Houses for Mushahar community in Nepal

By Yubaraj Ghimire, KATHMANDU: The Mushahar community in Nepal, a sub-community of Dalits in Nepal’s eastern Tarai region, is economically, socially and educationally marginalised, despite crores of Nepali rupees spent by the government and several NGOs over the years.

However, on Nepali New Year on April 14, 55 Mushahar families in Bardibas, at least 195 km from Kathmandu, were given houses in a special ceremony under an initiative by a couple — Sitaram Kattel and Kunjana Ghimire — popularly known as Dhurmus and Suntali in the TV Comedy serials. Marni Sada, 103, who spent all her life in a cattle-shed, was among those who were given the ‘ownership of the House’.
“This is the best way to heal the gap between the hills and the plains that the politicians have created. Dhurmus and Suntali, both from the hills, are more caring children of the plains as any other parts of the country,” said Haribansh Acharya, Nepal’s celebrated comedian and author.
Dhurmus and Suntali have been away from the capital for as many as 20 months — since four months after Nepal was hit by a severe earthquake on April 25, 2015, followed by many aftershocks, some quite powerful — to mobilise resources and aid the victims to build their own houses. They led the reconstruction campaign, working at times like coolies carrying bricks, stones and other materials, miles away, in Kavre and Sindhupal Chown, two of the worst hit 14 districts.
Last October, with support pouring in, the couple felt encouraged to expand their mission beyond the earthquake devastated areas. They completed the first 20 houses with in-built toilets along with playgrounds for children — their first project — last July in Danda village in Kavre, meant for economically poor ‘Pahari’ minority community. The duo set-up the Dhurmus-Suntali Foundation to carry on the long term mission, and then moved to another affected district — Sindupalochown — and handed over 65 houses, along with five public toilets, one community building and seven children’s parks,to the displaced families.
“We felt encouraged, and we moved towards arranging shelter for those who had lived under open sky whole generation. The Mushahar community was a natural choice,” says Dhurmus. Suntali is working on two documentaries for ceating awareness against dowry and child marriages, two social evils that are rampant in parts of the country.
“I have lived all along in a cattle-shed. I can only offer blessings from the bottom of my heart to Dhurmus and Suntali who have come to give us house like incarnation of God,” said Marni Sada.
Some residents of the village transported her to the newly-built community in a bicycle after Suntali helped her with a new set of clothes for the ceremony. The foundation said a total of Rs 5.4 crore was spent on the construction of the Mushahar community houses of which Rs 6.3 crore had been received from different individuals for the purpose.
Nepal has witnessed political chaos and uncertainty, and post earthquake reconstruction despite the pledge of support from the international community remains slow. What the Dhurmus-Suntali Foundation has performed has been hailed as something “that politicians should learn from”. Dhurmus says, “It is not a challenge or an act of rivalry to the government. We are only supporting the government.”

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