The homeless people in Biratnagar Metropolitan City are struggling to make their ends meet during the novel coronavirus lockdown. For the people in the Musahar settlement at Bakhari, Biratnagar-12, the lockdown has been tantamount to a famine. They survive on daily wages, which has stopped since March 24.
A few lucky ones are borrowing from friends and relatives to buy rations. But most of the others do not have anyone who would lend them money or rations.
Bedananda Rishidev, a resident of Bakhari, says his family is trying hard just to survive. “There is no food at home. I don’t know whom should I ask for help,” he says. He used to work as a mason and earned Rs 600 in daily wages. He and his wife have to look after three children. “I don’t have any saving. Nobody will even trust me with a loan.”
Such is also the story of Ashok Rishidev. “I used to work at a few places. But nobody will lend me any money. How am I supposed to look after my family?” He is the sole earner in the family of eight. “I asked for some rice at one place I worked. But they just ignored me,” he says.
Kamali Risidev, a single woman, tried getting help from the ward chairman and local leaders. “But they refused even to meet me. They gave masks to some people,” says Kamali. “I’ve heard we need to wash hands. But there is no soap. And no rice to eat. I fear I will die just like this.”
Another woman in the settlement, Rajkumari, complained that the police come and force them to stay indoors. “But how can I stay indoors? I am hungry,” she says. “We don't have a farm either. How do we feed our children?”
“Some leaders came and met the landowners. But they don’t come to this area,” she adds.
The Musahar people have never seen any elected representative visit their settlement. The last time they met party leaders was when they campaigned for elections. “Before elections, they had promised us they would solve the problems of the homeless and give us lalpurja [land-ownership certificates]. Forget that, they don’t even listen to us when we ask for food during the lockdown,” says Saraswati Rishidev. “Neither the winning nor the losing party leaders have come to our home after elections.”
The Musahars have been living on public land for four generations without land ownership certificates. They live under constant fear that authorities will come to remove them from the place.
“The one who promised us lalpurja has become a minister. But he has never set his foot in this area after elections,” says Bhagalu Rishidev. “They sat on our beds and listened to us before elections. But now we know they are big liars.” There are four Musahar settlements at Bakhari with 260 families. Drinking water pipes don’t go their houses. Nor do they have any toilet in the settlement.