Closer to the goal of eradicating bonded labor

Hukum Sarki dreams of seeing the Haliya, or bonded labor system, totally eradicated. Photo: LWF Nepal
Hukum Sarki dreams of seeing the Haliya, or bonded labor system, totally eradicated. Photo: LWF Nepal

LWF Nepal staff member dreams of the day all Haliya will be free

(LWI) - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Nepal staff member Hukum Sarki dreams of seeing the Haliya, or bonded labor system, totally eradicated.

Haliya is a system in which people are kept as agricultural laborers. They work in the fields of the person to whom they are bonded for little or no pay. Despite Haliya having been formally abolished in 2008, it is still practiced in some parts of far western Nepal.

Freed laborers are not much better off. Out of nearly 20,000 bonded laborers who were freed as part of the government’s decision, only 1,400 have been rehabilitated. Rehabilitation includes a support package of housing and land support, skill training, education and health care.

“My advocacy is focused on influencing government policy and programs to rehabilitate the remaining freed laborers,” Sarki says.

Sarki’s father served as a Haliya laborer for 24 years. “He was not able to pay back Rs 60 (56 US cents) which he had taken as a loan from local moneylender. Therefore, he was compelled to meet his fate as a tiller for the moneylender. This planted a seed of rebellion in my mind from early childhood.”

Ignored and scorned

At school, Sarki faced discrimination as a result of his father’s debt, particularly from teachers and guardians. This continued during his college years, as well. The feeling of being ignored and scorned by fellow students and community members due to his background instilled the determination to eradicate bonded labor and caste-based discrimination.

“Later on, during the initial days of my professional career, I along with likeminded fellows established an organization, Forum for Rural Dalit Nepal. After this, I became associated with different NGOs and INGOs. Whenever I joined an organization, it was my goal to work towards addressing the issues of the Dalit and Haliyas,” Sarki says.

His experience motivated him to join LWF Nepal. As a staff member, he has had ample opportunity to build on his initiative, working as a team member of two projects aimed at enhancing the dignity of freed laborers.

Bringing relief to freed laborers

He recalls a particularly unpleasant period bonded laborers in 2014. It was during the cold season and the sun had not shone for days, thick fog enveloped the northwest, and some hilly districts were covered in snow and heavy rain. People were cautioned to stay out of the cold and snowfall.

“The situation of the Haliya was more painful. Most did not have garments and shelter to avert the health hazards due to the cold.” Sarki worked much of that period to provide humanitarian support.

“Keeping the plight of the Haliyas in mind, LWF provided humanitarian support to 650 Haliya households in six districts, with ACT Alliance support,” he says.

Being a member of the LWF team, Sarki’s determination to free bonded laborers is becoming a reality.


Contribution from Umesh Pokharel and Chandan Shilpakar/LWF Nepal