The plight of Chandrakala

By Tashi Dema:
Forty-five-year-old Chandrakala Upreti and her 12 children live in a two-storey house above the dzongkhag’s dog pound in Gosaling, Tsirang. Surrounded by orange trees laden with fruits, the orchard attracts the attention of strangers, who ask how much she earns from the orchard.

But Chandrakala has a different story.

The land and the house are not hers. Last month she was asked to vacate the place. “I’ve nowhere to go,” she said. The family’s sole bread-earner, her 75-year old husband went missing since July and the children are too young. The eldest, 21, a class 12 dropout, works for others to support the family. The youngest is two.

Chandrakala left her village, Dajay, when she married at 18 and stayed with her husband in Danyasi, Patshaling gewog. After giving birth to her fifth child, they left the village in the late 1980s because of security reasons. Their village was isolated and vulnerable to attacks from insurgents. “We had to leave as others left and settled in and around Tsirang with their relatives,” she said. The village is empty today, although a lot of people have their census and land there, according to Patsaling gup Changya Tshering.

Since then Chandrakala and her husband have been living and working on other’s land as caretakers. “We had to change about four landowners in the past 20 years,” she said. “What we produced by working was not enough to feed 12 mouths and we shifted to whoever paid us better,” she said. According to Chandrakala, they moved to the present location four years ago after her husband made a deal with the landowner and signed an agreement that they will give them one third of the money they earn from selling oranges. “But today, with my husband still missing, we’re asked to move instead of paying us our share,” she alleged.

“It’s true that land is the real wealth,” Chandrakala said, adding, “If we had land, we’d have a place to call home, we could work and eat.” She said that she and the children are not only homeless today but have to forgo meals at times. Chandrakala said that life became so difficult several times that she felt like killing her children and herself to escape the harsh realities. “But the help I received from Tarayana club of Damphu HSS kept my hopes alive,” she said. “They gave me and my children clothes and rations.”

On January 7, dressed in an old kira and a pair of worn out bata slippers, she was packing things with her five younger children. “I’ll have to shift the moment I get a place,” she said.

Her second eldest son, who is employed in a workshop, calls to find out their situation. Chandrakala asks him to bring some sugar. “He’s just 19 but has to work a lot to support us.” She said that they have spent the little money her children earned to look for the father. Despite the hardship, Chandrakala wants to educate her children. “The elders had to leave school, but the six younger children should study and get government jobs,” she said.

It will be long before her children can get a job and ease her life. At the moment Chandrakala is worried about finding a place to move in with her family. “I wish someone could help us,” she said.


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