would be destroyed again. Without any crop on their land, at present, Gandharva merely depend on the migration work and other casual work, resulting that women and children who are left behind in the village particularly are more exposed to food insecurity and malnutrition.

I am aware that the land conflict between Gandharva, landless nomadic Dalit and the Tharu persons who own the land, has been caused by lack of coordination and mal-functioning of the government authorities – Ministry of Land reform, Revenue Department and the Forest Department.

I have studied that in 1993 when Gandharva community was provided land for settling in the village with the land certificate issued by the Landless Peoples' Problem Solving Committee (Sukumbasi Samasya Samadhan Aayog). 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.

However, there was no land mapping process by the Revenue Department after issue of the certificate reflecting that the Commission under the Ministry of Land Reform has not properly communicated with the District Revenue Office to complete the land distribution process. Consequently, it allowed land conflict among Gandharva and other landless communities, landlord Tharu persons. The government authorities including the police did not pay actual attention to the Gandharva, who are the most marginalised, landless Dalit community.

I am aware that land conflict in the process of the community forest formation often happens due to lack of corporation between relevant government authorities. When the Forest Department proceed the application of community forest submitted by the villagers, it is required to clarify that the land targeted for community forest is not involved in any land conflict between the communities by discussing with all the communities, particularly Dalits community who usually face unjust issues on the land they reside, after receiving the application.

I am further informed that in January 2011, 35 landless 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 hectars land are applied for community forest in the village where 72 families currently reside.

As you must know, the land is the major resource to guarantee the right to food in rural area. Without land for food, all landless farmers suffer from lack of food and hunger. I am clearly aware that majority of the landless are Dalits in Nepal, who face serious food insecurity at present.

I am aware that Nepal has already ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which means the state is legally obliged to it. The right to food envisaged in the ICESCR is the fundamental rights, a priority right. I am also aware that the interim Constitution guarantee the right to food of people in Nepal.

I am informed that the Gandharva community confronting food insecurity also submitted their memorandum to the district administration in December 2010 and April 2011 respectively. On the other hand, Gandharva community is afraid of another threat and harassment in the future, which the law enforcement agency, the police as well as other government authorities should intervene properly to protect them without creating any further issue between the communities. Please be noted that Gandharva and other landless communities in the village have been facing serious food insecutiry due to land conflict and they need immediate relief.

I, therefore, urge you to make an immediate intervention into the case. On behalf of Gandharva community, I urge you to take immediate and proper steps like below,

1. Conduct thorough and impartial investigation regarding the land applied for community forest,
2. Guarantee the food security of Gandharva community and other landless communities by providing agricultural land with title as well as basic facilities such as irrigation to improve the produce at home,
3. If it is proved that the Gandharva and other landless communities have been living and cultivating the land,immediately provide land certificate for all Gandharva families and other landless who failed to get land certificate earlier,
4. In the case that all other villagers demanded the community forest on the land Gandharva reside, carry out the process all after providing sufficient land and compensation for all Gandharva families as alternative,
5. Provide basic facilities such as drinking water for every households and irrigation facility to ensure their food security,
6. Ensure that the Gandharva community should not be attacked again or be involved in any harassment and threat.

I look forward to prompt and positive response.

Yours sincerely,
Suresh Gandharva

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