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Conflict displaced couple recounts hard life, poverty

Chandra Devi Rokaya is barely 12 years old but she has already experienced a life of terror.

By Shailendra Rokaya, BAJHANG: A family, displaced during the initial years of the armed conflict, has yet to return home due to their poor economic condition.
The then Royal Nepal Army forced Dalbir Damai and Bima Damai out of their home in Jelwang, Rolpa in 1994. The army men beat and tortured the couple, alleging them of sewing clothes for the then rebels, the Maoists.
Fearing for their lives, the Damai family fled to Nepalgunj where they lived for two years. They then migrated to Surkhet where they lived for one year. From there, they moved to Chainpur, Bajhang in 1997 where they are currently living as daily wage labourers.
Dalbir Damai, now 86, was found manually crushing rocks in the scorching May sun, on the banks of the Bahuligaad River. “I would give anything to die in my own village, but I don’t have enough money to return,” he said adding, “The money I earn is barely enough to feed my family; we are forced to go hungry on days when we can’t work.”
Damai fondly remembers his village and his small thatched hut. “I had a hut and had land where I farmed, but look at my condition now?” With streams of tears rolling down his cheeks and a choked up voice, Damai said, “My dream is to transfer my land to my son before I die. But I am worried that I might die before I ever get to see my birthplace again.”
The Damai couple left their home with their son and daughter. But their son died five years ago. “He wasn’t seriously ill but we couldn’t afford his treatment,” Dalbir broke down. Their daughter too eloped a few years ago leaving the elderly couple with only the young son that they had after they came to Bajhang.
It has been 25 years since the Damais were displaced. In that time, the conflict ended, the monarchy fell, Nepal became a federal democratic republic and yet, the couple’s plight has only increased. Bima Damai, 56, still does not have a citizenship. They are not recognised as conflict victims nor has any official come to visit them.
“Conflict may have brought us to Bajhang but poverty is what is keeping us here,” said Bima. “We don’t have money to pay the bus fare to Rolpa, we don’t have money to renovate our old house, and we don’t have money to buy utensils to cook our food in. How can we go home?”
“It would be of great help if someone could help us collect Rs. 80/90,000 to go back home,” said the couple, “Otherwise, we have lost all hope that we will ever be able to return.”

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