Candidates ask yarsa pickers to stay back for polls but few are interestedMany people are in a hurry to go to the uplands this harvesting season since they haven’t been able to make the journey in the last two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For Mani Krishna Bohora, a resident of Patarasi Rural Municipality in Jumla, it is time to go to the highlands to collect yarsagumba. He wants to head to the highlands as soon as possible but the candidates contesting the local elections have been insisting him not to, not before the local level polls take place on May 13.
“Collecting and selling yarsa is our main income source to manage food and other needs of the family but the candidates have been pressuring us to go to the highlands only after the elections and that has put us in a fix,” said Mani Krishna, adding that there is less yarsa to be found in the highlands after mid-May.
Mani Krishna said his nine-member family earns around Rs 100,000 to Rs 150,000 each year by collecting the precious fungus believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.
Around 200 people in Patarasi didn’t attend the 2017 local polls as they had gone to collect the medicinal fungus during the elections. To avoid a similar situation, the candidates have been trying hard to convince the voters to put off their trip to the highlands until the elections get over.
There are a total of 8,548 voters in Patarasi Rural Municipality.
“Despite our requests, many people have already left the settlements,” said Jana Mahatara, a local leader of CPN (Maoist Centre). “All the political parties and their candidates have appealed to them to return to the village by the previous day of the election.”
Mahatara added the party had to ask the villagers to exercise their franchise as even a single vote could make a difference in the election. “However, we cannot force the villagers to stay in the settlement as yarsa collection is related to their survival,” said Mahatara.
The locals feel that the leaders give them due importance only during the elections. The party leaders vying for the elections vow to work for the welfare of the village and villagers but soon forget them after their win, say the locals.
“The leaders always tell us that if we vote and their government comes to power then we will no longer have to go to the highlands to collect yarsa to make a living or to India for employment,” said Ram Krishna Bohara of Patarasi-2. “But we don’t believe them because our situation is always the same.”
Three people died during the gold rush in the highlands last year, according to locals. Ram Krishna himself had sustained serious injuries when he was hit by a boulder in the highlands two years ago. “Collecting yarsa in the highlands is more difficult and riskier than going to the Gulf countries or Kalapahad (India) for work,” said Ram Krishna.
Yarsagumba is found in various highlands of Patarasi, Tila, Tatopani and Guthichaur in Jumla district. People from almost all the local units in the district go to the highlands to collect yarsa. The villagers generally ascend to the highlands, locally called Patans, to harvest yarsa before the monsoon season, mainly between May and June.
Umesh Busha, a local of Sinja, said that his villagers are indifferent to the polls because leaders have failed them time and again.
“The local units have launched various programmes like ‘chief minister employment programme’ and ‘prime minister employment programme’ to create employment at the local level but only the people close to the leaders benefit from such programmes,” Busha said. “So the youths prefer to go to highlands to make a fortune than to participate in the voting process.”
Many people are in a hurry to go to the highlands this season since they haven’t been able to make the journey in the last two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many people have already reached the highlands, according to the Jumla District Forest Office. “Pickers may not return to the village to cast votes,” said Dinesh Jung Khadri, chief at the forest office. “Managing livelihood is more important for them than taking part in the election.”
Manang, a mountain district in Gandaki Province, also has a similar situation. Many people are now in the highlands to pick yarsagumba. The political parties and their candidates are trying their best to cajole them to return to the settlements and cast votes.
As many as 49 people of Pisang in Manang Ngisyang Municipality-1 reached Kopchung highlands to collect yarsa this season. Even the local conservation committee issued a decree to the yarsa pickers to return to their settlements by May 7 for the elections. “We are planning to return to the village as instructed,” Deep Tamang of Pisang told the Post over the phone. “And we will come here again soon after the election.”
Aash Gurung contributed reporting from Lamjung.