Coal mining in Meghalaya
ManMaya had worked at a coalmine in Meghalaya. She used to cook for the other men working there. Like most women interviewed, she went there following her husband after marriage. After a while, she did like living there, but had to come back due to problems faced by the family back home. Her experience with the Khasiyars, the locals, seems very different from the experience of another woman interviewed. ManMaya thinks the Khasiyars were rather unfriendly and not helpful.
Jhapa to Meghalaya
ManMaya is from Jhapa in Eastern Nepal, and went to Meghalaya with her husband, as a newlywed.
I went there from Jhapa, after getting married. We got married at the end of Baisakh, and we went there in Bhadra. I was twenty-two then. At first he (my husband) said he would go alone, and asked me to stay back. But I couldn’t stay alone. I felt a bit ashamed, having to stay alone despite being married. We had just gotten married. So I had to go along with him.
“I used to cook rice. Go to the hotel, cook, and then eat.”
My husband used to earn there. He took me there, and he earned money to provide for us. I did that only for six months. I used to cook rice. Go to the hotel, cook, and then eat. That’s all. It was around 2046, 47 [Bikram Sammat]. It was a long time ago. I didn’t find any job for a month or two. Then I started working. What could we do back then? We cooked rice and ate. We used to earn around one hundred and thirty rupees per week, and we used to prepare food for everyone. We cooked rice, and sometimes eggs. There were others who had also come to work in the coal mine. We fed around thirty-five nangada who lived there—that’s what they used to call them, nangada. There were people who lived separately. Sardars used to cook for themselves. Some with their own families cook separately. For thirty-five people, we cooked.
We stayed there for fifteen months and we came back. I enjoyed being there, but when I started liking it there, we had to come back because something happened back home – my brother-in-law passed away. Our parents called for us and we had to come back. After that, how could we go back? And with the kids, it was difficult. We had our nanu there—the older daughter. She started to walk there. She was nine months when we came back. She could walk. She must be twenty-five years old, now and she has two children of her own—one son and one daughter.
“We used to have such a good time there. It used to be like a festival in broad day light. We lived in the forest. We had houses built inside the forest. But it felt like a city market.”
I didn’t get to make any friends. I didn’t stay there for long. I only stayed there for one year and three months. And just when I started to understand things, we came back. What can we do? We went there to make money, but we weren’t really able to. We went there, saw the place and came back.
We used to have such a good time there. It used to be like a festival in broad day light. We lived in the forest. We had houses built inside the forest. But it felt like a city market. The music would be playing. Some would be dancing, some would be playing cards, some would be singing. It was a lot of fun. It was never quiet. It was like being in the middle of a city market, even though we were living in a forest. But they didn’t allow us to drink. If someone got drunk and made noise, they would easily find out and the police would come pick you up immediately. We had to drink discretely. Sometimes we used alcohol to cook. We even sold alcohol—rum. If someone brought alcohol from the neighboring settlements, we would hide it under the mosquito net.
“Khasiyars and Nepalis had to get along with each other. We must get along, if not they would kill us.”
Living together with the Nepalis and the Khasiyars
The Khasis are people of an indigenous tribe, who mostly live in the State of Meghalaya.
Khasiyars and Nepalis had to get along with each other. We must get along, if not they would kill us. The Khasiyars wouldn’t eat with us. Back then, they used to look down on us. Their small children would hit us with stones when we were walking in the streets, and we just had to walk straight without saying anything. Even if the stones hit us, we would have to pretend as if nothing happened.
The Khasiyars, for whom we used to prepare food, would go get the firewood at night—you couldn’t get it during the day in their country. They would bring it without letting anyone know, and we would use that to cook. We had to go quite far to buy basics like rice, salt, oil. The contractors working there would provide loan—an advance – if a woman wanted to open up her own hotel. The Khasi / Khasiyars must have also worked in the coal mine. How would they feed themselves without working? Even the women used to work, so mustn’t the men work?
“There women stay home, men go out. They sometimes marry Nepali girls.”
The place was expensive compared to Nepal. They don’t farm there, so one has to buy everything. They do farming but it’s not like how we do it here. They do a bit, only greens and vegetables mostly. The contractors were Nepali, but the owners were Khasiyar. It’s their country. The Nepali contractors used to pay us. Mostly all the contractors were Nepalis. Maybe there were others but I did not see them. Our Nepali contractor was from Bhojpur. The Nepalis there were from Bhojpur. They were mostly Rais and Gurungs.
If anyone of us got sick, we used to go to a place called Joi. But I never went there. There was another place where they used to look into smaller cases, but for big cases like delivering babies, we were taken to a place called Joi. My eledest daughter was born in India. But we didn’t go to the hospital. I gave birth to her at home. There were other women who helped me – there was a Tamangni and a Magarni. They must still be there, I haven’t met them. Maybe they have returned. It has been so many years.
There were maybe one or two Nepali women, not many, but there were many Nepali men. There were people from everywhere but we didn’t really see them. We were not allowed to go out and would stay in our rooms. The police would catch us if we went out. There was a friend of a brother who got caught. He was from Bhojpur. He died in the cell. It happened when we were there. If they knew we were Nepali, they would catch us—men mostly, not women as much. They would let you go only if you had a child with you. We had to go to the market discretely. They did not catch the women. Maybe it was something related to women’s rights. There women stay home, men go out. They sometimes marry Nepali girls. If they like you they’ll keep you. If they don’t, they’ll send you off, after you have had children. And then they marry someone else, just like here.
There were other single Nepal women there too. There were women whose husbands had died. There were women who had opened up shops. You have to be mean to be able to survive there. It’s not like here. If you are not mean you can’t live there, especially if you a single woman.
Nepalis look after Nepalis. The people there (the locals) don’t help. Of course they tease the women. It’s like here. Even if you are mean, you can’t argue with the Khasiyaars. They would kill you. They say it’s better nowadays. And I want to go back when I hear that. It was so hard back then to go there to work. I hurt my hands and I couldn’t use them for a week. But it’s better now, they say.
“They said that Nepalis were killed at sight. They had a big fight back then—war. There were other Nepalis with us … I’m not sure where they were from.”
Travelling to Meghalaya
Like the other women interviewed, ManMaya had also travelled to India with great difficulties.
We went there with a lot of difficulty—hiding in vehicles. I’m not sure. It wasn’t through Kakarbhitta. Starting from Phuntsholing (in Bhutan) it got difficult. At one point, the vehicle we were in, got stuck, and we had to remain inside a hotel for three days. They said that Nepalis were killed at sight. They had a big fight back then—war. There were other Nepalis with us … I’m not sure where they were from. There were two, three of them. They had finished their travel money, and were travelling by hiding in the vehicles. They were in a lot of trouble, so they travelled with us.
We came on a bus till Machhigaada. Then we came till Paanitanki. It took us six days to get there. We reached there on the seventh day. It was quite difficult, so we stayed in different places on the way—hiding. We were scared, of course. I heard they could kill us, and that there were fights happening. We heard that they were not allowing the vehicles to pass. Of course we got scared. We stayed in one place for three days, hiding – in Phuntsholing,
We came back quite easily. We took a vehicle, no one really bothered us. Yes they did, but it wasn’t as strict as before.
“When I think about India – joy and sadness—they are all the same. I would have liked to go back if I could.”
A mixed bag
Thinking of her time in India, she has mixed emotions.
When we first went there, we went to travel, I guess. My brother had gone there before. I got married, so to make a bit of money. My husband had gone there before. I stayed there for one year and three months. Then we had to come back. Our older daughter was nine months old. Then we had our second child. We did want to go back because we didn’t want to come back in the first place. But we couldn’t go there with two children. It would have been hard to protect ourselves, how would we take care of our children?
When I think about India – joy and sadness—they are all the same. I would have liked to go back if I could. You had to work to survive. If we could, I would go there with my husband. My husband’s been here now —he’s sick. My husband went their twice. Now, he is not well. He has back problem. There, you have to climb into holes dig in the ground—his back won’t allow it. So, he can’t go. We have to manage our livelihood in Nepal.
Hri © 2021 All rights reserved | Developed by: Silverline Technology Pvt. Ltd.