InElam: Small Victories Toward Transformative Journeys: Overcoming Challenges for Sustainable Development in the Musahar Community

In collaboration with Kshireshwornath Municipality, Helvetas Nepal has had dedicated initiatives focused on uplifting the Musahar community in the municipality. These efforts primarily target livelihood empowerment and income generation, aiming to mitigate longstanding socio-economic disparities and foster sustainable development. During this course of work, a significant hurdle was realized- that a crucial foundation for sustainable development was lacking among legitimate Nepali citizens – the absence of citizenship certificates. Helvetas Nepal primarily served as a facilitator in this scenario, aiming to bridge their humanitarian assistance during the Covid pandemic with long-term development goals.

Dec. 6, 2023, 8:54 a.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 17, No. 09, December.15,2023 (Mangishr,29. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

On the early morning of November 9, a significant gathering took place for a public meeting in the Pakariya-Karmahi Mushariya tole in Ward No. 3 of Kshireshwornath Municipality, Dhanusha district. The assembly consisted of over two hundred individuals, including men, women, and the elderly. Among them was Larubati Sada, a 60-year-old, mother of four, who considered this day to be a memorable turning point in her life.

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During the meeting, Ushiladevi shared the painful ordeal her family had experienced with the Chief District Officer (CDO), senior officials from the District Administration Office in Dhanusha, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Ward Chairperson of Kshireshwornath Municipality, and other municipal officials. This ordeal arose from the denial of a citizenship certificate due to an incorrect spelling of her father's name.

The three-hour public meeting began with a short street play that depicted the difficulties members of the Musahar community encounter when seeking citizenship certificates.

Both young and old individuals shared emotional accounts about their struggles to start businesses and receive financial aid from local, provincial, and federal governments due to a lack of proper documentation.

The meeting ended with the Chief District Officer (CDO) of Dhanusha district, the Mayor, Ward Chair, and officials from Kshireshwornath Municipality making commitments. This brought a sense of relief to those who had been waiting for years to obtain their citizenship certificates.

"It is unbelievable for me to have met all the high officials, including the CDO, in my small Dalit settlement and shared our problems," expressed Sada. She added, "I have traveled to Janakpurdham, the district headquarter, numerous times, sacrificing my daily work, to obtain a citizenship certificate. However, I never had the opportunity to share my problems. I was fortunate enough to have all the officials come to my doorstep to listen to me,” tears streaming down her face.

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"At the age of 60, I am ineligible to receive social benefits provided by wards. Not only was I born, raised, and married here, but my whole family is unable to obtain a citizenship certificate due to missing documentation," stated Sada. She realized the importance of document when the InElam project provided humanitarian assistance in the form of cash-based support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the open meeting organized by Manab Kalyan Samaj, a local partner of Helvetas Nepal's InElam Project in collaboration with Kshireshwornath Municipality and community based organizations, women shared their personal struggles. This marked the first meeting held in this Dalit settlement. As women shared their painful stories in their native Maithili language, officials made efforts to understand and address their concerns.

Ushiladevi Sada, 50, bravely shared her story of being unable to obtain her own citizenship certificate despite having certificates for her husband, father-in-law, and father, all because she lacked a marriage certificate.

After listening to the statements of the attendees' statements, CDO Chakra Pani Pandey, a dynamic administrator, assured that the DAO would address all concerns and provide citizenship certificates to genuine Nepali individuals.

"Every legitimate Nepali will receive a citizenship certificate. The DAO will work closely with the Municipality to review each case and issue certificates in accordance with the law and constitution. I express my gratitude to the organizers of this hearing," declared CDO Pandey of Dhanusha district.

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Chief District Officer Dhanusha Pandey

During this discussion, someone also shared a happy story. With this facilitative support, Shiva Sati Sada was one of the thirteen individuals from the community who were assisted in reaching out to officials and assembling their case and were able to secure her citizenship certificate. Then, Sada received basic financial literacy, and business management training, and a nominal start up support through she successfully established her own small grocery shop, thereby creating a new income stream for herself. Sada, a 40-year-old ward member and leader of a women's group, currently grows vegetables on the nearby Aurahi riverbank and operates a grocery store with support from the InElam Project. "I used to earn only Rs. 200,000 a year, which was not enough to even buy food. But now, in a short span of time my annual income has increased by an additional amount of around Rs. 60,000," Sada proudly stated.

Following the implementation of this program by the local government and Helvetas, all 65 households of Musahar community in the Karmahi tole of Kshireshwornath Municipality, Ward 3, are now engaged in income generating activities that differ from their previous ones.

"As daily wageworkers in agriculture, we never needed a citizenship certificate to receive payment. Despite living here for generations and exercising our right to vote, no one has ever requested our citizenship certificate," explained Lazbati Sada, a mother of three and a widow. However, out of the 65 Musahar households in Kshireshwornath Municipality, 17 have still not be able to obtain citizenship certificates, including Rebani Sada.

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Sukha Dev Yadav, the Mayor of Kshireshwornath Municipality, expressed heartfelt appreciation to Helvetas-Nepal and its local partner for leading initiatives to uplift the Musahar community. He assured that the municipality is dedicated to facilitating all necessary administrative arrangements to ensure that individuals in the Mushar Community receive their citizenship certificates, promptly stating, "No one will be left behind."

The Dalit community in the municipality received a much-needed boost from the reassurances and commitments made by the CDO and Mayor. This provided relief to those without land and citizenship certificates.

Kishore Shah, a Senior Advocate and former President of the Nepal Bar Association Janakpur who was also a part of this discussion in the community presented a paper that outlined the challenges faced by the Musahar community in obtaining citizenship certificates. He emphasized that the constitution and laws offer sufficient provisions to grant citizenship to this community, highlighting the critical need for coordination and collaboration between the District Administration Office (DAO) and Municipality to address the issue.

The Musahar community, that have been historically marginalized in the Madhesh Province, face challenges in accessing government services due to the lack of citizenship certificates. Many of these community members came to realize the importance of citizenship certificates during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. This realization came about when they encountered difficulties in obtaining the support from Helvetas Nepal's humanitarian assistance of Multipurpose Cash-based Assistance program.

“While conducting a comprehensive study to implement the program, we identified a significant number of individuals who lacked a citizenship certificate, which is a prerequisite for receiving project assistance such as cash and other forms of support," explained," Pramod Kumar Yadav, the Program Coordinator of Manab Kalyan Samaj. To address this critical issue, we engaged in consultations with legal experts, the mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairs, and DAO officials."

"To facilitate the process of obtaining citizenship certificates, we extended legal support to the Musahar community. Recognizing the importance of riverbank agriculture for their livelihoods, we collaborated with the municipality and ward office to secure access to the Aurahi riverbank for the local community," added Yadav.

Amar Kishore Singh who presides as the ward chair in Ward No. 3 said "After consulting with Pramod Yadav and the mayor, we have decided to arrange this interaction program with the CDO."

Despite the recent amendment to the Citizenship Act of 2009, the act has not yet addressed the issues faced by individuals without certification. The CDO office requires a land ownership certificate as a prerequisite for issuing citizenship certificates. Amar Kishore Singh, the ward chair of Ward No. 3 in Kshireshwornath Municipality further expressed, "I don’t understand how a landless Musahar can present a land ownership certificate".

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Hari Gurung, program manager InElam Project

Despite several attempts, over 17 individuals from Musahar community lack citizenship certificates in Karmahi Tole. Hari Gurung from Helvetas said, "We came to this community to provide enterprise development training, but we discovered that citizenship certificate issues were necessary to open bank accounts and register enterprises. Our partner, in collaboration with the municipality and DAO, has facilitated the acquisition of citizenship for individuals interested in joining our program.” According to Gurung, “the hearing signifies a promising beginning."

Similarly, Akriti Rana from Helvetas Nepal shared that the project, which typically focuses on supporting local small-scale entrepreneurs through localized business development services, opportunities for testing and launching new products and technologies, and facilitating valuable networking with suppliers, customers, lenders, and investors, found itself in a novel learning experience. This was uncharted territory for the project, which had not previously addressed such issues.

The Musahar community who have traditionally engaged in daily agricultural labor and cleaning jobs, has now diversified its income sources through activities such as riverbed farming, and small enterprises. This illustrates how a modest program can positively enhance the lives of impoverished Dalits and highlights the interconnectedness of humanitarian assistance during crises with long-term development.

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