Olga reflects on Kamlari Freedom Day
The day of the Maghe Sankranti festival this year, January 15, 2014, was a very special one for the daughters of the Tharu community of Western Nepal. Unlike past festivals, they didn’t have to worry that their parents would sell them off as “Kamlari,’ or indentured servants.
“Kamlari Freedom Day” — celebrated with a march, and many speeches by government “thulo manchhes” (big shots) — was also special for me. It was a once-in-a-lifetime-I-never-thought-I’d-see-the-day event!
NYF ignited a movement
Since 2000, NYF has been working to eradicate this pernicious custom by liberating over 12,000 girls from bondage and bringing them home to live with their families, providing their parents with a piglet or a goat to make up for the girls’ wages, placing the liberated girls in school, and carrying out an energetic awareness campaign to turn the Tharu mothers and fathers against the practice. This, along with lawsuits against employers who persisted in enslaving their little girl servants and heavy lobbying with the government, has brought freedom not only to the present generation of child servants, but to their daughters and their daughters’ daughters as well.
As I sat on the stage for what seemed hours, I harkened back to the time of my first visit to Dang thirteen years ago, almost to the day. That time, the context was entirely different. I thought of the little orphan girl I saw that day sobbing relentlessly by her uncle’s side, begging not to be sent back to work for her callous employer — while her uncle told us, without shame, that he had sold her and her sister to pay for the cost of his son’s wedding.
Freedom for future generations
I was similarly clueless about what was being said by the many speakers on Kamlari Freedom Day, but I knew with certainty that that little girl did not spend the rest of her childhood as a kitchen slave, and that this was true of other Tharu girls of her generation and generations to come. The proof was before my eyes, as I looked down at a sea of faces of freed, assertive former Kamlari, including 30 who had just passed their college entrance examinations and were headed for higher education.
When it came my turn to speak, I wish I could have just shouted the Tharu equivalent of “You go girls!”
Thank you everyone, for supporting NYF through the years and helping to make this amazing new freedom possible.
Founder & Honorary President
Watch the CNN Freedom Project video about NYF’s work to free girls from slavery.
Read the Time Magazine article about NYF’s work to rescue the last Kamlari slaves.