During a pandemic, Indigenous communities are often among the most vulnerable, given their often-limited access to water, food supplies, adequate healthcare, and other factors. In this special “Pandemic Perspectives” series of our Dispatches, we’re sharing stories from around the world to shed some light on the obstacles Indigenous Peoples face in light of COVID-19 lockdowns—along with the ingenuity and unity with which they’re facing these challenges.
“The whole world is in a lockdown situation and everyone is combating the disease from their side,” Manju Maharjan, a young scholar from the Newar community of Kathmandu Valley, wrote to us in early April. While the number of people infected with COVID-19 were few at that time, she expressed concerns about the agricultural workers in her community. “This period has really been harsh for the farmers who totally depend upon farming for their livelihood. This could further lead to food insecurity in the future.”
That same day, Nepali Times reported that many who worked the land were unable to transport their produce, milk, and eggs to market in a timely manner, leaving the goods to spoil. Meanwhile, consumers were finding it increasingly challenging to purchase fresh goods. Making matters more complicated, some farmers haven’t been venturing to the fields because of the lockdown.
Despite these challenges, Manju and her community are working hard to stay healthy and optimistic. “We are all alert and are taking the precautionary measures to prevent ourselves from the disease,” she wrote. “Also, we are having quality time with our family and getting to know each other.”
Today, the number of coronavirus-infected people in Nepal has risen to 16, but Manju is relieved that the country has not yet lost any lives to the illness. The lockdown is presently projected to carry on until the end of April.
“Besides all these difficulties,” Manju writes, “the Indigenous Newah people are taking benefit of this period by taking the online classes related to Nepal lipi, Ranjana lipi (the various scripts of Nepalbhasa).” Nepalbhasa is an ancient Sino-Tibetan language once spoken commonly by the Newah Indigenous People in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley; Nepali, an Indo-European language, is the country’s current official language. Nepahlbhasa is spoken among older generations, but many youth are unable to read or write it. Manju is enthusiastic about reviving the language and helps organize festivals celebrating the ancient Nepalbhasa scripts.
Manju recently took some online courses on writing Nepal lipi, as well as a tutorial on speaking Nepalbhasa correctly. “This has made me even more familiar with my language and many are taking advantage of these classes.”
In her closing remarks to us, Manju left us with these heartfelt words: “The whole world is suffering from this pandemic disease. I hope you all are also fine. I pray God that we all gain strength to fight against the disease and may the almighty God provide strength to the bereaved family to cope with this harsh condition. I want to say the whole world, ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe, and Stay Healthy.'”