Unfazed by the rush to urbanize, things seem a normal routine in this border village. Yet this lowly village stands a perfect embodiment of intertwined social and economic woes that are typical of Nepal’s rustic south-eastern lowlands.
Suga Bhawani is one of over 68 VDCs of Mahottari district, Janakpur Zone. The VDC, 16 km from Janakpur proper, is soon likely to be annexed to Jaleshwor Municipality under the recent municipality extension program of Nepal government.
The VDC has Parsa Pataili to the east, Simardahi to the north, Jaleshwor Municipality to the north-west and the Indian district of Sitamani across the border to the south. There are three municipalities in Mahottari: Jaleshwor, Gausala and Bardibas.
Suga has 1,000 households and its total population is around 4,500, according to Jibesh Mishra, the village secretary.
The village is a mixed Tarai community with Hindu and non-Hindu (Muslim) religious groups. Brahmins, Janajati, Dalit, Muslims, Paswan and other caste people reside here.
Several nationally visible figures hail from this village. For instance, Girish Chandra Lal, a Supreme Court justice, Ram Chandra Tiwari, leader of Nepali Congress, CK Lal, the prominent writer, Gopal Jha, chairman of Broadcasting Association of Nepal (BAN), Ratish Chandra Lal, Director General of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, and Manchala Jha, member of Truth and Reconciliation Commission are some of the noted personalities who are from this village. Many locals, however, lament that prominent personalities haven’t contributed much to the village.
“This is an enlightened village, and it has in the past often served as a retreat for topmost leaders, like Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Ganesh Man Singh, who often visited the village,” says Gopal Jha, the President of BAN and a local resident.
The population here is mostly educated, with at least SLC pass. There are three educational institutions: Shree Sukadeva Higher Secondary School, Children Paradise English Boarding School (Nursery to grade 8) and Nepal Rastriya Lower Secondary School.
However, female population and the Muslim community lag behind other residents in education. The villagers also have access to non-formal education classes organized for the old and household women.
This is an agriculture-based community. Villagers grow rice, wheat, maize, dal, cauliflower, potato, carrot, radish and other vegetables. “Mostly the vegetables are consumed inside the village only,” says Dhirendra Ray, a resident.
In spite of the agrarian potentials, the village has no formal, official institution devoted to agricultural development. Locals observe that people here lack in entrepreneurial interests, skills and motivations. The largest chunk of their household expenses is covered from the money sent by family members who have been working overseas.
The village has a good transport network, although road sections are still not blacktopped. Bus, tanga, motorbikes and bicycles are common means of transport.
The VDC has considerable telecommunications outreach and electricity facility. Although the village itself has no FM station, there are nine FM stations in Mahottari district. But Suga Bhawani has its own newspaper, Maithail Sandesh (Weekly), registered in Ward No 1. People have access to mobile internet telephony, and there are already quite a few online news portals operating from the VDC.
Local professionals observe that media persons are not well-trained mainly because of the lack of resources to run the existing media outlets. Media education is not a part of the curricula in local colleges in Jaleshwor. Most of the FM stations are owned by NGO activist/proponents, and are used to serve their own vested interests.There are significant gaps in the reporting procedures, for example, journalists hardly go for field reporting and are often influenced by interest groups. Only about 10 female journalists work in the area.
Suga Bhawani is a beautiful village. Like in many Tarai villages and towns, not excluding Janakpur, the area offers the sights of numerous ponds, and the historical Sukadeva Pond graces Suga Bhawani. These small bodies of water–most in the form of natural reservoirs–in fact, serve to rear fish, a source of food for the villagers.
Just about a kilometer from Jaleshwor, Suga Bhawani is a semi-urban community, spread over a flat land, crisscrossed by farming terraces, and sparsely covered vegetations dominated by mango grooves. Locals report change in climate in recent years: it has started getting hotter here. By the third week of March, it is fairly hot in Mahottari. During this season, mosquito snake/bites become a cause for concern. Public health facilities are rare; there is only one community health post here.
The village is quiet and peaceful. However security concerns remain. There is no police station in the village but it is monitored by the police from Jaleshwor area.
Efforts in civics and development continue to increase. Local groups like the Krishna Youth club, located in the village, works to promote social awareness and engagement in development works. There are more than a dozen NGOs as well as a community-based cooperative working in the village.
More than 30 NGOs and INGOs are operating across the district. Community Development Project, RCDSE, and LCDCP, etc. are a few well-known names here. The NGOs mostly work on poverty alleviation, microfinance management, conflict resolution, agriculture, women empowerment (Women Group), entrepreneurial skills development and domestic violence. Locals feel that NGOs have so far not been able to bring about the desired changes in the society.
Village elders and residents cite communal tensions, violence against women, social repercussions of foreign employment, lack of awareness about health and sanitation, and criminal infiltration as the major social issues faced by the local community.
Rifts between ‘upper caste’ and ‘lower caste’ groups within Hindu community, and distrust between Hindu and Muslim communities have been reported.
Violence against women is mostly rooted in the Muslim community. Records show that cases of rape and murder (suicide) exist.
Many local youths are on blue collar jobs, mainly in the Gulf countries. Extra marital affairs-related crimes and cases of divorce are on the rise. Such developments have given rise to distrust among the people.
Residents say many locals have a low level of awareness about health and sanitation. Open defecation is still rampant. Even owners of concrete houses lack proper defecation facilities. In the neighborhood of places such as the major Jaleshwor Mahadev shrine, human feces and household garbage remain quite a common sight.
Criminal infiltration from across the border is perceived to be a constant threat. Many community members do not want to marry off their daughters to the Indian families across the border fearing maltreatment and domestic violence. The practice of ‘Roti Beti’ has the least appeal for this area.
Also the community feels that Indian SSB (Armed Border Force) perpetrates atrocities against Nepalis, especially on the ‘No Man’s Land’. This has mostly affected the dalit community, forcing the marginalized population, majority of them without proper home and shelter, to retreat. They are pushed to the ‘edge,’ thus marginalization has not stopped for them, despite NGO mobilization and government initiatives in the area.
Like other villages, Suga Bhawani awaits a change for the better—a change that truly transforms the locals’ social troubles and economic plights. This certainly can’t happen unless we go out there, dig out the facts, and let the world know.
No doubt, Gufa reporting will be a new beginning.
Click here for the pre-event pictures of Suga Bhawani village. All photos by Rajneesh Bhandari/Media Gufa.