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Rautes’ lives hanging by the thread

Preserve Raute tribe, Develop their settlement as 'Tourist Area'

Kathmandu(Nepal): Raute community’s Mahamukhiya (the Main Chief) Mahin Bahadur Shahi is lately very concerned over the members of his community being taken ill at a staggering rate. According to him, every other hut in his locality has a member down with infections as fever or dysentery or common cold.

Rautes are the hunting and gathering nomadic tribe in Nepal. The habitat of the Raute population-estimated to be 180 or roughly 52 families -is mostly the forest areas of the mid-western part of the country, according to a study conducted by the UNDP in 2011.

Known as a ‘King of Forest’, these tribal people prefer to live in isolation in the woods and earn their livelihood by bartering their wooden pottery and traditional crafts for food-grains with the local people.
The 66-year-old Shahi, who has been the Head of his community for a long time, voiced his concern about the growing cases of ailments catching his subjects.

The elderly Raute said, “Earlier we used get injured by falling from the cliff during our hunting activities. We used to apply herbal medicines in the wound or in case of falling sick. Minor ailments were easily cured by the local herbs but lately our people are stricken with malady.”

The increasing cases of communicable diseases among the Rautes in other groups are also a cause for concern for their Heads. Head Surya Narayan Shahi for instance is also brooding over how the communicable diseases are taking a toll on his people.

He said, “Our people contracting various kinds of communicable diseases is the most pressing concern for us. It would be difficult to survive if my people continue to fall sick.”

According to him, the Rautes prefer living in their traditional nomadic ways and do not trust modern medicines. He explained, “We do not want to visit the Hospitals. It is made for others. We ought to be cured by herbs.”

After living years in isolation, the endangered tribal community who does not believe in permanent settlement has recently migrated to Jyamire Jungle of Lekbeshi Municipality in Surkhet. There are 141 members from this tribe residing in altogether 42 huts in this settlement.

The Rautes who used to deny any modern apparels and preferred to put on ‘Ghalek’, their tribal dress worn half nakedly, were immune to the side-effects emanating from the excessive hot or cold weather. But lately, as Head Surya Narayan put it, the Rautes were easily affected by extremes in the weather.

As the winter is setting in, they fill chill in the air and unable to remain immune to the seasonal flu occurring with the change in the weather.

They are also worried about the loss of their identity due to their increasing exposure to modernization. They lament about the increasing level of deforestation due to rapid expansion of human settlements.

They shared that due to deforestation, their staple food such as geetha, byakur and guna baandar, are depleting while their traditional occupation- making wooden utensils and hunting monkey and birds only- were not sufficient for them lately to manage two square meals.

The Rautes who only drink water from spring are worried about the drying rivers and ponds. Raute Utthan Pratisthan President Satyadevi Adhikari said that due to the changing lifestyle and climate change, a majority of the Rautes were contracting infections lately.

“In a way, the Rautes are striving to save their lives,” argued Adhikari, warning,” If this trend continues, it would not take longer for the Rautes to be on verge of extinction.”

The premature death was rife among the Rautes due to various reasons. According to Adhikari, although the Rautes were trying to get into the modern ways of life like other communities, they are unable to leave behind their primitive lifestyle and values.

Another cause for concern is the decreasing population of the Rautes. Earlier, as Surya Narayan narrated, the Rautes used to die in natural calamities or falling off cliffs unlike the recent times but lately even an infection or ailment as viral fever, pneumonia and dysentery could claim their lives in no time.

Their assimilation into the modern societies has also caused a wide range of behavioural changes among the Rautes. Earlier, they used to eat monkey, khole, and many medicinal herbs but they are exposed to modern drugs as antibiotic which further makes them weak.

The Rautes who consider sowing seed to be a sin and whose traditional culture forbids them to practice for agriculture and animal husbandry want to live their life as Raute rather than being the modern ones.

Raute do not believe in accumulation of wealth such as house, land and other riches and asserted their immediate need to be able to live peacefully in forest in their own primitive ways.

Mahamukhiya Mahin Bahadur, representing the voices of his community, voiced, “We do not want to be like every other one. Let us live like a Raute.”

They grieve that the government is not paying them any attention as they reside in forest. Another Head Dil Bahadur Shahi questioned, “The government has overlooked us. If a human could rear snake, why is the government so indifferent to us?”

Dil Bahadur viewed that the government cannot just shy away from its duty by distributing them monthly allowances.

The government has been providing Rautes the monthly subsistence allowance Rs 1,000 per person from the previous provisions of Rs 500 since 2065/66 BS.

The Guras Municipality in the district, in a move to facilitate them in receiving the State allowance, had distributed them a permanent ID card which has been merely a sheet of paper to them.

Rautes, who believe that the birth and death are usual processes of nature and shun the idea of counting their heads, have not even acquired the citizenship identity cards as of now. In a way, they are not yet official citizens of their country.

The Rautes who earn their livelihood by selling the wooden utensils are further anxious that their goods do not sell like in the past, further shrinking their income.

Their language known as ‘Khamsi’ does not have a script of its own. They are worried that their oral-based language system would become extinct and obsolete if it is not preserved timely.

Preserve Raute tribe, Develop their settlement as ‘Tourist Area’

The Rautes are going through a hard time lately. They are worried that their culture, tradition, language and their tribe would become extinct in lack of proper preservation.

They argue that while the humanity is concerned about conservation of vegetation and other lives below and above the water, it is a pity that their existence was at stake and adequate attention was being paid by the State to protect and promote them.

Professor at Central Department of Zoology at Tribhuvan University, Dr Nanda Bahadur Singh, has conducted many researches on Raute people. Prof Dr Singh underscores the need to develop Rautes as a protected human community in a multi-ethnic country like Nepal.

Raute is one among the 125 ethnic groups of Nepal where altogether 123 languages were recorded, according to government report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in March this year.

Prof Dr Singh said, “The culture, tradition and dresses of Rautes should be preserved and they should be freed from influence of the NGOs.”

Singh spoke of the need to make sure the Rautes do not misuse their State allowance in any narcotic addiction.

He shared that the reproductive rate among Raute were very high. So is the mortality rate of the children below 5 years. The researcher added, ” Although the Raute mothers were found to have given birth to up to 14 children, only 4 or 5 would be survive. Rest other would die prematurely.”

Dr Singh suggested that the settlements of Raute could be developed as a ‘Tourist Area’ and arrange them other means of subsistence instead of distributing them monthly allowance.

He also furnished recommendation to the provincial and central government to form an ‘Educational Mobile Team’ to conduct a routinely research on Rautes and provide them medical assistance and address their other issues.

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