Squatters pin their hopes on newly elected representatives

KATHMANDU, Dec 28: If it was just for her, anyone in the settlement could provide a little meal. But it is her middle-aged, mentally retarded son for whom the 80-year-old Maili Tamang has to go through hardships throughout the day. 

The dipping mercury level adds to her woes, still she cannot afford to take a break from what is does for living: begging. Being unable to work, this physically frail octogenarian squatter residing at the bank of the Bagmati River in Thapathali survives on the benevolence of the passersby and the groceries around Kupondole and Thapathali. In hopes of receiving support, she even changed her religion, but it seems the god has not shown mercy on her yet. “Because my son is mentally ill, my daughter-in-law eloped with someone else within a few years of their marriage,” Tamang said as she tried to light a fire from damp cardboards that she uses in place of firewood in her kitchen.

A former resident of Kavre, the elderly woman entered Kathmandu with her husband long time ago, but does not remember when. Although she is eligible for receiving the senior citizens´ allowance provided by the government, she is unaware of any such facility. Tamang speaks only few words with strangers and is familiar with very limited persons in the settlement. Three-year-old Rushima Rai has an equally pathetic life. With her childhood trapped in poverty and loneliness, Rushima strolls around the squatters´ settlement tearful and irritated by not being able to find her mother. 

David Rai, her elder brother has accepted the fact that their mother would never return.
“First the father and then our mother left us to marry someone else,” says the six years old boy who studies in the pre-primary school opened for the children in the settlement. Bimala Rai, their 62 years old grandmother, is rearing them all by herself. 
“Rushima is too young to live without mother. She usually remains ill since her mother left,” says Bimala, who laments at her helplessness in the face of abject poverty. Bimala works as a house cleaner. However, she has had to suffer misbehavior after people came to know her as a squatter. 

“People do not hesitate to force me to quit without paying me any wages when they come know that I am a squatter,” she added. She is most worried about the future of her two grandchildren. Some of the children from the settlement has been taken to Lalitpur-based mission schools while others study in the school in the settlement hat has no roof and no floorings. The school has got some support from a handful of non-government organizations, but government´s presence remains nil. 

Even 19 months after the demolition of their temporary settlements on the river bank, the government has not yet ascertained how many of them are genuine squatters and how many of them have been fakes. All the squatter families say that they challenge the authority to prove their invalidity. “We challenge the officials to spend a night in this place,” says forty years old Kamala Lama. “One who has better option can never live here.” 

The Department of Urban Development and Building Code (DUDBC) had made an announcement to apply for three months rent to prove them as the landless before demolition on May 9, 2012. The 58 families that had applied received Rs 15000 each as three months´ rent. However, they returned to the settlement within a few months.

Expectations from the new representative

Though the squatters were initially divided on the basis of their political ideologies, the continuous ignorance from the political parties has brought them together. “We will listen to everyone, but our decision will be one from now onwards,” says Suman Chaudhary, secretary of squatters´ struggle committee. 

They have already declared that they would shift to Ichangunarayan, where the government is constructing apartments for 233 families, citing unavailability of jobs and expensive traveling cost. The landless have been waiting for the formation of the new CA before which they wish to present their case. During their electoral publicity campaign, the Nepali Congress (NC) candidate of Kathmandu -1, Prakash Man Singh and UCPN (Maoist) candidate Renu Dahal had visited the settlement. Likewise, the CPN-UML, too, had asked them to submit a comprehensive report on their sufferings and demands.

However, the squatters have made up their mind to follow a legal process to solve their problem rather than coming under influence of any party. “As soon as the parliament is formed, we will go to meet our representatives,” said Chaudhary.

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