Also see Lowly Labour in the Lowlands.
|Mohan Bahadur Kunwar (left) and Ram Bahadur Kunwar, both from Bajhang district, guard the Raj Mahal Villas in Bangalore. Photo: Kanak Mani Dixit|
"Pahilay ijjat thiyo, ahilay chhaina (Before we had respect, now we do not)," says Mohan Bahadur Kunwar, from Bajhang District, who guards the Raj Mohan Villas housing development in Bangalore. He has been here for more than five years, and earns 2700 rupees a month, whereas his relation Ram Bahadur Kunwar, just arrived, earns a thousand a month.
Dandapani Sapkota is just next door to where the Kunwars work. He is from Foksing village in Gulmi District and has worked in the city for 17 years as a house-servant. He says he is tired, and would not recommend his kind of work to anybody. "I save about 12,000 to 15,000 rupees a year, but this is not good nokari (service). The starting salary is one thousand a month, without food. I earn 2200 rupees, but it should have been 4000 by now."
"Fully 99 percent of Nepalis in India are in menial jobs," says C P Mainali, senior Left politician in Nepal, who worked for three yearsorganising migrants in India. "Only one percent might be in technical or skilled fields, and less than 0.1 percent will have an independent income. There is not a paan shop in the name of a Nepali in India, and, less than one in a thousand is a clerk."
Says Sudarshan Karki, Delhi City Committee Secretary of the All India Nepali Unity Society, "The situation of the Nepalis is tenuous. Those with good jobs may earn 2000 rupees, but more are earning 200 rupees. They are on call 24 hours a day, the lucky ones may be for only 12."
Manager Pande, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, says, "It is fashionable to have Nepali chowkidaars, for the sense of security it provides. The ultimate status symbol is to have a little bungalow and a bahadur standing guard at the gate."
According to journalist Kuldip Nayar, "This tradition of treating Nepalis as synonymous with bahadur and kancha must be done away with. Nepalis are capable of more than merely working as guards and houseboys."
Shopkeeper Ganesh Das Agarwal of Benaras, proprietor of the Saree Karobar Kendra, admits that he does not have Nepali workers, and adds, "But if I get them I will keep them. A business, a Maruti car and a Nepali chowkidaar, that is what we all want."
"Wherever there is hardship, you will find Nepalis," says Krishnamaya Bohara, preparing her morning meal outside her one-room shanty in Nepali Camp in New Delhi’s Vasant Vihar locality. There are altogether 180 shanties (or jhuggies) in Nepali Camp.
Kumar Kancha is the son of Nepali migrants working in Calcutta. As a boy, he went to Bombay to try his luck in tinseltown. Before he rose to recognition as a playback singer for Hindi films, he survived as part of Bombay´s underclass, graduating from restaurant boy to street tough. The singer says lack of ambition is the greatest failing of the mostly illiterate migrants. "Dukhha la painchha ni (Of course one suffers), but you have to want to get out of your situation. We Nepalis tend to be satisfied with one little job, whereas the Gujaratis, Bengalis or Biharis are very entrepreneurial. Today, he might be a darban, but before long he is selling peanuts on the pavement, and the next thing you know he owns a fruit stall."
Kumar Kancha says he has deliberately maintained his surname as ´Kancha´ (meaning "little boy") in professional life. "I insist onKancha even though my friends have suggested I discard it because of the negative association it has in India. They say it will not help my career, but 1 will keep the name because I want to prove that the kancha not only washes dishes and stands guard, but he can also be a professional and compete. I want to change the very connotation of the word, which is so denigrating of Nepalis and speaks of our condition in India."