Election not a priority for migrant workers from JumlaA majority of young men from Sinja are currently working in various Indian cities and are not coming home for next week’s elections.
A week has passed since Tirtharaj Neupane, a 23-year-old man from Jodu in Sinja Rural Municipality-6, left home for Uttarakhand in India. Neupane is one of the six youths who have reached Nepalgunj to cross over to India.
While the election fever grips the country, migrant workers from the mountain district of Jumla remain untouched by the frenzy.
“People like us can’t afford to get caught up in the election mania,” Neupane said. “We have families to take care of and if we don’t go to India now, we won’t have any money. The election doesn’t matter to me. Casting my vote will not bring food to my table.”
For decades, people from Sinja have been travelling to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in India to work as porters and labourers. These places are often referred to as Kalapahad by the locals of the mountain districts because before road connectivity, they had to traverse black rocky mountains to get there. Some locals even call this seasonal migration trend ‘Kalipari’ referring to the journey made across the Mahakali river.
“The bus park in the district headquarters Khalanga is now packed with travellers to Kalapahad,” Neuapne said. “People started booking bus tickets weeks in advance. I had to hustle for a seat.”
After years of suffering from the lack of effective policies for poverty alleviation and uplifting the quality of life, the people do not have high expectations from those in power anymore, Neupane added.
Kamal Budha, a 28-year-old man of Sinja-6, is equally resigned. “Every election, people vote and send representatives to Parliament so that they voice our concerns but each one of them has disappointed us,” Budha said. “We have not been able to break the cycle of poverty without effective help. I don’t care about the party candidates. Their win or loss is not going to change my life.”
What has disappointed Budha the most is the empty promises of political leaders who come to the villages canvassing for votes. “Every leader promises employment and income generation opportunities for the locals but they don’t even bother to come back to the villages once the election is over,” said Budha, who was on his way to India via Nepalgunj on Monday.
Poor crop yield as a result of post-monsoon rainfall this year left the local farmers high and dry, says Manoj Budha, who was also on his way to Uttarakhand on Monday.
“Due to the incessant rain during Dashain, paddy, potatoes, millet, beans and other crops were damaged. Our granaries are empty so if we stay back for the elections, we will miss our chance of going to India to earn money,” said Manoj.
Able-bodied men leaving the villages in droves has posed yet another problem for those left behind.
According to Balakrishna Neupane, a local school teacher from Sinja-2, villages have become empty of men leaving the women, elderly and children to survive the harsh winter months. “The responsibility of taking care of the household, family, fields and even public construction work has been left with the women. The men won’t return until the next Dashain so the responsibilities of the women have increased ten-fold,” said Balakrishna. “Women in the villages are busy so I doubt anyone will be out to cast their votes this time.”
A majority of young men from Sinja have gone to work in various Indian cities to find jobs at road construction sites, fruit orchards and loading docks.
Jumla constituency No. 1 (2) has 31,855 registered voters, including 15,033 women and 16,822 men.
Up to ten buses leave from the Sinja area alone every day while 20 buses leave from Khalanga for the Nepalgunj border point. Nearly 50 percent of the passengers go to India, said Anil Rawal, an employee of the Samyukt Bus Entrepreneurs Association in Tila Rural Municipality-8, Jumla. “Now that the festivities are over, men from the villages are leaving for India in droves. The election doesn’t matter to them,” said Rawal. “On Monday alone, three vehicles left for Nepalgunj with passengers going to India.”