By Sher Bahadur Sharki Bajura, Mar. 26: Gandharva families, the most vulnerable Dalit community of Bajura, have been living miserable lives in makeshift huts for generations. They have been traditionally nomadic, managing their livelihood by playing musical instruments and have now settled in Kolti, Rajali, Bhaunera, Kuldev Mandau and Barhabish in makeshift huts. Around 431 families have been living hand to mouth. Being Dalits and nomads, they are one of the most vulnerable communities, with no land for housing and cultivation.
Gandharvas hardly manage two meals a day. The community falls well below the poverty line. They have been depending on the food grains they collect by selling earthen hookahs. Up until very recently, they earned their living travelling from village to village around difficult terrain to bring news to the people before the advent of mass communication like radio, television and the internet, in the forms of songs.
The work of a Gandharva is to make songs, to sing stories of the lives of the people, to entertain, provide social commentary and give news. Since they have no land, Gandharvas are forced to live under tarpaulin huts in extreme weather conditions.
Since Panchayat era, they have been demanding that the local government make an arrangement of proper shelter, but in vain, said Chandra Badi, who has been temporarily residing in Budhinganga Municipality-7. “Earlier, villagers used to allow us to stay in their cowsheds. But that has changed now. So we have no choice but to live under tarpaulin huts even in the freezing cold and rainy season,” he said. Sapana Badi of Jugada, Badimalika Municipality said, “Our community has been facing the problem since the time of our ancestors. But no government has paid any attention to address it.” She shared that they had appealed to many leaders and people’s representatives to resolve the issue, but it had fallen on the deaf ears.
Despite many assurances and promises from the people’s representatives, no work has been done to uplift their living standard, leaving their socio-educational and political status unchanged. Hazari Badi, who is temporarily residing on the roadside at Bhamak Bazaar of Budhiganga Municipality-7, said that the local government had not been able to bring any change in the lives of Gandharvas.
“Years have passed. The country witnessed many political changes and changes in the government systems, but our situation remains the same,” said Hazari. During the 2017 local election, candidates of various political parties visited their settlements with a scheme to uplift their lives, but the promises made prior to the elections were never fulfilled.
“We were hopeful that once we get the local government, our demand will be addressed. The local government has been implementing various housing programmes. Similarly, urban development has also brought housing programmes for the poor, Dalits, single and backward communities.
But Gandharvas haven’t been able to benefit from such schemes,” said Joggiri Badi of Badimalika Municipality-1. “We used to make earthen sulpa, hookahs and sell them in different villages. That profession is also gradually disappearing after people stopped consuming tobacco and hookah due to health reasons. And we don’t have any other skill to survive,” said Sapana Badi. According to the 2021 census, there are a total of 1,878 Gandharvas in Bajura. Of them, 989 are women and 898 are men.
The social condition of the Gandharvas is also very poor. Since they are striving for basic needs, the people of this community lack access to education, politics, among others. Because they live a nomadic lifestyle, their children are deprived of higher education. Not a single person of the community in the district has received higher education.