Tek Bahadur Kathayat from the Dipayal Silgadhi municipality in Doti only comes back home every Dashain. For the rest of the year, he is in India working to make ends meet. Sometimes, he works as a waiter, other times he either works as a labourer or a construction worker or a cleaner. Even though he is 60 years old, he goes to India every year in search of better jobs. He is been doing this for the past 46 years.
“My relationship with my family wasn’t that great. We didn’t have the funds to sustain ourselves financially, which is why I had to leave for India,” says Kathayat. “I left Nepal when I was 14 and went to India to work as a dishwasher but as years went by, I started to do other things.”
He spent his youth and peak years in India like his father who had also left Doti to go work in India. Like his father, he seldom came to Doti as he did not have the funds to come back home. And like him, his 23-year-old son is also working in India.
“My father spent his life in India. I’ve also made India my place of work as has my son. Nepal is a place we call home only during festivals,” he says.
His son Deepak works at a private company. Due to the family struggling financially, he dropped out of school at 15 and started doing menial labour.
“I had to step in and help out financially. That’s what my father had done and that is what I am doing,” says Deepak.
This is just one story. There are thousands of Nepalis who are compelled to leave Nepal for India in search of work. The majority of families in the Sudurpachim province leave Nepal and go to work in various states across India. As three generations have already gone to India looking for work, it is highly likely that the fourth will also have to do the same thing as employment in Nepal is scarce.
Calculating the crisis
What is even worse is, the government does not even have data regarding how many workers leave Nepal each year. Due to the open border, Nepali officials hardly keep data of the people.
Out of the nine districts in the province, five share their borders with India. Nepalis leave Nepal mostly through these borders as they go work in India for six months and come back to Nepal for the rest of the year to help out with agriculture.
Despite not having exact figures, there is an estimation that around over 800,000 people of the province leave Nepal every year. This includes teenagers to people over the age of 60.
According to the Sudurpachim Nepali Society, there are around five million Nepalis working in both rural and urban India. The society’s president Deepak Prakash Malla says that out of them, nearly two million people are from Sudurpachim.
“Kids as young as 12 to people as old as 70 go work in India at hotels, factories, fields and other areas. Most go and become guards at malls or apartments in areas like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh as these are close to Nepal,” says Malla.
Malla says that Nepalis hardly come home. They try to come during the festival, but even that is unsure as not all make it back home.
Malla thinks it is quite disheartening that so many Nepalis go to India to work while the government chooses to turn a blind eye to all of this.
“There are a lot of aspects where we can create opportunities here in the province itself, but nothing is being done,” says Malla. “Both the local and provincial governments do not seem to care about this. This has resulted in a lot of people leaving Nepal looking for work.”
The provincial government’s spokesperson Purnaa Joshi says post-federalism, things are changing in the province. She says that there are opportunities in the province like farming, but as the province does not have a major industry, it is hard to create ample jobs.
“We are doing our best. We’ve been asking people to apply for government jobs. We have established an unemployment fund to stop people from going to India,” says Joshi.
She also adds the government has started keeping details of people getting out of Nepal for their specific purpose. She adds the province is urging people who go to India to come back with some sort of skill as the province lacks skilled human resources.
“We want people to build roads, buildings and other infrastructure in the country. For that, we have set aside funds to give them the training they will require to work in the province itself. But, it will take time,” says Joshi.