Rajendra Sharma is among many of landless people in Nepal who has been living as squatters in Surkhet. “I am the second generation of my family who has been living as squatters”, said Rajendra when asked how long has it been for him living landless. “Although currently my family, a wife and two gorgeous children, and I are still living as squatters, we still have high hopes that we will own a piece of land someday”, Rajendra added. 

Rajendra’ s father lost his land  over their family dispute, forcing him to move his family and  live as squatters, just few years before Rajendra was born.

“My father said that when grandfather died, everyone wanted to have the ownership rights to the house, and after years trying to settle the dispute, my father finally lost  inheritance of property to his brothers and he had to move out”, said Rajendra as all he knew about the disputes were from his father. 

Photo – Left: Rajendra Sharma rides the motor rickshaw to get to the bus stop to go back to Surkhet after attending one of IOM’s training on land issues/©IOM

Photo – Right: Before he comes back home, he always make sure that he buys his family something, may it be vegetables, fruits or even clothes.  /©IOM

Rajendra, being born and raised in squatters’ community, has always dreamed to live in a house where only he and his family would stay and that they would even have their own small yards. “Every day I ask myself, how I can make life better, what can I do to help myself and other squatters”, Rajendra said when asked about his dreams and hopes. 

Rajendra also said, “In our society, land ownership shows our social status and power. I feel sad that landless people like me are often treated as second class citizens. I feel like only the rich elites and not poor rural people like me can own land”.

”If it’s not because of Padam Bir Thapa”, whom he encountered when he was younger, “I may not be the person I am today. He inspired and taught me to fight for our rights to land. Since I joined the District Land Forum couple of years ago, not a day has gone by feeling hopeless, because I feel like I’m contributing to the empowerment of landless people in claiming their rights to land resources and helping to fight and advocating  social injustice”, added Rajendra. 

In 2013, through his work, he had a chance to know the “Catalytic Support on Land Issues”, a joint project run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHabitat), and financed by the UN Peace-building Fund, a global UN multi-donor trust fund supported by over 50 international donors and managed through the UN Peace Fund for Nepal. “I feel very fortunate to be invited to several training related on land issues through this project”, stated Rajendra showing a glimpse of hopes on his face while talking about it. “As soon as these training finished, I can hardly wait to go back and pass on the new knowledge that I learnt in the training to my community”, added Rajendra. 

In Nepal, land issues are recognized as one of the root causes of the 10-year conflict and if left unaddressed, these issues could have harmful effects on peace and political stabilization as well as socio-economic development in the country.

by Ariani Soejoeti