Practice of Nonviolence in Land Rights Movement in Nepal

Author: Bishwash Nepali

Land plays a crucial role in human life. The existence of human beings without land is beyond imagination. As a gift offered by nature, proper use of land is vital for cultural rituals performed during birth and after death. Humans have far long struggled for acquisition, mobilization, and conservation of these lands. Nevertheless, large plots of land owned by limited groups of people have spearheaded mass landlessness, leading to increase in inequalities.

Several conflicts and wars have taken place in the past for conquest of lands. For some people, ownership of land means success, happiness, wealth, and prosperity whereas for a large people, it is the only alternative for food, shelter, and clothes.

We often see that people with malicious intents try to confiscate, encroach, grabble, and manipulate others to obtain their lands and properties. Many times, people who are poor, powerless, and deprived of fundamental rights become the victims of such injustices and violence. These practices are still prevalent in many places in different forms.

However, there are also advocates of peace and prosperity around the world. They believe that a peaceful path can lead to success. Most importantly, that peaceful path needs to be followed by the social movements. If these movements are organized in violence that can result in loss of lives or physical disabilities, the participants may be able to acquire their rights in the end but may not be able to exercise them. What will be the value of those rights if the ones who fought for them do not exist to use them? Thus, peaceful demonstrations and protests tend to be more sustainable and harmless.

2 middle aged men protesting with placards.

It has been seven decades since land reform issues were raised in Nepal. These issues came forward after the establishment of democracy in 1990, when people achieved a favorable environment for freedom of speech and expressions. However, these issues persist.

Most of the political parties and their associations that were established restoration of democracy in 1990 prioritized land reform as the primary agendas. They incorporated these concerns in their official documents making land reform a popular agenda of almost all political parties. However, once in power, political parties fail to make any effort towards finding a permanent resolution for the issue. It has thus become a mere medium to collect electoral votes.

 Several movements have occurred in Nepal and the states’ policies and structures have frequently changed but miseries of people living in poverty, scarcity, injustices, and pain have remained the same.

In Nepal, organized land rights movements began in 2004 which aimed to free people from poverty, secure housing for everyone, and ensure cultivable land for farmers. Prior to this, few demonstrations on specific cases on the issue had occurred at district levels but they were not able to gain momentum at a national level.

old man marching with his ploughing tool in protest

Land rights movement in Nepal is a unionized effort by farmers and laborers that include landless tenants, squatters, unorganized settlers, Mohi and Guthi affected farmers Haruwa, Charuwa, Haliya and freed Kamaiyas who are facing land associated issues. Originally, the movement began 1994 from Sindhupalchowk and was initiated by Mohi farmers which has now expanded to 59 districts. Thousands of victims are now organized as a union which is active from local to national level and where all members are strongly involved in campaigning and defending land rights.

Land rights movement in Nepal has been an organized initiative based on notion of nonviolent action. Since it is a movement for rights acquisition, training, preparing leaders, conducting participatory environment analyses, developing the ability of the leaders, organizing, and mobilizing the necessary resources and collecting funds from members are various aspects of the campaign.

To get attention of representatives of the state and relevant entities and find solutions to issue based problems, the movement often urges the state to make and modify policies. During campaigns which include, sit-in protests, meetings, rallies, processions, interactions, training camps nonviolent methods are observed. Let us look at a few examples.

village people protesting

In 2009 leadership of the Land Rights Forum, an 11-day walk was conducted. This campaign took off on March 8th with the participation of women from three locations: Dang’s Tulsipur, Banke’s Kohalpur and Kanchanpur’s Bhimdattanagar. For 11 days, the movement was able to draw the attention of both the state and the people of the villages. It was a peaceful campaign involving 60,000 people. People would eat and find shelter along the way. They walked on foot carrying clothes to wear and cover themselves, bottles of water, and plates for food. The campaign delivered a noble message that women’s independence is unimaginable as long as they do not acquire full rights of the lands they work on.

In another case, in 2011 March a movement was initiated in Kathmandu by Land Rights Forum. The campaign focused on the capital city of Kathmandu where 1000 women farmers from 50 districts came for a joint sit-in protest. They carried bags full of water bottles, plates for food, bowl made from saal leaves, cotton shawls for covering themselves, a few clothing items to wear, and for gundruk (fermented green vegetables) and rice, corn, and beans for meals. They also brought some money collected and sent by villagers s along with some potatoes, beans, and lentils. The participants also brought agricultural tools with them and carried ploughs on their shoulders. During the campaign, 24 organizations raised NRs 21,130 from Kanchanpur district. Different organizations and members from all across the district had sent sent 278 kgs of rice, 156 kgs of potatoes, 300 kgs of pulses, 550 units of tapari (leaf bowls) which was collected and sent. The campaign lasted for nine days.

people protesting non violently for their land in nepal

The protesters of the sit ins participated in nightly reviews and fixed plans for the next day. In the mornings and evenings, the groups cooked meals, cleaned the protest areas, ate chickpeas, rice and pulses they had brought and slept in the tents in the protest areas. The message the movement aimed to convey was- “We want rights. We are in protest, but our struggle is nonviolent. The government needs to listen to our demands!”

Despite various struggles, the faith and commitment of the participants towards the union made such a t national level movement possible to be held in a peaceful and fearless environment. The then deputy prime minister, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, visited the open platform of the sit-in protest to address the plight of the participants. A few months later, through the budget speech of fiscal year 2010/11 a policy was declared to maintain a royalty of hundred rupees to conserve the joint land ownership of women. This was followed by implementation of the legalities for the joint land ownership of females and males in the lands distributed and registered by the state.

Similarly, in 2011 Birta and Guthi-stricken farmers surrounded the District Land Registration office in Rasuwa district. The farmers declared an indefinite protest saying they had not received inheritance of the very land they had been surviving on. They remained at the doors of the district office for six days. They would sit at the protest all day, cook communal dinner at the district development committee office and also sleep there. The protest was difficult for the farmers, but they did not carry out any violent activities. Different flags, banners, speeches, slogans, and songs surrounded the gates of the district office. During the campaign, farmers recounted and shared their plight of not being able to gain ownership of the land. During the six-day long sit-in protest, they conveyed a message that despite their pain and sufferings, they were there in favor of peace and non-violence. After hundreds of farmers gathered at the district office and disrupted their daily work, the government was forced to negotiate a nine-point agreement with the farmers.

group of nepali women showing their land certificates after a protest

Observing various campaigns for lands rights movement in Nepal one can note that Nepal’s economic system is not inclusive. It is not pro poverty or pro farmers but exploitative and oppressive in nature. The riches of a new is based on the exploitation of the masses. Therefore, land reform is an urgent concern that must be addressed by the state The issue of a rise in landlessness among the people and consolidation of cultivable agricultural lands in the hands of the rich must be discussed, debated, and addressed.

Nepali society remains exploitative and discriminatory. When a person exploits and oppresses another, violence persists. Violence is not just a matter of physical beating and destruction of property. Rather, it includes exploitation, oppression, and discrimination. The poor, the laborers, and the landless in Nepal continue to face injustice and exploitation. Until and unless these persists, prosperity of the Nepali nation is not achievable. A nonviolent social movement such as Nepal’s Land Rights campaigns is therefore an effort in that direction. The movement, nevertheless, requires continuous e support and cooperation of all concerned bodies so that it can be persistent in its aim of ending injustices and building a just Nepali society.

The graphics, views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

Bishwash Nepali has been actively engaged in Nepal’s land rights campaign since the past 15 years. Currently, he is serving as a ‘Campaign Officer’ at Community Self Reliance Centre. He holds Bachelor of Laws from Nepal Law Campus.

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