Lack of citizenship pushes Musahars deep into povertyIn 40 households of Shobhapur, more than 50 individuals above the age of 16 do not have citizenship certificates.
Forty-eight-year-old Shankar Sadaya lives in Shobhapur, a Musahar settlement in Lahan Municipality-18, Siraha. Most people in the settlement, including his family of five, have been deprived of basic government services for the lack of citizenship certificate.
“All five members of my family are above 16 years of age but we haven’t been able to acquire citizenship certificates,” said Shankar. “Because of that, my children were deprived of education. None of my children has birth certificates so the local school denied them admission when they were of school-going age.”
There are 40 households in Shobhapur, and more than 50 people above the age of 16 do not have citizenship certificates.
The lack of citizenship has also affected the elderly population in the settlement since they haven’t been able to benefit from government schemes such as the elderly allowance.
Under the cash scheme, the government provides Rs4,000 per month to those above 68 years of age and the same amount to those above the age of 60 years from the Dailt community and to single women.
Somni Musahar, 63, has spent her entire life doing menial labour. When she turned 60, she had hoped her burden would lessen with the help of the government allowance. But since she doesn’t have a citizenship certificate, she has never once received the benefit.
“I heard that the government gives allowances to the elderly so they don’t have to be dependent on others. To access the fund, I need a citizenship certificate and I have tried getting one, but the government officials turn me away saying I don’t have the necessary documents to make my citizenship certificate,” said Somni. According to her, in the last three years, she has visited the ward office and the district administration office several times but hasn’t been able to acquire her citizenship certificate.
“I thought the government’s job was to solve the problems of the people, but our government is bent on making things more difficult for poor people like us,” she said. “Our children are uneducated, and we have to live on someone else’s land. I don’t understand why the government does not consider us citizens.”
The lack of a citizenship certificate has affected every member of the Musahar community living in various settlements in Siraha. From the elderly to children to the youth, every Musahar is living a hopeless reality, says 22-year-old Ajay Musahar, who lives in Shobhapur.
“I want to build a house and for that I need to own a piece of land. But since I don’t have a citizenship certificate, I haven’t been able to realise my dream of living in my own house,” said Ajay.
“The land where my family currently lives is not in our name so we can’t build a permanent structure like a house there,” he said. “The landowner will object and kick us out.”
Ajay has been working as a daily wage earner since he was a child and has saved some money. He wants to build a secure future for himself and his family with his hard-earned money, but his options are few and far between. “I want to go on foreign employment with the money I have saved up but that option is not open to me because I don’t have the required paperwork,” he said. “My hope of working my way out of generational poverty is waning. The government has done nothing for us and does not understand our problem.”
The Lahan Municipality says despite their intentions to provide the Musahar community with land plots they haven’t been able to do so since a majority of Musahars do not have citizenship certificates.
According to Ramesh Gautam, spokesperson of Lahan Municipality and chairman of ward No 6, the National Land Commission has approved their request to provide land to the landless squatters living in the municipality, and they have started taking applications from them. But the Musahars are not among the beneficiaries.
“There are several landless squatters from different communities living in different parts of the municipality. We are providing them with land plots so they can build houses,” said Gautam. “But in the case of the Musahar community, where most of them don’t have citizen certificates, we haven’t been able to find a solution. We can’t transfer land to their names without proof of their citizenship.”
According to the 2011 national census, the total population of the Musahar community in Nepal stood at 2,34,490 with 39,929 of them living in Siraha. The Musahar Association of Sihara says out of the total population of Musahars in Sihara, 95 percent are landless squatters.
Musahars mostly live on public lands such as the banks of rivers, ponds, and roadsides. Traditionally they do menial labour work in other people’s fields.
According to Ramswarup Sadaya Musahar, a leader of the Musahar community and a rights activist, most members of his community do not have citizenship certificates because of low awareness of government procedures and frequent migration.
Sukan Sadaya, a 70-year-old man lives in the Itatar settlement in Aurahi Rural Municipality-4. His settlement is spread on the banks of a pond. According to Sukun, his family has been living there for more than four generations.
There are 66 households in the Itatar settlement with a population of more than 700 people. Most have been living there for decades but none of them has land ownership certificates.
“Four generations ago, the settlement had enough space for all of us. But over time our population has increased and the available space is not enough to accommodate all of us,” said Sukan. “People are struggling to live in such congestion. We can’t even move elsewhere because we don’t have citizenship certificates to be able to buy property.”
In the Musahar settlement of Katti Tol in Bariyarpatti Rural Municipality-3, there are 50 households living on the shores of a pond.
“I started living in this place four generations ago, and till now I haven't got a land ownership certificate. The negligence of the government and other authorities has made the life of the Musahar people more difficult than before. Now in the modern age where education and assets are highly valued, our community has become more vulnerable and backward,” said Jogendra Sadaya, a 58-year-old man of Katti Tol.
A citizenship certificate is necessary for the identification of a person. One can be deprived of government’s services and benefits, education, employment, and land ownership certificates for lacking a citizenship certificate.
Sita Ram Sadaya, a 61-year-old man from Bhadaiya in Lahan Municipality-18, is a father of two sons and a daughter. All of his children are above the age of 16 and none of them has a citizen certificate.
“I tried several times to get citizenship certificates for myself and my children, but the officials sent me away,” said Sita Ram. “Most Musahars have stopped trying to acquire their citizenship certificates after being rejected by the administration office multiple times under various pretexts.”
Ram Swarup, the rights activist, says that a majority of Musahars are deprived of all essential services and benefits such as education, allowance, voting, and medical treatment in the absence of their citizenship certificates.
“The government is not unaware of the situation of the Musahar people, but they have done little to solve the problems,” he said. “We have started an initiative by talking to the local units of Siraha to help the Musahars to acquire citizenship, but we haven’t heard from them.”