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From riches to rags: Rajbanshis go bust

Once recognised as a wealthy ruling class of the eastern Tarai districts, the Rajbanshi community is leading a life fraught with hardships these days. The landholding upper class that owned a vast area of land in Jhapa and Morang districts is left with little or no land at all. Dhaduwa Rajbanshi of Gherabari VDC-3 recalls that his family once owned 196 Bighas (nearly 115 hectares) of land and a palatial three-storey wooden house some decades ago. He was a Deuniya (village chief) then and the poor villagers in need of money used to flock to his house everyday. But now, he lives in a small hut and hardly receives visitors.
Sastulal Rajbanshi of Baniyani lives among the ruins of his stately house that once boasted of a recreational pool as a symbol of opulence and luxury. “The Rajbanshi community slipped into poverty so quickly that our wealth never made it till the third generation,” he said.
Many blame the Land Reforms Act 2021 BS, which introduced landholding ceiling, for the downfall of the Rajbanshis. After the act codified a provision that an individual cannot own more than 28 Bighas (18.9 hectares) of land, the Rajbanshi people lost a large area of their land to the government.
According to Kumar Koirala, chief of the District Land Reforms Office in Jhapa, the government acquired around 4,000 Bighas (2,708 hectares) of land from the district after the new law was enacted in 2021 BS. “Undoubtedly, it was the Rajbanshi community that lost the most land in the government takeover,” Koirala said.
Ajay Rajbanshi, whose father owned 181 Bighas (122 hectares) of land in Gherabari, works as a menial labourer and does not even own an inch of land now. He lives in a squatter settlement and blames the government for his predicament.
“After the land ownership ceiling was introduced, the government grabbed our 153 Bighas (103 hectares) of land and my father lost consciousness for three days because of shock,” he said. With this, some sections of the Rajbanshi community are raising their voice for revision of the Land Reforms Act, claiming that it was unscientific and unfair. “The Land Reforms Act 2021 was unscientific and we plan to take this issue up with the government,” lawmaker Amritlal Rajbanshi said.
People like Bhoomi Rajbanshi, however, believe the landholding ceiling was not the only reason his community went poor. The combination of prodigal lifestyle and the absence of skills to utilise the wealth they possessed also played a major role in rendering many Rajbanshi families landless, he said.
Dhaduwa Rajbanshi Gherabari, Nepal
Posted on: 2011-10-11 08:26 ekantipur.com

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