2018 DASJ Honoree

Arun Sada

Community Leader
Community Leader
2018 DASJ Honoree


Arun Sada

Writer, Social Justice Activist, and the Founding Convener of the international Darnal Award for Social Justice.

Arun Sada, born in Siraha district, is a dalit leader from the Mushahar community which has faced extreme exclusion in the social, economic and political spheres. The Mushahar community, which has been kept distant from opportunities of ownership of land and shelter by the Nepali state in its deliberate attempt to deny the community any attention, is also caught in the vise of poverty. Because of its landlessness, Arun Sada’s family had been serving for many generations as haruwa-charuwa bonded laborers for other families. Arun Sada had lived with the family of his ‘masters’ since his childhood to work as haruwa-charuwa.

Arun Sada grew up experiencing extreme humiliation and discrimination based on caste during his life as haruwa-charuwa. His experience of the humiliation, degradation and oppression inspired him to take up the cause of social justice.

His family was denied justice when his grandfather was murdered in 1993. The family didn’t even receive the body of the deceased to fulfil its funerary obligations. The murder was brushed aside under the guise of monetary compensations.

Arun Sada watched the police frequent his home during this heinous incident, and he watched how the local people ran away whenever the police came to the village. Right then, he sensed the power the police seemed to carry. Therefore, he decided to become a policeman someday. This ambition steered him towards obtaining an education. He became intimately acquainted with poverty during his school years. He started becoming active in social work while he was still a high school student.
His family faced extreme poverty during his school years. His sister died after childbirth due to the lack of food. He has the experience of watching many other people in his community die because of hunger and poverty.

Alongside poverty, the Mushahars have a long experience of degradation. In 2014, Arun Sada’s wife was physically assaulted for having touched water at the village well. Thus, poverty, humiliation and violence constitute the daily reality of the Mushahars.

There is a long list of such instances of injustice, persecution and degradation experienced directly by Arun Sada. But such incidents also made Sada more and more audacious and inspired him to work for his community.

Sada became affiliated with Indreni Sewa Samaj with the ambition to serve his community. Later, he also joined Hrishikesh Saday Sewa Samaj. Through these two social initiatives he became active in serving the education sector in the Mushahar community. He started inspiring members of his community to attend educational institution after explaining to them the importance of education. He also started a books-exchange campaign to support these efforts.

He also started working on children’s health issues. He led adult education campaigns among landless farmers and sukumbasi squatter settlements. Ever since he became involved in social work he has continuously engaged with the issue of education. There is a surging hunger for education in the Mushahar communities where Sada has been working. Parents have become aware about their children’s right to education. Consequently, most of the children in the community attend educational institutions now.

In 2006, Arun Sada built a pond through his own initiative in order to eliminate poverty and hunger in the Mushahar community. Members of the community now earn 60 to 70 thousand rupees annually from the pond. This amount has brought benefits to the members of the community. They have become active towards eliminating poverty and increasing the level of education. However, the Municipality has been trying to take away access to the pond, alleging that it was built on public lands.  

Arun Sada also ran a campaign through Land Rights Forum to utilize and manage unused and fallow lands. Members of the Mushahar community with very low income became able to earn an income by farming such lands for cash and staple crops.

The Mushahar community has an intimate and personal relationship with the land and the soil. But the irony is that most Mushahars don’t have ownership of the land on which they toil. The land where Arun Sada and his community lives is also public land. Of the 55 households of Mushahars living there, only two or three have their own land. It is the lack of land ownership that has kept this community backwards in the economic, social and political spheres.

Therefore, since 2006, he has been fighting for the rights of the landless farmers and sukumbasi squatters in various capacities at the Land Rights Forum. He assists landless Mushahar and other communities navigate various legal struggles and by assisting with other necessary processes. He has led various campaigns, including the campaign to advocate for equal pay for agricultural labor. He is the coordinator for Siraha district for Land Rights Forum. Under his leadership, 17 hundred applications have been filed in Siraha to obtaining land for mohi sharecropping farmers. He is also leading a campaign to make women the land owners. In this process, nearly 500 women have been successful in obtaining certificates of co-ownership of land.  

Mushahars worship the soil, the earth, because the identity and history of their community is intimately tied to the land. Arun Sada began an institutional initiative to protect this history and to teach others to take pride in their identity. Towards this end, he established Shabari Sankalpa Samaj with the participation of other social justice leader. Through this society he connected the identity of the Mushahar community to the issue of land rights; organized the Mushahar youths; and spread public awareness about budget disbursement at the local level and about scholarships.

This organization has been organizing an ‘Earth Day’ since the past eight years to honor the earth and the land where the Mushahars work, illuminating the relationship between the land and the Mushahar community, and exhibiting and promoting the unique arts and culture of the community. Therefore, the ‘Earth Day’ is also an aspect of the struggle for the dignity of the Mushahar community. This celebration illustrates their identity and is a commemoration of their ancestors. On this day, discussions and debates are held on the relationship between Mushahars and the earth on which they toil, and attempts are made to examine the reasons behind the landlessness and dispossession of the Mushahars. And, a great dhuni bonfire is also raised as a symbol of the struggle against landlessness.

Arun Sada is formally involved with Land Rights Forum. He is also affiliated with many other organizations. He has many opportunities for private income to support his day to day needs. However, he chooses to remain active in social justice work focused at the local level. He has dedicated himself to campaigning for the identity of the Mushahar community and to establishing their rights.

Arun Sada’s leadership and the contribution of organizations working under his leadership towards the cause of social justice are inspirational. Arun Sada is a leading figure among the Mushahars, who are seen as being the lowest of the low even among the Madheshi dalits, and is a leader of the campaign for the rights of the landless and the sukumbasi squatters.