Balighare Practice Still Prevalent in Nepal 

July 15, 2021 By: INSEC

Age? Seventy-two. Wrinkled hands busy in the forge. He started this job at the young age of 10 and is still dependent on it for himself and his family. His age has not stopped him from doing this for the last six decades. Mahendra Bahadur BK, 72, has been working in the forge for 62 years. “I have been working with this since I was 10,” -he says-“I may even stop breathing when I stop using the forge.”

Operating the forge is Mahendra Bahadur BK’s family’s main occupation. His ancestors also raised their families from this profession. Even today, his profession is still running on the Balighare[1]tradition. There was a big movement to stop the workers from getting into trouble due to this practice. The stakeholders reached an agreement. However, BK is not aware of it and neither is he concerned about it. ‘Others left the Balighare practice but, this is my only medium to feed my family and will not leave it until I am alive. He says, “I am satisfied with Balighare practice.’ Mahendra Bahadur is still receiving five to 10 pathi of grain (21.805 kg to 43.61 kg) annually from one house. He says that his house runs on it. Mahendra Bahadur says that he has been in favour of the practice since he has embraced this profession. He says that he started operating the forge after his father could not work. He makes Khukuri, sickle, axe, spade, and fork. He says that even if he had the thought of going abroad while operating the forge, he could not leave the profession. He lost the desire to go abroad because he was not allowed to do the same job there. “I didn’t stop operating the forge since I couldn’t go abroad.” 

He says about 200 houses in wards 2, 3, 4 and 5 of Dhankuta municipality pays him grains based on the Balighare practice and his family members have to spend more than a month in raising grains from those households. He says sometimes it is difficult to reach some houses even in a year. The family, including three sons and a daughter, helped raise food grains five years ago, but now my daughter is married and my sons have gone abroad so I have been doing it on my own. “I didn’t buy a single grain to support my family when all my family members were with me,”-he said- “the custom of sewing clothes and making iron goods for the prosperous families is still prevalent. These families do not pay us.” Tailors are satisfied with the ‘tail of the goat’ and blacksmiths are satisfied with the ‘neck of the goat’ which they receive during Dashain, Tihar, Maghe Sankranti, Saune Sankranti, weddings, and bratbandha. 

Mahendra complained that the Dhankuta Municipality did not give him a machine to light fire in the forge while others got it. The Dhankuta municipality, on the other hand, is planning to open an industrial area in the village to make copper utensils and iron utensils. Mayor Chintan Tamang said that the municipality aims to provide houses and materials for the industry by keeping all the entrepreneurs in one place. “The concept of an industrial area has been developed to create a domestic weapons industry,”-he said- “We have managed the budget to provide as much support and materials as possible.” 

According to the Census of 2010, there are about 13 per cent Dalits in the Dhankuta district. Some have set up shops in the district headquarters and rural markets. However, most of them are working in the Balighare system. They know they have not been paid, but they cannot oppose the practice, nor has anyone spoken out in their favour. Sarita Baraili, a Dalit rights activist from Dhankuta, said that even those who have reached the House by endorsing the slogan of Dalits have not taken any initiative to pay Dalits according to their work. Kopila Shankar, Chairperson of Dalit Skill Development Centre, Dhankuta, says Dalits should be self-aware of their rights. “Balighare is a slavery practice against Dalits which has been going on for decades,” said Shankar. “The scientific work of Dalits has been completely devalued. “The wage they get is not worth their hardship.” 

[1] Balighare tradition: A practice where the labours get a certain amount of food grains annually from every household they work for. They are asked to perform casual and irregular jobs with little or no wages. In many cases, they have to work for ‘upper caste’ households and/or also send their children to work to repay their loans.

- Ishwar Thapa