Tej Raj Bhatta
Rajis and Kumals belong to Nepal's indigenous community. They are two different indigenous communities, but they are beset by the same problem. They are deprived of their traditional rights over local natural resources. As a result, their traditional occupations, life-style and culture face threats of extinction. They say their deprivation was a result of a flawed policy introduced by the government.
Rajis are categorized as Nepal's endangered ethnic community while Kumals are marginalized community. Rajis have traditionally detached themselves from contacts with the society. They prefer to live in or near the jungle eking out a living through honey hunting, collecting roots and bulbs, fishing and boating. Kumals are potters. They make clay pots and sell them in the nearby towns. What is common between these two indigenous communities is that both of them depend on rivers and jungles for livelihood.
The state stripped us of our rights over natural resources through its cunningly-crafted policies.
But they are now no longer capable of using local natural resources for livelihood. Nirmala Raji, Chair Person of Raji-Kumal Struggle Committee, says: "The state stripped us of our rights over natural resources through its cunningly-crafted policies."
She blames the state's policy about community forestry for further marginalization of Raji-Kumal people. Nepal's community forestry movement has won international acclaims for its contribution to preserving forest and lifting people out of poverty. But it has, at the same time, endangered traditional occupations of Raji-Kumal people by forcing them to explore other livelihood options.
"When we go to the jungle for honey-hunting, forest users groups charge us half the money we get from there," says Raji. "This is just an example; this is how our community has been forced out of the jungle."
When we go to the jungle for honey-hunting, forest users groups charge us half the money we get from there. This is just an example; this is how our community has been forced out of the jungle.
Bikram Kumal, Secretary of Kumal Sudhar Samaj, says: "We do not get raw material from the jungle to make clay pots." He says the growing popularity of plastic pots, which are easily available in the market, has also posed threats to Kumal's traditional occupation.
"Raji and Kumal youths are now migrating to India as seasonal migrant workers," he says. "They know it is no longer possible to make a living by sticking to their traditional occupation."
To help Raji-Kumal community preserve their traditional occupation, the government must restore their prior rights over natural resources. Gole Raji, who lives in Khailad-4 of Kailali district, says: "We need to be allowed to use rivers for our livelihood, as we have been doing all our life."
We need to be allowed to use rivers for our livelihood, as we have been doing all our life.
Netra Khanal, Secretary of Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN), Kailai, denies charges that endangered and marginalized communities are prevented from entering the jungle. "In fact we have policies to encourage them to benefit more from the forest," he says.
Khanal might be correct, but it is just half-truth. Forest users have definitely had policies to encourage poor people to use forest resources, but they do not recognize indigenous communities. They are oblivious of categorization of indigenous communities, too. And lack of education and awareness are also an obstacle. So it is high time the state empowered Raji and Kumal people by educating them, raising awareness among them and endowing them with prior rights over natural resources.