I still remember the moment when my father collapsed right in front of my eyes and took his last breathe. He had just come back from herding cows. I was standing there as a twelve years old helpless girl. There was nothing I could have done except scream and ask for help. My grandparents came and confirmed his death. That moment changed the entire course of my life. My grandmother accused my mother of being their son-eater. And we were forced to leave the house. She went to her parent’s home and stayed there for few weeks. But it was difficult for her, so she left us in our father’s house and went to India.
I was the oldest child and had to look after two sisters and two brothers. We were left in a remote house in Barpak whereas my grandparents lived close to the main road. They seldom visited us. My little sisters and I worked as daily wage labor for the villagers so we wouln’t starve. No matter how hard we tried, we would run out of food many times in a month. We, without any hesitation, would ask our grandparents for food. Finally the villagers noticed this and my grandparents became a bit more considerate, probably because they didn’t want the villagers gossiping. This made our life a little easier.
I was fifteen when I eloped with a man in the army. I was so naive that I might have done that to find a way out of my hard life. I must have thought my life would be easier after marrying this man, or else why would I elope with a man I barely knew.
My husband brought me to Kathmandu but I was never taken to his home. I thought perhaps its because he was in the army. I stayed in my cousin’s house for six months. He often came to see me. It was only after I got pregnant that he took me to his room in Banepa where his army camp was. The night when I got my labor pain, he wasn’t around. The landlord took me to the hospital and I gave birth to a baby girl. He showed up later and had changed considerably. He showed me and our daughter any affection at all. After that he kept his distance from us. One day I went to the army barricade where he was working. The official at the desk said that he had quit a few weeks ago. Completely surprised and upset, I searched for him everywhere and found out that he had another wife in a different flat.
I had nowhere to go. I felt that I was cheated big time. I didn’t have anyone to guide me. I didn’t even have any legal documents to prove that I was his wife. I was helpless. I could have put myself out of this trap if only I had thought out the process carefully. But I was a juvenile with no guidance. Taking advantage of this situation he managed to keep both of us in the same house. Things started getting worse as he kept getting busted by the police for petty crime. When he was released, he would stay with us. There was not a single day that I didn’t get beaten up by him. All I could do was to protect my child and take all the punches and kicks. In the meantime, I got pregnant again and he was in prison. This time the landlord asked us to leave the house as we had not paid rent for a long time.
This moment I made the wisest decision in my life. I left the flat and left that man forever.
I walked into the slums of Swoyambhu with some clothes and kitchen utensils. The other slum dwellers accepted me like their family member. I felt loved again, like the love that I only remember getting from my mother. I was free from all the beatings and violence that I had to face every day. Here, all I had to worry about was to take some precautions during monsoon as the little river that runs through our slum could sweep away our belongings. I gave birth to my second child in the slum. This time my room was filled with many helping and caring hands. I became part of the slum and an active member in the slum dwellers movement.
I started taking part in all the demonstrations and rallies organized. I was part of the Young Communist League (YCL) and was pretty active. I got politically educated and learnt about woman rights. If only I knew what rights meant a couple of years ago. Perhaps my life would have been better. I worked hard for my kids and for the movement of all the poor people I lived with. Meanwhile, I started learning how to box. A few other female comrades from the slum were also taking boxing classes because it was a must-have skill during the clashes with the police during riots.
I started boxing for my health and for self defense.
After spending six years in the slums, surprisingly, one of my comrades proposed marriage. Despite the fact that I was a mother of two and living in a filthy river bank, Suren Chhetri, also a member of the YCL fell in love with me. We got married and left the slum and shifted to my husband’s flat. Since he was also struggling financially we could barely feed and educate my kids. So we decided to send the kids to my brother in Barpak who would take care of them and send them to school there. It would be a lot cheaper than trying to raise them in Kathmandu. All I had to do was send money for them at the end of every month.
I am boxing and earning some money by working in small factories which pays around 5000 rupees ($50) per month. This is what unskilled labor can get for working 10 hours a day. When I need some extra money I work over-time. That pays me 50 rupees (50 cents) for working 2 hours. My husband earns a bit better than me. He is a carpenter. He has to look after his parents and help me take care of my kids. I feel fortunate to have Suren as my life partner who is far more understanding and caring. He treats me with respect and has never treated me like I was treated before.
My husband and my mother-in-law are hesitant to support my passion towards boxing. They are worried because they see the bruises and cuts on my face after a competition or boxing sparing days. It is also because they’ve never seen me winning a gold medal yet. But for me boxing has become a medium to revitalize myself. It was never a medal oriented game.
Now I feel like I should compete and try to win gold someday. I know it would raise my proffesionalism and also get me some fame which I can use for creating a better future.
I remember every loss in the boxing ring. More importantly, I haven’t forgotten any losses in my life. And I believe I have nothing more left to lose except to start winning both in the boxing ring and in my life.
story & photos contributor: Bikkil Sthapit