We work at nights and fight for our rights : Bhima Subedi

I was born in 1981 in the eastern district of Jhapa in Nepal. I have two elder sisters and brothers. My two sisters got married when I was a kid so I was in charge of doing all the house work. Even though I was a good student I could not continue. My father being a farmer could not afford money for my education. I used to sell the chickens which I had raised so I could afford to pay my school fees.

When I was in ninth grade, our house caught on fire. We had nothing left except the clothes on our backs. It was a very traumatic time for me.  My brother had also been sexually abusing me for years. Since I would try and hide from my brother and he didn’t get what he asked for, he started harassing me verbally with foul words. I could not share about these matters to anyone. I felt no one would support me. I started being afraid of staying in my own home. I was scared of my own father as well. It was difficult for me to fall asleep at night. So I would go to my friend’s house to sleep. Gradually I quit my study. I was traumatized and would cry every single day

About 16 years ago, one of my childhood friends who was now living in Kathmandu visited home. My mother went to her and discussed about my situation. She was unaware of the attempts of sexual abuses by my own brother but she knew I was having difficult time at home. My friend suggested that it maybe better to send me to Kathmandu and work so I could forget about troubles at home.

That same year I left for Kathmandu.

I lived with my friend in Kathmandu and worked together in a garment factory. I was new in Kathmandu and completely unaware of my surroundings. When winter arrived it was difficult for me to adjust to the cold. But I decided to never return home and told myself that I would survive the harshest conditions by myself even if it killed me.  After two months my friend asked me to leave her apartment and my own place. I knew no one in Kathmandu at that time.

I told my situation to an acquaintance in the garment factory. He suggested I should marry one of his friends who would take care of me.

I had never seen this person before but for my survival I married his friend in a temple and moved in with him. After a year, I gave birth to my daughter.

I had quit my job when I had the baby but the salary my husband brought home was not enough for us. So I started working as a baby sitter and a house maid. Many of the house owners tried to sexually abuse me but every time someone did something that made me feel uncomfortable I would simply leave the house.

Soon my husband left for work to India. He didn’t contact me for a year.

In between that period, I started selling clothes on the streets of Chabahil. One day one of the sisters from my village saw me. I talked to her about work and how I needed money. Then she told me about her work as a waiter in a dance bar at Thamel. She told me that I could work there if I wanted to. She told me, “I have worked for many years now. It may be good or bad. If you like the work you can continue else just leave.”

I went to the dance bar to work a few days later. I had never heard about Dohori or a dance bar before. The first time I entered I saw big lights, heard loud music and was told to sit next to the guests at the corner of the room. At that time, I was so afraid I could barely speak to people. The smell of cigarettes suffocated me. My boss told me that if a customer ordered a drink for us, we would keep a certain percentage from the sales. I started earning 2500 rupees salary a month. A month later it increased to 3500.

The first month I worked as a host. I had a four-month old child to take care of. I used to lock her in a room when I went to work. Some evenings the neighbors took my child out from my room and took care of her until I got back

Some clients used to think that we were easy women and thus open to exploitation and abuse. They didn’t know or care that we were trying to sustain our lives. After a month of being a host, I became a waitress in the same bar.

One night, right before midnight, the police came. They were dressed in civilian clothes and were fully drunk. They started bullying us right as they entered and then they started to beat us. The manager and the bouncers were supposed to take care of us but they just hid while we were beat. Some of the workers were taken to terrace and were beaten up. I was taken to the accountant’s room near the terrace and was hit repeatedly on my face. The policeman was verbally abusing me as he beat me brutally. I had thick yellow liquid coming out of my eye which later turned into blood. I almost fainted. The right side of my face was numb. Our manager had called the police from another station while he was hiding and finally a bunch of other policemen came who got rid of the other drunken bunch.

I used to leave for work at 4 pm. My neighbors used to always gossip about me and where I was all night. When I returned back home after work at midnight, we had a hard time travelling back. The police on the streets often told us, “Our sisters work in jungles and bring fodder and wood. Why can’t you do similar work?” Many times boys in motorcycles followed the taxi we were in.

My husband came back to Nepal after a year without bringing a single penny. He used to say people working in restaurant are not good people. When my customers gave me tips and I took home extra money he would accuse me of doing something bad to get those tips. I told him to visit my workplace so he could see for himself but he never came. Like so many others, he had his own perception of reality without knowing the truth. We often got into arguments about my work.

After the police beatings I went to the hospital because my ears were in a lot of pain. They told me that my ear drum had been affected. I had to go get it operated. My workplace offered no compensation. After a month I returned to the same workplace.

Around that time, I heard about WOFOWON (Women’s Forum for Women in Nepal). One of my sisters told me about them. I was very happy when I first came to their office. Finally, someone was working for the employees of the entertainment sector in Kathmandu.

Our voices were heard here.

I learnt about forming a union. The management never provided us with any security so this was the only way we could help each other. All the employees formed a union. We got an identity card saying that we are dance bar employees. When the owner of the dance bar found out that we formed a union he called for a meeting at midnight after work. We told him that we needed a union for our security. I reminded him that when the police beat us, I wasn’t compensated a penny for medical expenses. There was a heated argument and our boss wanted to fire all 60 employees of the bar along with us if we continue forming union groups. WOFOWON helped us negotiate with our bosses and finally we all returned to working in the same place.

During the day, I would often go to the offices of the organization. They trained us on employee rights, government laws and women’s rights. I got confident. I spoke to my family about my work. Orientations and trainings on various issues helped me understand that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I started being proud of who I am.

I started volunteering for WOFOWON. In the day times we go to cabin restaurants and massage parlors and speak to the women working there. In the evening we go to the Dohori and dance bars. Many women come to the organization’s office for various trainings.

I had never shared the story of my sexual abuse by my brother to anyone before. But I felt safe to reveal this at the organization. They provided me with a counsellor that I saw for many months after. Few years ago, I went back to my parent’s home. I saw my brother there. This time I spoke against him in front of all the family members. I became a brave person after that.

I rarely visit my house anymore.

I am brave. I am transgendered: Nilam Poudel

All my life I’ve always had to work for everything. My childhood was spent working instead of playing. Altogether we were eight siblings, four sons and four daughters. Since I was very little I liked wearing gajal (eye liner) and my mom’s sari. I would dream of being a fashion designer. I would steal my mother’s sari, cut it with a knife and sew a bhoto for my sister. Many times I was beaten up by my mother for doing so. My father and brothers used to beat me and my sisters scolded me for my behavior and act.

My family were farmers but didn’t have their own land so we all worked in other people’s land. But I never did any heavy work. It was very difficult for me to plough and do the heavy stuff. I preferred cooking food and bringing it to the workers in the fields. This was usually what women did. I used to wash dishes, carry fertilizers and do all the house work which men didn’t do. I always was found with a group of girls and I disliked boys. The boys used to tease me telling me that I was like a girl.  But at the same time I felt that I was attracted to them. It was a strange thing.

I was also a very good student and I really wanted to study. My father was a very poor man and could barely afford to feed me, forget educate me. So I was sent to work at someone’s house in exchange for an education and food. These days its called child labor. I used to cook food, clean dishes, take care of their children, and clean the house.  I had to wake up at 5 am and do my chores till 9 am. After that I could go to school. At around 1 pm during my school break I came back to the house to prepare their afternoon tea. Then I would return to school and continue my classes. My classes finished at 4 pm. I then had to wash the dishes and prepare dinner.

Since third grade I worked in other people’s homes and studied until I finished high school. In our classes boys and girls sat separately. My teachers would often scold me because I sat with girls. I didn’t realize the differences between us. For me, I was like them. I didn’t play football with boys, instead I played games that girls enjoyed like Gattietc. When I was in eighth grade, I was very into reading this newspaper called Saptahik which was popular. I used to save my lunch money – 5 or 10 rupees every day and buy Saptahik instead. One day there was an article on sex change which made me very curious. I started searching and researching about it and eventually became aware of my own sexuality.

I realised that I preferred boys physically. Whenever my male friends talked about their girlfriend and having a physical relationship with a girl I felt disgusted. When a boy sat next to me, I felt happy. I was 14 years old and I was infatuated with boys. I slowly started sharing what I felt.

At one point of my life I got introduced to BDS (Blue Diamond Society) and met many third gender people. Even though the family in Dharan who I lived with didn’t allow me to meet them, I secretly made visits to third gender people in Ithari who were working with BDS there.  I told them I like boys. I like to have long hair, dress like a woman and put make up on.  During ninth grade I made frequent visits to the BDS office because I felt I belonged to that community.  After my tenth grade exams I was interviewed by a FM station. I called my home and told them to listen to my interview. Through that interview, I let my family and others know about me. I openly spoke of my sexuality and my preferences.

My family members accepted me for who I was. They didn’t say anything when I wore women’s clothes to go home.

I am brave. I don’t feel shy. I never hesitate to speak about me. In fact I want people to know about who and what I am.

If I had been born as a girl, maybe I would live a perfect girl’s life, marrying and taking care of my family. But since I am a transgendered person I am different. I talk openly about who I am because I think it will help others like me. I hope that if someone’s child is like me then they will support their children. They will understand that there is nothing wrong with being transgendered.

I would often be called Hijra (eunuch) and chakka (sissy) but I learnt to ignore it. Often times older people would ask their children to call me chakka as I passed by.

I never felt discriminated against until I came to Kathmandu. In Kathmandu I would apply for jobs but when they called me in for an interview and saw me, they would decline telling me openly that they don’t hire hijras and chakkas.

In June 2009, I went to Qatar for work. For a month I worked in a construction site where many Nepali men worked. They would always help me out since they knew I couldn’t do heavy work like them. I used to live with all the construction workers in a  worker’s hostel. At that place I met five similar people like me who were from various places in Nepal. I stayed for a month and returned back due to medical issues. After that I worked in Dubai for a few years. I took care of a wealthy Sheikh’s home when they were away. The Sheikh and his wife trusted me to take care of their home while they were gone but eventually I had to leave because the money just wasn’t enough. You see, I have to take care of all my family back in the village.

I came back from working as a migrant worker and got trained as a makeup artist and now I am learning hair styling. I am modeling and also have been writing as a journalist for Himalayan News Express Online. I take interviews of celebrities.

I am a transgendered person.

I got breast implants in Bangkok and my lower genetalia is of a man’s. In Bangkok they call us “she males”. Before implants I used to wear both male and female dresses. But now after my implants, I feel more comfortable just  wearing women’s clothes.

Today, I have been in a relationship with a boy for 10 years. He is married to someone else but I know that he loves me. I am not sure if his wife knows about our relationship.

He is going to have a baby.

Eventually, I want to build an old age home for people of my community. So people like me can live without paying in an old age home. I want to take care of old transgendered people. I have seen many cases of trans men and women where the families are around until we send them money. And a lot of this money is earned working in Thamel since there are barely any opportunities for us. When we reach a certain age and cannot work anymore our families have often discarded us. So many people from my community commit suicide. So many are found dead on the streets. But then there are those like Bhumika Shrestha who is well known  politically, Anjali Lama who is a famous model and Sophie Sunwar who has her own make up studio.

I wish there was a bar or a place to hang out for LGBTI people in Nepal. It would make things a lot easier. There are many people who are in search of a comfortable place to be themselves. If there was a safe place for us then we could comfortably do what we wish.

Art is my language: Sheelasha Rajbhandari

My mother was an educator and my father a photography enthusiast. I don’t come from a family with an art background but art was always around me. My father with his photography and my mother who loved dancing. I started drawing when I was small. At a young age I realized that I could effectively communicate visually rather than verbally. In school when the teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, my friends would always say typical things like doctor and engineer while I always said I want to be an artist. It was always easier for me to understand life through art and pictures. I still have all my drawings till today.

After I finished high school we had a discussion at home about if art can be a profession. When I told my family I wanted to study art they thought it was a whimsical choice. Most people, including my family think that art is limited to painting; but art is beyond that. I chose to study sculpture. People expect young girls to daintily sit and paint a flower but here I was working with heavy wood, iron and mud. My clothes were often filthy covered with mud. They couldn’t understand why I would choose such a genre of art. My family would often question me saying things like “What other people in society will think? Who will marry you?” etc.

In hindsight, I think my family mostly supported my decision to become an artist but were afraid of what society would say. I didn’t dress up like most girls. Comfort was more important than fashion to me. I couldn’t go and make art wearing high heels. I didn’t wear jewelry or gold or bother about housework. Everyone called me a weirdo. I didn’t make any money. My parents were worried about looking bad in front of people because of my attitude.

Outside of home, the challenge started when I started my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. I was an only woman among 17 boys in my class. This was difficult for me to cope with. In Nepal there are very few female artists but when I needed to prove myself I showed everyone what I was capable of. And slowly my family was also convinced.

Truth of a Sacred River 2013
Truth of a Sacred River 2013

It was very difficult as the only girl in class when we studied human anatomy and had to make nude paintings. The guys in class were always excited to do nude paintings and I always felt very awkward. The boys in class would often demand a female model. But even in the rare occasion that we had a male model I would be very uncomfortable when I had to look at their lower body and draw it. Even looking at an image on a book was difficult. Slowly I started making it easier for myself and told myself that even doctors had to go through the same situation so its very normal.

The first body of art I created was about how Kathmandu had changed in such a short time. How have the changes affected people’s lives? What is change? Is there development just because there is an increase in population in a city?

I had not worked on women’s issues until then. In 2008, my subject for my art was abortion. But even this wasn’t from a female reproductive rights point of view. It was more like: why do people abort? How is the fetus affected? Why is the ratio of abortion rising? What kind of physical pain does one go through?

My family never really discriminated between me and my brother. But there came a time when I felt discriminated against and it was when I had my first menstruation. I wasn’t allowed to enter the kitchen. They had a separate plate for me to eat from. If I touched someone while on my period, they would have to take a bath. On top of that I couldn’t understand the physical changes and psychological effect I was going through. At those particular moments I regretted being born as a girl. I didn’t know how to handle the pain during my period. Slowly I understood and was able to handle the situation. Slowly changes were made in my house as well and today we have no such ‘untouchable’ system.

I didn’t earn any money for a long time after I finished my school. It was like being an outcast from society. Most people could not understand what we, art students, were doing. They thought we didn’t care about our future. Art was not common profession like doctor and engineering. Until and unless people can’t feel what art is, they can’t describe it. So I don’t blame society for its misconception of art.

Abortion 2009

Art is the perception of people. Art is a visual language. Humans are visual creators.

Symbols have been created and interpreted since pre-historic time. People like me are humans who are aware of social, political and critical changes. We feel the effect of changes around us and often chose it as our subject matter. Most of the time my work, even though it’s personal it reflects political and social issues. I have always been interested in making art that gives critical information rather than make something decorative. I want people to think about the message that the art is conveying.

As an artist we do experience-based work. So the art work may differ in terms of experience of an individual. Because I had felt discrimination during menstruation I decided to do a body of work on menstruation and sanitary pads. The whole industry of sanitary pads was very interesting to me; here is something that is so taboo but there are people working in an industry that profits from it. Who are these people I wondered?

The Un mourning Song 2014

In 2014 I went to a remote village in India to work on the taboos related to menstruation. This was a village where most men worked in a sanitary pad factory. I interviewed a man working there and was pleasantly surprised to find that he was happy and unabashed of his work. He felt like he was helping women by making it possible for them to perform their daily activities and be comfortable. I collaborated with men and women who created sanitary pads and women who embroidered as part of my project. I exhibited my work all over. People and mostly girls were shocked by this exhibit. Many girls told me it was disgusting.

Nuga Ya Kha Thyaagu 2015

After the earthquake last year, I started working with women from Bhaktapur utilizing their knitting skills. We knitted big portraits.

I chose the idea of a portrait because in history you can almost never find portraits of common people. It is a rare thing. Mostly rich powerful people would have their portraits painted by artists. The women knitted each other faces and we displayed it in golden frames that give it a regal look. I wanted the women to feel royal.

My boyfriend is a Gurung and me a Newar. At first my family opposed our relationship because we belong to two different ethnicities. But eventually they agreed and we got married.

I had never thought of changing my last name after marriage. Neither me nor my husband care about it but we get so much pressure from our communities about it. I cannot understand how legally women are made to identify with the men in their lives. This entire system is setup to make women inferior than men. Maybe I never had thought about it seriously before but now it haunts me to realize that after birth we are identified by our father’s name and then by our husband’s name.

My husband is from Lamjung but he’s been living in Kathmandu for a long time. After my marriage people tease me saying I have become Lamjunge (someone from Lamjung). It disturbed me. Will our children be Lamjunge after their birth? They will be half Newar and half Gurung from Kathmandu, won’t they? I do not wear sindur. I don’t believe in fasting for a man as women in Nepal do. People are telling me that my husband won’t have a long life as a consequence. All of these experiences are showing me how deep discrimination is rooted in our society. How lightly people take these things. They call it a ‘woman’s fate’ not thinking that it’s a socio political construct that rules over us. This is the inspiration for me to start my new projects.

Agony of the New Bed 2016

I have met many women who are strong and have changed taboos. What did they have to go through? In my own way, I will also fight against these taboos that exist in our society. I am planning to exhibit the menstruation project at the Asian Contemporary Art Exhibition in Korea. I am also exhibiting the art from Bhaktapur in Denmark next month.

I will continue making art and using it to express social political messages.

My attempt at changing my society: Rabika Tamang

I was young. I was at home. I had an uncle. He was involved in the Maoist movement. He got disappeared during the people’s war.

Our culture and society discriminates between women and men. Whenever a girl and a boy talk or walk together, people talked like it was a terrible thing. I was a mischievous child when I joined the Maoist rebellion.

My objective was to eliminate the gender discrimination that continues to exist in our society.

When the Maoists held cultural programs I used to attend as an audience. One day I watched their performance and left home to join them. Since then I became a member of the People’s Liberation Army. I fought in all wars since that day because for me, it was a fight against gender discrimination. As soon as women leave the four walls of their homes, everything they do is seen from a negative point of view. Women are seen as a weak gender. I fought for gender equality. Because of sacrifices of women like us today there are women who are in powerful positions like the President and House Speaker of our country but what do they do for poor women like us?

Since puberty I have fought wars. Sometimes for 8 hours.

I was shot and almost starved to death but I never thought of becoming a coward and giving up.

At one period I was a commander and trained 30-35 people in the camp. I felt like I had to fight this war to end this discrimination once and for all. I am proud of what I did and even now, I have only one weakness and it’s the bullets that have wounded my body. As far as my brain goes however there is nothing I cannot achieve. In the course of fighting the war I was shot twice. One of the bullets is still in my body.I was in a coma for 16 months. I remember waking up from it and seeing my wounded comrades around me on the floor.

After the war was over and we were in the camps of UNMIN, they decided that I was not deemed fit to join Nepal Army. We had to pass a test and if we did then we were given a choice of either joining Nepal Army or take some money and leave. I was unaware of the date of the test since I was busy with medical check ups and had gone to Dolkha during that time. So I never got anything for fighting. I still don’t have enough money for medical check ups. I was a warrior who fought a war at Krishnavir for 8 hours with no food. This is the same body that fought a war in Siraha for 8 hours. There are so many battles I was part of, its almost uncountable and yet here I am; poverty stricken, wounded and alone.

I didn’t receive a penny from the budget allocated for the people who were affected by the war.

The Nepali State gave a small amount as relief to those injured in the war. I have not received anything from the state because I wasn’t sent a notice about it. Later when I found out and went to the ministry they told me that the time to get relief was already over. I pleaded with the leaders of our district committee to try and arrange a small medical relief fund for me but nothing happened. If I didn’t have my husband, I probably wouldn’t be alive today.

I met my husband while we were both in the UNMIN camp. He proposed marriage to me via his commanders and at first I rejected it since I’m so injured and my health is terrible. But later I gave in and we have a son now. Right now my husband is in Malaysia, working as a painter to support our family. I have to take medicine daily otherwise I get unconscious. Most of my husband’s income goes for my medicine.

While we were part of the people’s army there was no discrimination between a man and a woman. We were treated as equals.

When we had our period we could take leave for a few days. Married people could live together. If two people liked each other, we could notify our commander and ask for permission to see each other. We were given equal amounts of work and truly treated as equals.
We were all very disciplined. The hardest part about adjusting to life outside the people’s army has been readjusting to living in this discriminating society again.

My family thought I was dead in the war. When I returned they were very happy and treated me well. But once the Maoists came to power and my family saw how they betrayed us they started giving me a hard time. They would often tell me, “What did you achieve? Is this what you fought for?”

I feel like after all our sacrifices we have been forgotten. No one has tried to understand the kinds of problems we are facing. The leader under whose command we fought has forgotten about us. Inside the current Maoist party there are women in positions like minister, house speaker, members of parliament, politicians but even they don’t care enough to understand the problems of the ex-women fighters.

Today I am isolated by both my family members and my party members. I have health problems due to the effects of the war. I have to take care of myself and take medicine twice a day. But through it all I continue another war of my own; I learn to be self- sustaining and strong in order to survive and live a happy life.

story contributor: Gita Rasaili

And I chose to box : Meena Ghale

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

After all I’ve lost in life, I am still a fighter : Shova Acharya

I was born in 1967 in Tulsipur, Dang. I was married when I was 13 to a 22-year-old teacher from a neighboring village. I got my period when I was 14 and gave birth to my first child when I was 15. By the time I turned 28, I had given birth to all five of my children. I became a widow at 30.

After my first son was born, my husband went to jail for his political activities for the first time. He was imprisoned for 6 months. After he got released, he became a local leader of sorts. I had difficulties supporting that and we often fought.

We migrated to Bardia in 1991 and moved around between Bardiya & Kailali after that. Sometime around 1997, my husband left home to go underground as he was deeply involved in the party which had just started the People’s War. I was left with nothing. In order to survive I opened a small shop. I finished all my household work in the morning and went to my shop after that. Women weren’t as free back then as they are now so it was tough for me to be a single parent. When I saw my husband after months and months I would fight with him and tell him to not come back.

His friends in the party would often try to talk some sense into me. But I would reply, “I don’t like the politics you are involved in. The war will continue for a long time. You can’t change superstitions and backwardness in our society. First change your family, life partner, and then change the country.”

Once when he came back after a long time of being away we got into a big argument. After discussing all night, he convinced me and said, “I am doing something for the betterment of our people. Even if the enemy kills me, I will have died in war, as a martyr. Bring up the children in a proper way. Wear similar clothes like you do today. Don’t act like a widow. Don’t bow your head in front of our enemy. If I die, I will be the first martyr of Kailali.”

My eyes full of tears I told him, “Why don’t you stay at home? I will be the first martyr of Kailali instead.” I was terrified. If something happened to my husband how would I bring up the children alone? I didn’t have an education or a job.

I bid him farewell during twilight. On August 21, 1998 he was killed at night. The same night I dreamt of him repeating the same words from our discussion. That’s how I knew he was gone.

I slowly started getting interested in politics after that. I decided that I would complete what my husband had begun and started moving ahead with political work.

But right before I got involved, soon after my husband’s death, the police called me to a police station to question me about my husband. When I arrived there, a local police officer said to me, “Why are you still wearing red? You are a widow now.” I remembered my husband words and didn’t bow down my head, instead I argued. ‘If he’s dead, give me my husband’s dead body. You killed my husband and now you drag me to the police station, who will take care of my children?’ I wasn’t scared. I was kept in jail for 4 days in Dhangadi. They beat and tortured me and asked me questions about my husband.

At one point they took me to a room to show photos of Maoists who had been killed. As I saw the photos I remembered an incident on September 3, 1998 where three revolutionaries who were friends of my husband were killed in front of us with 24 gunshots. When we tried to take the bodies, they didn’t allow us and took the bodies with them. It was them.

I fainted at 10 am that morning and regained consciousness at 4pm that afternoon.

Once I got out of jail I joined the party and became a revolutionary.

On December 20, 1998 I got arrested for 14 days. Every night at midnight they drove us to various places and interrogated us, threatening to kill us. On the last night I was tied to a tree and I thought I was going to die. At one point the interrogating officer asked me whose daughter I was.

I told him that I am a Pandey’s daughter from Tulsipur, Dang. He then asked me, ‘Dharma Raj Pandey?’  I motioned with a yes. He was surprised and said “How can you come from such a respectable family and become a Maoist.” I told him that I didn’t get involved out of own will. The police brutality and murder of my husband made me one.

The officer told me that he was friends with my father. They went to school together. So he felt sorry for me and didn’t shoot me. He asked me to surrender instead. I refused.

They eventually put me in prison for 1 year. At that point all I was interested in was to bring my 2-year-old breastfeeding son in prison with me so I could take care of him. I fought hard for it and was finally successful.

My eldest daughter who at the time was a student in Eighth Grade was also imprisoned because the police said that since she is the daughter of a Maoist she would also join the party. I fought hard to get my innocent daughter released but was unsuccessful.

I was released after a year but my daughter was still in jail.

I went to the district office to try and release my innocent daughter. They refused. I told them that they had brought an innocent child who was still in school and put her in prison. Now the consequences of that would be deadly.

My daughter was finally released and the first thing she did when she came out was join the party. She wanted to avenge her father’s death. I tried very hard to make her stay at home and take care of her siblings. One day I went to visit my parents. She chose that time to run away from home. My daughter was very talented. She played many musical instruments and sang beautifully. She joined the cultural team and went from village to village performing with the party.

On May 2nd, 2002 I had a bad feeling and couldn’t sleep all night. I felt the same way as the day my husband died. The next morning, I went to the party office and asked to find where my daughter was.  No one could give me an answer and I knew she was gone. I asked the party members to take me to the place where my daughter was killed. They sat there with their heads hung low.

Later that night some party members came to my house and told me that she was killed in Doti in an army surprise encounter. After that I lost my mind and was completely unconscious of my life and surroundings. One of my comrades in the village sent me to Kathmandu. I was going through severe trauma and was kept under medical care until I slowly healed. After two months, I came back and went underground. I would come and visit my children at night to bring them food and leave in the early morning.

Once again I was arrested. Those days were the hardest for my four children. They were still small and couldn’t feed themselves. They were often hungry and my little daughter used to make local alcohol and sell it for a little money. One of my sons was suffering from a terrible skin infection and my daughter wanted to visit me. Nobody from mine or my husband’s family cared for them. The villagers would give them food and also gave them travel fare to visit me in jail. I was finally allowed to bring them inside with me.

In 2005 I returned home. I made an agreement with a leader of the party for my children’s education and food.

I started doing community work, working in schools, the community forest etc. I immersed myself in the party’s work and community work. My children were provided with scholarships. I got a small fund of 100$ for cattle farming. I had to manage my time with household work, farming, meetings and political work. During that time, we raised issues of women’s rights, Dalit and indigenous people’s rights and fought for it with our lives.

For the People’s War we sacrificed everything for a better future and happiness. I have lost two members in my family, all the wealth I had is gone. And yet I can’t help but feel like what we had fought for was in vain.

Where is the future of our martyr’s children? What about the children who lost both of the parents during the People’s War? Have we acheived what we wanted to?

The circumstances that I went through in life made me stronger and bolder. I never thought I would go to jail. I never thought I would lose my husband and my eldest daughter. But I survived it all and am a fighter till this day.

I work with pride and joy : Kamala Tamang

I was born in a farmer’s home in the Tamang community of Nepal. I had to collect 10-12 sacks of fodder a day. I used to wake up at 5 am and bring 4-5 sacks of grass. After that I used to go to school, the place where I rested after my gruelling morning work then went back to collecting 6-7 sacks of fodder after school. We had a small farm where we grew enough  food for our family. My family was poor and it was difficult to get money for my education, but I continued to study nonetheless.
DSC_3036editedAfter passing my SLC in 1999 I came to Kathmandu. I was unfamiliar with it and it was scary for me. The first time I was in Ratnapark, I saw many disabled and helpless people. I felt bad for them and used to give them all my travel fare and walked home instead.
I studied music but I was not a good student so I failed. On top of that my tuition fee was $35 per month, which was out of my budget range. So I just dropped out of  college.
In Nepali society women are pressured to marry early or else we face the stigma of being “undesireable”.  To avoid this social pressure I got married at 23. Today I have two children. I have been working hard non-stop ever since. The day before I gave birth to my child, I was working and took three months maternity leave. I never wasted time and kept myself busy with work.

The first work I did was embroider shawl with glitters. I used to work day and night to earn $0.6 per day. I worked hard and eventually saved enough to buy a machine.

One day I was walking around Mary Ward School in Jhamsikhel. Karuna Lama,  who was a teacher there, approached me to take a tailor training from the school without any charge. I got trained in sewing by my hands and also learnt how to use a machine for almost a year. The school provided clothes where we could learn and I was allowed to bring my baby during the trainings which gave me great flexiblity to learn. There were times when it was difficult but in order to hone my skills I had to deal with every problem that may have been on my path.
After my training was over I worked 2-3 months in a Montessori School from 7am -7pm. It was fun to be with children, but I had to leave since I couldn’t give enough time to my own child. Plus I wanted to begin my dream of sewing as a career.While I was in training at the school I bagged first prize among 25 people. That is when I realized that I would make a career in tailoring, pursue it to the next level and support my family with it. I perfected myself by practising on clothes of people without charging them. I worked in a boutique for a short period of time. After sometime my neighbor informed me about an organization called Hausala Creatives. They provide co-working space, create handmade items, encourage craftsmanship, and empower women. I joined the organization and here I am today pursuing my career in tailoring. I have been using mainly Dhaka as a material to make all our products since it gives a traditional touch and is popular in the market as a typical Nepali product. Dhaka has been my main focus because I want to promote traditional Nepali fabrics in the products.

During last year’s earthquake, the organization helped me a lot as my home was destroyed, but more than that it also gave me an opportunity to help other people as well. Since last year, I have been training girls and women from two villages (Dhungkharka and Chasingkharka) in weaving and stitching. To be self sustained women need skills besides an education. They should be able to survive in any corner of the world. I can vividly remember the moment when I wanted to wear fitting clothes. I used a sickle to cut the clothes and sew it with my hand. There were machines and scissors in modern and wealthy places, but we had no access to them. With my limited tools, I used to make clothes for newborn babies.
I want to perfect the skill I have. There are people in our society who label tailoring as a low form of work, but I want to change that perception and make our community understand the value of this work.

Today, in whatever little free time I have I spend it by getting involved in my local political work. Today, I am also seen as a social worker in my society.

My father is an Indian, my mother Nepali and I’m a “stateless” child: Apsana Khatun

My father used to work as a tailor when he met my mother. Both fell in love and got married. To fall in love was itself an unusual act in our society and that too with an Indian Muslim was close to impossible. Their love story went fairly smooth without any interruption by any family members; they fell in love in Kathmandu, married in Delhi, came back to work in Kathmandu and then finally settled here. Now they have three kids, me and my two younger brothers.

I hardly remember going to my father’s house in Delhi. They say I was only two years old when they last took me there. Both my brothers haven’t visited my father’s home place. In fact, it’s been almost 24 years since my family has gone back to Delhi.

I was born and raised here in Kathmandu. I was born in one of the houses in Bhimsenthan where we still live. When I was ready to appear for the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination, I was asked a birth certificate for the first time. Without hesitation I received a certificate from the local municipal body. I knew that it would ease the process to get my citizenship later. Even the municipality staff suggested the same. But it was totally a false hope that they’d given. My application for citizenship has been ignored numerous times without any convincing reason. The reason behind the denial was that my father was an Indian.

Just like any one in our patriarchal society, I too kept my surname after my father’s which is Khatun. For me being a Khatun is like having a normal surname just like any other people. I still remember being harassed by my friends for being a Muslim when I was a kid but I haven’t been treated badly in my adolescence.

The fact that I am being denied a citizenship makes me think if I made a mistake by taking on my father’s surname.

But immediately after this thought passes my mind, another bitter reality strikes me hard reminding me that there’s no place for a mother’s identity in this society.

I researched everything and anything I could, to find out a place for mothers whose identity has been erased. I even flipped pages of law books to check if being a mother is really valuable in this society. I read line by line over and over again to check and recheck if I was really deprived of that right by the constitution. The Constitution of Nepal clearly states that I can obtain a citizenship. It states that in its Clause 11, (2) (b), that a person whose father or mother was a citizen of Nepal at his or her birth is eligible. It gives me hope to compete for it. I have done everything that I could. I have xeroxed my documents more than ten times to give it to the lawyers and agents who assured me that I would get a citizenship certificate. Of course nobody could get me one. One agent even asked me for a bribe of 60,000 rupees. I told my parents about this and my parents almost gave him 1, 20,000 rupees to make two certificates, one for me and one for my brother. But we ended not wanting to get citizenship illegally.

I have been everywhere like a fanatic in search of a citizenship. I know my parents must have been worried seeing me worrying about it. They could only calm my angst and do nothing more. Like me, they too have knocked every door. I am definitely desperate for it. I had to let go of many opportunities because of this very reason. I can’t even ride a bike as I don’t have a license. My mother owns land in this country but how is she going to pass it over to her children even if she wants to?

My fight is definitely to get a citizenship by birth through my mother’s name. I feel I should stand firm.

There is also a clause in the constitution which makes me eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalization. It says any foreign national of full age and capacity may submit an application to obtain Nepali citizenship if he/she can speak and write in Nepali, if he/she has resided in Nepal for at least 15 years, if he/she has a good conduct and character, and if he/she is engaged in any occupation in Nepal. I do match all the provisions asked by the constitution. I fluently speak, write both Nepali and Newari. I have lived in this country for more than 25 years now. I believe I have a good conduct and character and every month I pay taxes to this government too. If this government wants me to apply for this category, I could. But I am not a foreign national. I don’t have an Indian citizenship. I never considered myself an Indian.

But this society is cruel. It keeps telling me that I am Indian because of an Indian father and because my mother is a Nepali woman, her identity doesn’t count.

I was in a relationship for seven years with a Shakya guy from the Newar community. We were all set to get married. For seven years my partner didn’t have any problems with me. He would always support me saying, “You are still a daughter from a Newari mother which undoubtedly makes you a Nepali.” When we started to talk about marriage, his family denied meeting me, even once. They found out that my father was a Muslim. They even prevented him from seeing me. It was a painful moment when I heard about his marriage which would take place with another girl whose parents were both Nepali. Later, his marriage celebrations took place a couple of blocks away from where I live. It broke me into pieces and tore me apart. Before he got married he used to console me saying, “Your parents are inter-caste and inter-national, which is even better. I will convince my parents anyhow”. But it seemed like the whole country itself has not accepted it till now.
I am twenty-six now, which is a common age for a girl to get married in my community. I might marry soon. And once I get married to a Nepali guy, I know I will be qualified enough to apply for the citizenship of this country.

This constitution gives more credentials to a Nepali man than a Nepali woman despite holding the same citizenship certificates.

My husband, a Nepali man, will be the person who will liberate me from this crisis.Though this might be a way out for me, I wonder how my brothers are going to fight for it.

I have fought lots of battles which I have lost. But I still feel independent and am able to face numerous upcoming fights for my rights. If I ever get a citizenship through my to-be-husband, I am sure I would consider myself a humiliated Nepali throughout my life.

story & photos contributor: Bikkil Sthapit

My strength? To never give up : Raj Kumari Paswan

I am 35 years old and have four kids already. Isn’t it outrageous? I had my youngest son ten years ago. I was 16 years old, studying in 8th grade when my parents arranged my marriage. They did not even care to think if it was logical or how I would feel about it. Things are different now though, parents do not believe that marriage is a liability. The usual trend now is to have one’s kid married in their 20’s which I feel is the right thing to do. 
I was an average student but my education was portrayed as insignificant to me by my own society. I did not realize what it would mean for the future of my family. I have four kids, the fourth one being the only son. It was clearly the preference of boy over girl in our society that pressurized and forced me to continuously give birth until I had one. I was very aware that four children meant lots of money and time but I had no choice even when I knew that there was only one source of income in my family. I felt helpless but I had no option, I tried standing up for what was right but I failed. At the moment, I think we are doing fairly okay as parents. My eldest daughter has always been average in her studies and does not show much interest in it but my younger ones are a lot better, actually they are gifted. I taught the eldest one some stitching so that she can take care of herself when time requires her to. Whereas the second one likes to get busy with the cattle and spends most of her time in fields. As for me, I am trying my best to pass on some of my good skill to them and make sure they are capable of standing up for themselves.
Three dollars each for monthly school fees makes it six dollars a month for two which is already a big amount for us and with academic competition on the rise extra tuition classes are a must. We can only afford to pay three dollars for one and two dollars for another. We chose the second for our son since he is the youngest and probably needs more guidance but it breaks my heart when my little daughter asks if it is true that we didn’t send her for tuition because she is a girl and is the less preferred one.

She says “I really want to study and do well, why don’t you help me?” She is very young right now but I hope she understands soon what two dollars mean to us.

 I want to be the mother that I did not have, I will do all that I can to make sure all my kids have a secure future. I will always support them if there is ever an opportunity to learn a thing or two, even if it requires them to travel all the way to Kathmandu. I definitely get worried reading about cases of violence but I believe my kids know what they are up to and we trust them.

My father in law took thousand dollars as loan which multiplied into a gigantic amount merely in 3 years. We had to deposit our little house with the loan provider and pay three times the real amount. My husband worked as a daily wage laborer but there is no work now, he has not worked in a while and we are lending money again. He is trying to find job in Malaysia every now and then. To live without him will be the most difficult thing for our family. It does not feel good to have him go through extreme hardships only for our survival. But we have no other options than to let him go.  I am hopeful that my husband will find some work and we will be able to get rid of the loans soon. We do have government loan facilities but they work in a systematic way, taxing installments each month. But since we do not earn any salary, we loose that opportunity as well.

My husband loves me dearly, I have not known of the violence that a lot of women speak about. He treats me like a queen even when I am not as beautiful as other women. He has stood by me as my foundation and has never let me feel low. I have always drawn my strengths from my family and the love we have for each other.
Once I was summoned at a Brahmin’s house in the village, I was waiting outside and I heard them talk. The parents of the girl who took me to her place were scolding her, asking her how could she think of bringing a ‘Chamar’ (untouchable) to the house. They said that the house had become impure. I felt like my existence was a curse, that I was incapable of respect, how could my presence be so polluting?
Life has been difficult and unfair but today I proudly identify myself as a Dalit woman and take pride in being called the god’s child. I choose to stand with what makes me and fight with what aims to break me. Nothing or no one can take away my success from me.

The Silver Lining: Gita Rasaili

I was born in the house of a Dalit farmer in PokhariChaur, Kavre.  It is one of the most remote villages in Kavre. We have a huge family with eight siblings. I had three older brothers, two younger brothers and two older sisters. I am the youngest girl child.  Even though we had a very simple life, my parents never let us feel deprived of anything.

During my childhood I was very naughty. I always tried to skip my work. Whenever I had to collect fodder and do household chores I would try to escape it. Maybe because I was the youngest one so my elder brothers and sisters spoilt me and just did most of the work.  I remember always taking the smallest pot to fetch water and used to take the fodder that my friend collected instead of going to the forest myself. I was a playful kid and an average student.

I always dressed up like a boy and played like one. Whenever I went to collect fodder I used to climb trees, cut the branches and leaves. I felt like I could do everything my brothers could.

During those days’ people were unaware about education. There were only two people who finished high school in our community. Even though we were farmers and impoverished, my parents believed everyone had right to a bright future. My father was an active social worker. Whenever there were disputes in our village my father used to be the first one to settle it and I strongly believe that we may have inherited that same character of his.

The Maoist war had started in 1996 when I still a child. The In-charge for the eastern part of Nepal was from our village. One of my elder brother was actively involved in social clubs and community work when in high school,  later  we found out that he had joined the Maoists which my parents had totally not expected. That was around 2001.  Everyone knew that lives were not secure if they joined the Maoists. A lot of times families didn’t know whether their children were dead or alive. My parents went in desperate search of him and wept for more than seventeen days.

In 2002, we got news that said he was transferred and killed in a combat. That same year, after about six months, another one of my elder brothers joined the Maoists.father and brothers

Eventually I too joined the Maoists when I was fourteen years old. I joined them because besides the fact that I was born in a Dalit family and wanted to end the brutal caste system, the Maoists were also looked upon as some superstars of  Bollywood in our village. Even the women wore men’s clothes and walked around with a gun in their hands. I felt they had a really good life and were badasses. I wanted to live like them.  Another reason I joined them was also because I had no friends left in school. They all had joined the Maoists.

The day when I ran away from my home was a school holiday. One of my friends who was a Maoist came to my house to have lunch. We planned my escape. According to the plan, I would ask my younger brother to take the animals grazing and escape when my mother was busy with her work. I didn’t carry anything with me except one pair of inner clothes. One of my friends saw me run away with the Maoists and told my mother. After an hour my mother came searching for me. We hid ourselves in one of the villager’s house.  During the first night I missed my family and cried. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I would have become a Maoist if they had returned me home.

I was fourteen and I had no idea what I was after. The moment of excitement to be renowned and make a change made me join the people’s war. Even though I have no regret in what I did, I would want other teenagers to study at that age if someone asked me today .

Time passed as we moved from one village to another. I gained experience and learned about life after I joined the party.Gita_radio

February 13th is celebrated as People’s War Day.  One of those days, I was placed in my home village and in the morning had gone for celebrations.  At around midnight one of our friends came running towards us yelling ‘army’ ‘army’, so we ran away and hid somewhere across the river from my village.  Finally, at 4 am we saw her again and she told us that Nepal Army had been after them, she managed to escape somehow and came to warn us.

The next day, I was listening to the afternoon news when I heard that 2 Maoist women were killed during a fire exchange. Their names were Reena Rasaili and Shubhadra Chaulagain. When I heard my sister’s name I was horrified.
The army was making up lies about her and misrepresenting her as a Maoist which I just couldn’t bear. My sister was not at all into politics. She would rather study. She had even tried to stop me from joining the Maoists and had encouraged me to study. This news left me paralyzed and numb. I didn’t know what to feel. I was completely out of control for the next few days.

My mother was in a critical condition. Whenever she saw a young teenage girl she fainted. I couldn’t go home. My friends told me to stay away because my mother would surely faint if she saw me. In a few days I met my father. I cried when I saw him and he tried to calm me down. He assured me if I came back home he would find a way to protect me

I asked him what happened that night. He told me that at midnight there were some people knocking at the front door. By the time my father went to open the door they had already broken down the door and went straight to the room where my sister slept. They dragged my sister down outside the house, locked the doors and tortured her. They could hear her crying, pleading, them asking her questions about the Maoists, and her answer to them saying she is studying and teaching and she doesn’t have information about them. They could hear her shouting and crying outside. Later the army made my sister ask my parents for a sweater since they were taking her somewhere. One of the army guys then also asked my father for a rope. They used that rope to tie her to a tree.

At around five in the morning my family heard gunshots. When they ran outside after the army left, my sister was lying against the tree and was dead. She was naked, her chest has been scratched and the blood was flowing through her vagina. She had been raped and killed brutally. The gun was shot through her back.

My innocent sister was killed for no reason.

When my sister was killed our family got destroyed. We are still mourning for her. I blamed myself for her death. I felt like if I didn’t exist, then perhaps things would have been different. I still feel the same.

My sister was a noble person and she had not committed any crime. My parents filed a complaint in the district police headquarters but it was not registered.

After 2007 I could not remain quiet about what happened. I joined my father in his quest for justice for my sister and we filed many cases.

We are still fighting for justice.

Looking today at the situation of Nepal, I fear that the upcoming generation will face a similar situation of war, fight and sacrifices until our issues are solved and the goals are achieved. What my brother and sister went through might also be faced by people in upcoming generation.
Our brutal past is not talked  in our society and the issues that came along have not been addressed. The inequality we face on a day to day level is what gave birth to war. We cannot stay silent anymore. People might once again die brutally.

What I feel is that we need to speak up for tomorrow.

Many incidents took place. But what happened to us is worth noting. My mother complains about the injustice everyday. But likewise there are many other people who lost their brothers, sisters, daughters and sons like me and my family.
The politicians who promised us rights are no longer around. They played a dirty game. Their speech is based on lies.
Every one of us has the right to know the truth. What was lost, how  it is going to be recovered? How can the void be fulfilled? Since 2007, I have been working for people who were victimized during the people’s war. I want to fight to help them get justice for what they have lost.