Academic journal article Contributions to Nepalese Studies

Haruwa, the Unfree Agricultural Labourer: A Case Study from Eastern Tarai

Academic journal article Contributions to Nepalese Studies

Haruwa, the Unfree Agricultural Labourer: A Case Study from Eastern Tarai

Article excerpt

Introduction: Patron-Client Ties in Agrarian Society and Haruwa System

The Government of Nepal promulgated the Kamaiya Labour (Prohibition) Act 2001 to free and rehabilitate bonded agricultural labourers under the Kamaiya system. The Act also included agricultural labourers like the Haliya, Haruwa, Hali, Charuwa, etc. under the term "Kamaiya Labour", and declared these practices as illegal and punishable. However, except for the Kamaiya system among Tharus of western Nepal, there has been little research on other forms of bonded agricultural labour systems. A few studies (Sharma and Sharma: 2002; CSRC: 2006, NNDSWO& LWF) have indicated that certain ingredients of bondage exist under such long term labour agreements.

I begin this paper with a discussion of patron-client relations in an agrarian society in order to contextualise the Haruwa system in Nepal. This system as a whole is an outcome of historically framed patron-client relationship since generations. Patron-client relationship is defined as a "special case of dyadic (two-persons) ties involving a largely instrumental friendship in which an individual of higher socioeconomic status (patron) uses his own influence and resources to provide protection or benefits, or both, for a person of a lower status (client) who, for his part, reciprocates by offering general support and assistance, including personal services, to the patron" (Scott 1972a). Traditionally, thus, such a dyadic relationship is often viewed as being of the functional or beneficial character for the client. We can find 'limitless' distinctions between patron-client variations (c.f. Scott 1972a), for example, as a form of 'economic interaction' to 'serfdom' (c.f. Gould 1964). However, in inter-caste relations, the jajajamani system, with its vertical interdependency of groups and individuals based on the unequal distribution of resources, provides an appropriate context to discuss patron-client relations, showing that people of disparate status, wealth, and power are vertically integrated below patrons who in turn may be clients of patrons at a higher level. Scott (1972a) observes that the patron-client formation finds its "fullest elaboration" where there is a gap between a state's centre and periphery. This implies situation of localised power and the organisation of production and distribution based on local resources (Scott 1972a). Hence, relations between patrons and clients are lopsided, with unequal and often non-comparable reciprocities. Clients' expectations are limited to basic subsistence. Such dyadic ties embody certain structural features, such as ties between families, mutual trust, confidence, mutual expectations, community support of values, and the conception of a moral bond (Bailey 1966; Scott 1972a & b; Michie 1981). The patron-client relationship is therefore a 'paradoxical set of elements combining inequality and asymmetry in power in mutual solidarity, combinations of potential coercion and exploitation with voluntary relations and compelling mutual obligations' (Eisenstad and Roniger 1980).

While maintaining 'functional and beneficial' dyadic ties, the patron-client system can be quite brutal, especially to those at the bottom. Such relationship might be functional in the short run and at a superficial level of analysis, it is dysfunctional in the 'long run and at a deeper level of analysis' (Stein 1984).

Like the Haruwa system, any other such dyadic relationships in a hierarchical caste-based society are, thus, an essential constituent of one with local autonomy and a subsistence economy. Recently the system has transformed and declined, but has not disappeared and remains in the form of Haruwa in the Tarai of Nepal. The decline and eventual demise of patron-client systems can be traced to basic structural reasons. The old sets of relations became incompatible with the changing political environment. For such changes, the major impetus is not local, rather comes from state and national level, so that even though internal dynamics cannot be ignored, they provide only a partial explanation. …

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