10 Mar 2017
5 min read
The number of orders he gets is not much—for there are much fancier tailor shops and tailors with an older clientele-following in the nearby bazaar. He spends all he earns on his medicines, but Daan Bahadur needs to be in expensive Nepalgunj because he needs to be routinely checked up at Nepalgunj Medical College. He can’t go back to his village—where the cost of living is much cheaper—because he can’t eke out a living there.
“All seven of my brothers and most of my cousins have had to find work in India,” he says. “None of us owns any land, and the occasional work we do on our landowners’ farms doesn’t yield much.”
It’s not just property that Daan Bahadur lacks. He doesn’t even have a state-issued identity. He did own a citizenship card once, but then one day he lost the card. When he went over to the CDO office in Khalanga to get a new one made, the officials asked him to present copies of the original he’d lost. But the copies, which were housed in a VDC office near his village, had been destroyed by the Maoists during Nepal’s civil war.
“Because I can’t make a citizenship card for myself, I can’t make cards for my wife and my children either,” he says. “I don’t know how my kids will be able to find real jobs in the future when they don’t even have an identity.”
It’s a strange identity that Daan Bahadur finds himself inhabiting every day. He is a Nepali that the state of Nepal does not formally recognise. But he’s also trapped in an identity given to him by society—that of a Damai—that defines his interactions and everything he does. “Many of my customers have no problems with the clothes I sew for them touching their skin,” he says. “But if I were to accidentally step into their kitchen, I’d be polluting their home. My caste-identity is my bane. But the work that I do—which derives from my caste—is the only thing that I can depend on to pay my hospital bills.”