Cooperative campaign empowers freed Kamalaris in western Tarai districtsForty-seven cooperatives have been established in Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur for the upliftment of the former Kamalaris’ economic status.
Former Kamalaris—indentured girl child labourers—have been running a number of cooperatives to help each other be financially independent. Many of them have initiated their own businesses thanks to the cooperatives that they own and manage.
Manjita Chaudhary, the founding chairperson of the Freed Kamalari Development Forum, said the lives of many Tharu women who had worked as Kamalaris in the past have significantly changed now with the help of the cooperatives.
“Most of the freed Kamalaris are involved in various economic activities and running their own businesses. There is no need for them to go to others asking for loans now. Their own cooperatives support them financially if they want to start businesses or learn income-generating activities,” said Manjita.
The freed Kamalaris started a cooperative campaign after the government declared free Kamaiyas in July 2000. Forty-seven cooperatives have been established in five western Tarai districts of Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur for the upliftment of the former Kamalaris’ economic status.
According to the forum, a total of 12,532 former Kamalaris are members of various cooperatives in the western Tarai districts. Lawajuni Saving and Loan Cooperative had been established first in Lamahi of Dang 12 years ago.
Many former Kamalaris, who had to work as domestic help to get two square meals a day and clothes, have started their own businesses by taking loans from the cooperatives. According to Manjita, most of the Tharu people used to take loans at high interest rates from local landlords and sent their daughters as Kamalari after failing to pay the money back.
Hundreds of former Kamalaris took loans from their cooperatives and started various businesses like goat and pig rearing, vegetable farming, fresh houses, grocery stores, hardware shops and tailoring shops, among others. Bishnu Chaudhary, the central treasurer of the forum, said that the cooperatives provided loans to the members at low interest rates and encouraged them to initiate businesses of their own. According to her, a total of around Rs 88 million have been collected in the cooperatives.
Nepal Youth Foundation, an organisation that has been working for the welfare of freed Kamalaris, provided an additional Rs 11.5 million as a revolving fund to the cooperatives.
“As many as 1,278 freed Kamalaris took Rs 92.6 million loans to initiate their own businesses,” said Bishnu. According to her, the cooperatives also provide counselling to aspirants wanting to start their own businesses.
Nirmala Chaudhary, the forum’s central secretary, said that a total 12,435 freed Kamalaris were present in Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts alone. But only 4,791 of them have the identity cards issued by the government authority, she added.
The umbrella organisation of the former Kamalaris have also underscored the need for education to uplift their life. The forum said a total of 166 freed Kamalaris with no families have been pursuing education in five different hostels. There are two such hostels in Dang and Kailai and one in Kanchanpur. According to Shanti Chaudhary, the forum’s central chairperson, 11 freed Kamalaris hold Master’s degrees, 171 others hold Bachelor’s degrees, 489 have passed secondary level and 97 lower secondary level.