CHITWAN, Oct 15: Madan Chepang, who lives in Siddi VDC of Chitwan district, had exchanged his corn with rice for Dashain festival last year. However, he has no corn to exchange for rice this year.
The weak monsoon has badly damaged a vast area of maize fields in Chitwan, leaving Chepang families high and dry before the festival.
Driven by a strong desire to feed his children rice and meat during the festival, the 50-year-old came to Shaktikhor bazaar in pursuit of some rice grains on credit. Finally, after approaching many traders, he got 50 kgs of rice on the condition that he will later return horse grams, which are yet to be harvested. "I will pay back as soon as I harvest horse grams," he said.
Suk Lal Chepang, a resident of Jinglang in Chitwan, also had to take loans to buy some rice grains for this year´s Dashain festival. "I had earned Rs 1,000, which I spent to buy clothes for my children," he said. "I had no other option but to take some loans for managing rice grains."
Nanda Maya Chepang, who accompanied her husband Suk Lal to Shaktikhor bazaar, said, "The drought damaged all our maize. Maybe, we will have to go looking for Gittha and Vyakur after Dashain." The Chepangs, one of Nepal´s highly marginalized communities, survive on Gittha and Vyakur (roots and bulbs) when they run out of corn-grains.
However, Nanda Maya is not certain if she will get enough Gittha and Vyakur in the jungle. "The drought not only damaged maize but also millet and buckwheat in our village," she said. "So, everybody will be searching for Gittha and Vyakur after the festival. I wonder how much Gittha and Vyakur I will get. We are many and the jungle is very small."
Some Chepang families have sold their goats to manage money for the festival. "The drought left all the Chepang families in debt," said Kamal Praja, a local Chepang community leader. "Many fear that they will end up working at the traders´ house by failing to pay back loans."
Around 30,000 Chepang people live in Siddi, Kaule, Dahakhani, Korak, Lothar and Makwanpur VDCs of Chitwan district.
The dry spell of monsoon has damaged crops in all these Chepang-dominated VDCs. "If we don´t give them rice, the Chepang people wait outside our shop all throughout the night," said Harka Bahadur Tamang, a rice seller. "And, we can´t help giving them rice out of compassion."