Two hours from freedom: an examination of NGO involvement in the "Kamaiya" liberation movement of Nepal

Elicia Carmichael

Document Type Dissertation/Thesis


Until this year, the western Terai , Nepal's lowland region, was home to the Kamaiya system of slavery. With the aid of local NGOs, laborers living under this condition of agricultural debt-bondage staged a protest demanding their freedom. Only after receiving pressure from the United Nations and international human rights organizations, did the government respond to the pleas of the Kamaiya. Soon after the declaration. the Kamaiya were evicted from their landlords' estates. While freedom has benefited some families, many Kamaiya are now living under worse conditions than they were as slaves . As the government has not fulfilled its promises to incorporate them into society, many Kamaiya are currently living in squatters' camps and have no means of subsistence. NGOs have undoubtedly played a crucial role in the emancipation process, yet some Kamaiya believe that these organizations have initiated a movement that the country could not accommodate and therefore hold some responsibility for their current situation. My fieldwork focuses on the lack of flexibility-in Nepalese NGO programming and the social and cultural boundaries within their infrastructures that discourage productivity and the realization of defined goals. This case study seeks to reveal the current weaknesses in NGO-facilitated implementation of international aid in the developing world.