Being a widow of a martyr: Sharadha Jha

I was not a hundred percent child when I was born. I was pulled out off my mother womb when I was just seven months old. I played and fought and recovered my own sickness until I turned nine. Or it could be, my parents fought hopeful and hopeless fights to save my life for consecutive nine years. My unidentified sickness was cured. Finally, I became a girl, girl that can competently work like other girls in the neighborhood. The childhood I remember was a competition between girl children who could work the most efficiently. Helping with household chores would be foremost trait a girl child should perfect. The more you work, more you become a treasure to your family. I gave my best to meet that status driven by ego, persuasion and fear. I worked and worked like a horse to not let my parents down in front of their society.

My parents, specially my mom, became the happiest mother in the community after being showered by compliments about her hard working child. I, too, felt proud of myself for making my parents proud. A tiny little girl, not even four feet tall, taking care of the entire household chores would amuse the entire community. I felt I was loved. A love that would be measured by the amount of work I do. I had no other option than to keep working and keep making people smile till the entire community knew of me.

I was barely eleven when we were taken to Dakshinkali temple for a family picnic with another family who just won a lawsuit of their land. We were a part of that picnic because my father was the lawyer who fought their case. Picnics were a rare occasion for me. Other boys and girls playing around, eating and drinking without having to do anything was not a general occurrence. I met new faces. I ate new food. I made new friends. But I never knew that I was going to meet my new family until I was told that the women who asked me to get a fire to light her cigarette was going to be my mother-in-law. That woman who smoked was interested in my famed working habits. She contemplated me becoming their daughter-in-law so that I can relieve her work loads. The marriage proposal had reached our house just a few days before the picnic.

My father was not to happy about it, “I’m not giving my girl to a family from Bhaktapur.” he said. I never asked about the grudge that he had of Bhaktapurians. Similarly, my to-be father-in-law also had similar sort of bitterness about people from Bhimsensthan, Kathmandu. I never asked about that either. Despite the denial from fathers from both the family, the marriage was fixed. My mother loved the groom-to-be and his mother loved the bride-to-be. Both the mothers confirmed our marriage. The boy was a seventh grader and was nineteen. He had four other options to choose from which he could marry. He chose me. When he was asked why he chose me, he said, “At least she is studying, she will continue to become an educated person.”

We got married. But our marriage came with a clause put forward by my father. Both the families assured him that I would not be going to my groom’s house until I finish my school leaving examination. I counted. I had seven more years to complete my school before shifting to another house in Bhaktapur. Marriage for me was nothing but my friend’s teasing me if they ever saw me talking to Bharat Gopal Jha, this boy I was told was my husband. It was nothing but an agreement between two families which, interestingly, assured my education. I was happy for that, if not for my marriage.

Time flew.

Bharat passed out his school and joined the Mahendra Ratna College in Tahachal which was few minutes away from our house in Bhimsensthan. He would often come to see me when he came to college. By then, I had already stopped going to school. I had to look after all the household work because my mother started getting sick. Seeing me not going to school, Bharat asked his mother to call me home and send me back to school. A slight hope of going back to the school emerged. But she harshly refused, said, “Do you want your mother to labor and let your wife go to the school?” That possibility too vanished. My love towards education got crushed, almost forever.

Since I was not studying anymore, there was no point for my in-laws to wait till I finished school. So I was taken to my husband’s house, deep in the chaotic alleyway of Ittachhen, Bhaktapur. A house comparatively messier than my parents house. I worked not only like a daughter but I had to work as a daughter-in-law. I dealt with it. For me, it was just as similar as working in my house just a bit more.

One day I came to know that my husband had not actually passed his SLC yet but had been coming to the college for political motives. It was the early years of democracy where people could carry out political activities openly. Bharat Gopal was a member of student wing affiliated to Nepali Congress and had been actively involved in politicizing the masses. It was during the election days of 1958, people started noticing Bharat speaking in various political gatherings. He was spotted along with various Nepali Congress leaders including BP Koirala and Ganeshman Singh. This news reached to my father as well. Filled with anger and anxiety, he shouted at my mom, “Have I not warned you before to not give my child to the family in Bhaktapur?” This time his concern was more to do with my future. But it was already too late. Bharat had already become a well-known figure in society, challenging the powerful status quo. My family thought it would bring bad omen to us.

Bharat was still a stranger to me although being my husband. He was more a political activist. He had more devotion towards society than to his family. In fact, it was still difficult for me to define what it actually meant to be a wife.

In the meantime, the elections took place on February 1959, resulting in a victory for the Nepali Congress. But in a short span of time, King Mahendra suspended the constitution, dissolved the elected parliament, dismissed the cabinet, imposed direct rule and imprisoned the then prime minister BP Koirala and his closest government colleagues. To defy the infamous 1960 Coup d’état, Bharat Gopal Jha along with other leaders started a protest against the King. He was arrested.

Everybody requested him to apologize in front of the King. He refused. He chose imprisonment to the freedom he would get after surrendering. His jail terms kept extending. 

Although my husband was in prison, I would have nothing as such to talk or share with him. In fact, I was not sad when he was behind bars. I should have had that as a wife, but I didn’t. There were numerous unspoken conversations. Even the prison officers would laugh at our silent visits. After many visits, he showed some concern about me not going to school. But I was too busy working in the house and didn’t have time to get educated.

In the meantime, my father married another woman. When I went to visit my husband in prison after my father took a second wife I made him promise to re-admit me in school. He promised and spoke to his family. Next morning, I became a student again.

That must have been the first and last wish I asked of him. After three years of imprisonment, he was mysteriously killed.

I was just fourteen years old. While I was struggling to discover the meaning of being a wife, I became a widow.

I waited for the yearlong mourning and death ceremonies. After it was over, I resumed my study. I completed my school leaving examination and joined college. Since, I had to look after both the families, focusing completely on my studies became tougher. I failed Economics and English in college. Eventually, I stopped going to college and started teaching for a living. For almost twenty-three years I taught in various schools in Kathmandu. Simultaneously, I also played a political role of a wife of a martyr, representing my husband.

It was tough for me to become a widow when I could have lived a free teenage life. I never chose to become a bride. I never chose to remain a widow either. I never chose to be humiliated again and again being a single woman. But this society is brutal.

I neither became a wife nor a mother of a child but a widow of a martyr.



story & photos contributor: Bikkil Sthapit

I Chose To Be Myself : Manju Bista

When I was a child I was unaware about my feelings and my sexual orientation. In school, I had seen a girl who used to dress up like a boy.  I was very attracted to it. I didn’t give a thought about what and why I was feeling at that time. I normally used to have a group of girlfriends and I rarely spoke to boys.

Since my childhood I disliked the idea of marriage between men and women. I heard about the problems and had seen disputes. I then realised I was attracted to girls who looked a bit like men. I don’t know how it started but I knew that it was an unusual feeling. One day I had a conversation with my mother about what I felt. I told her, “I like the girls who wear men’s clothes.” In response she answered, “Some people like that style.” I told her I felt something a bit different and she changed the topic of our conversation.

I was the oldest child growing up in a strict family. I have a younger sister and brother. We were not allowed to leave the house after 5 pm. I was quite a silent kid and used to stay at home most of the time. My sister used to tell me all about her conversations with people outside the house that I never participated in.  I used to spend my time cleaning the house, solving math problems and studying. I never went for partying or dated anyone. I never liked when my friends talked to guys. Whenever I saw a couple, a boy and a girl, dating I felt like it was an act. Like it was fake and would be short lived. I never believed in love stories. Men were always using women around me.

Time passed by and I went to college.  I was in eleventh grade when my friend said that there was a job vacancy in Kathmandu.

The same day I arrived, I met her in a marketing office at Jorpati. She immediatly started flirting with me but I didn’t even look at her. Our visit got more and more frequent after that first meeting.

Gradually I realized what kind of person I am. What I like and feel. I became aware of my sexual orientation.

Whenever she called me, I used to run to see her. Time didn’t matter. I used to bunk my college to see her, nothing mattered. I could not control my feelings. At 19 I fell madly in love with her.

The first person I spoke to about my relation was my mother. Her reaction was “What nonsense are you talking? These kinds of things don’t exist.” Then both my parents were upset with me. More than upset they were angry. They tried hard to separate us. They took me back to my home town. But they could not stop me from coming back to her in Kathmandu again.

There’s always been a stereotypical thinking about sexual orientation in our society. They have always perceived us in a negative way. The way people look at us when we walk down the streets and the way they whisper.

“How can two girls be lovers? Is she really your husband?” These questions hurts my heart.

 I know it’s hard for my parents to accept what I am. They had their own dreams of my life and I didn’t fit it.

While choosing a life partner there is no rule that it should be man or a woman. It is not necessary to have children when we get married. There are couples who don’t have children. Its ok. 

We got legally married five years ago. Since then we have been living together. There were difficulties and I had to work hard for a living.
Today, even though our families have not accepted us completely, they welcome us. I go to my husband’s parent’s house and stay there. Her mother treats her as the youngest son and me as her daughter in law. I normally don’t visit my parents because its still difficult for them.
They cry often when they see us. Through the years I have realised and accepted that its impossible to satisfy everyone. We have to ignore the fact that they are not satisfied with our relationship. They do not accept us for what we are and we have moved on with our life.

We are respected in a place like Mitini Nepal and the house where we live. They talk to us nicely referring me as Bahini (sister) and Bhai (brother) to her. My friends know about us and support us as well.

My life is my choice and I can’t change what I feel. There are some people who are unaware and uneducated about sexuality and sexual orientation. And then there are others who are educated but choose to remain ignorant.

DSC_2821editedI used to work at a shop. Once during a conversation with the shop owner I told him that my husband is Newar, similar to him. He asked to meet my husband. So I took her along with me. Later he said “Your husband seems like a girl” sardonically. The next time I went to work I took a book for him by Sunil Babu Pant; the LGBTI activist from Nepal. Finally he understood me.

Our government should issue provision of getting citizenship from the name of women and thus from lesbian partners. The provision of getting parental properties should be implemented in lesbians and gays as well. I feel sometimes that it’s useless to speak about it for they never implement what we ask for.

We live just like a normal couple would. We had to deal with situations when we barely had enough money. But we didn’t fight, we stood together hoping for the better days to come and resolved problems as they came up. I have worked in a garment factory, learned sewing and worked in fancy shops. Now I hope to be able to open a tailoring shop soon.

There are many people like us. They make choices and it’s their right. Let them live as they want to be, instead of pinching with harsh words and making fun of them. Try to understand and support them.

Football is my passion, Manchester United is my heaven: Christina Shrestha

As soon as we complete our 10th grade is when we have to make life changing decision, to streamline our subjects. I chose humanities as it always resonated to the things I wanted to be and not just because it was the ‘Easier’ stream. Instead of supporting my choice people would question my strengths which was not just hurtful but highly demotivating. My friends and me were kicked out of school right before our 10th final exams because they assumed that we would never make it through. They feared the bad rapport we could bring to the institution if we failed.

It is obvious that any institution would want to invest their energy into students who look promising and bright, but it is kids like me who already have difficulty in learning because of our physical or mental discomforts who need more attention.

Schooling was actually a disaster for me. I could never retain myself at one school for long enough to strengthen my academic skills. I was then put in a hostel but I did not do too well with unexplained rules either. I was diagnosed with problems in my chest which meant a lot of hospital visits and unattended classes. I became weaker as a student and teachers started disliking me even more for my absence.

I could have easily punished myself for not succeeding when I could not clear my SLC in the first attempt but I chose to fight my weaknesses. Today when I look back at it, I realize those failures shaped me into the strong person that I am today.

I have always believed that education is important but what is more significant is to be able to absorb and apply those lessons in a meaningful way. Negative reinforcements and attached stigmas in such cases invite hurt and trauma that can affect a person for as long as ever.

Our traditional society sometimes makes it worse for a girl who is already treated as a give away which then considers her an absolute failure. To put it simply, such social constructs and beliefs have always decreased the chances of women succeeding in life drastically. It is true that usually when it is a girl, she is protected a little more, restricted a lot more and allowed very little. To think of it logically, men get treated on the basis of the things they are capable of doing or or simply as the ‘people’ whereas women on the other hand are mostly just treated as women, their gender specified roles as their life goals and anything beyond that is made to look like an unachiveable story.

Respect is not passed on and deserved by people who earn it. It can not be deliberated on the basis of the clothes one wears or the kind of money one has. I hate it when people are judged on the basis of clothes that they wear, especially in the case of a girl. I am not comfortable with the kind of clothes a girl is expected to wear, I do not feel beautiful with makeup or when I try on dresses. Is it not crazy that we are expected to look groomed and pretty but it necessarily does not make life easy for women?

The schoolmates I grew up with were  loving too, a lot of them were men who played football and it is then when I realized the love I had for the sport. One of those days the coach asked me if I wanted to play, to which I was initially reluctant but it his trust in me that helped my passion take another step. My father bought me my jerseys, he never told me that my gender was more important that my love for the sport. He never let me feel that he was superior just because he was a man,  for me he was an ordinary man with an extraordinary heart.
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Mothers are emotional and usually understand their kids but it is a little different when both of your parents invest their trust in you, you start believing in your dreams.  A healthy parent –child relationship contributes to a society and nation state that is healthy.

Animals can’t speak they say, but I feel the street dogs around my house know me, they get excited to see me. I feel they talk to me when I listen, we just need to listen. Then there are people who leave their dogs on the streets once their fanciful demands are met, human beings need to buckle up and realize their duties and understand that life is precious.

My dream has always been to be a social worker, a sports psychologist and to live with my parents in a big house with all the dogs possible. When I was very young I would bring home stray dogs and my family members never stopped me. I think it all started back then and I have never looked back. It breaks my heart when in my neighborhood I see people using things as harsh as chemical acid to pour on stray dogs, just to stop them from coming around. It is really that difficult to be kind and non- violent?

If gender equality is our concern, we need to make more space for girls. We need to have an environment which is free of violence and labels. To think that we need to make women stronger is a myth, we have to make men more accepting of diversity and justice. We have to understand that men are victims of patriarchy too which takes away the most basic of their right to express.Women face obstacles and we end up choosing traditional fields of service even in today’s ‘connected world’.

Education helps us set our career and fuels our sustainability but it is not the most important thing; passion and happiness inject real meaning to our lives and that is what the focus of quality education should be. What good is education if it can not make us humans aware of our responsibilities to contribute back to our surroundings and nature?

My life has been incomplete since my father passed away last year, I miss him and his love a lot. He stood by me in all my decisions, he was my best friend. He taught me the value of love and life, he taught me that being a good human with good intentions, passion and gratitude was the most important education one could aspire get. He taught me to how I could be tolerant of others and honest with myself. He taught me how to enjoy football, watching or playing and encouraged me to pursue it.

I grew up dreaming of becoming a football player but only with time did I realize that something as simple as football could be so difficult to pursue because in reality it still is a gender exclusive field. Football is not just a sport but passion for me  and Manchester United fan is my heaven.

I am struggling with my academics so I do not really know how education will work for me but I would really like to become a sport psychologist. I hope someday I will be able to contribute what I have learnt from my failures and achivements  in making sports a field that attracts people with the real passion and dedication and girls who deserve a chance.

I am made of me: Rajshri Raut

Playing the role of a mother, a wife and a student all at once has been difficult and I end up having no time to study or to stay updated about what goes on in the university classes. It’s a never ending process where I clear one exam and fail in some other. I sat for my final exams after I got married completing my bachelors 4 years ago. I am around 25 years now. My husband got me into LLB course. After I had my daughter I got my admission into college, it was my husband who helped me with all of it.

Finally, I have cleared all my papers and await my final LLB results. I was mentally preparing for civil services but then there was an opening for the post of a teacher in our village community school. I applied and got selected. I am a temporary teacher so I teach whatever subject is required to be taught. I see many students do terrible in their studies. I wonder if it is a part of the rural degradation, urban evolution or just a very bad trend. Now the more influential, educated youth choose not to stay in these villages. Which is unfortunate because their presence made a difference.editedIMG_6227

My daughter is 4 years old and goes to a government school here in our village in Saptari. It might be too soon to say but I can already see the kind of changes in these institutions. Students are much lesser in number, results are not as good, and there are many dropouts. Rising demand in instant gratification and a burning desires to avail contemporary resources probably is pulling people towards cities.

I have always been a government school student; the quality of education was better in our time. Teachers were regular, people from all economic backgrounds lived in the villages and there was quality control. Today I see children and families getting inclined towards private schools. It is happening probably because there is such a big rural-urban divide, with the larger part of the village vanishing. We might have better quality of sustenance in the villages but that doesn’t seem to be enough.

editedIMG_5856I know that I will be staying in my village. I believe it is my duty to make positive changes in life and to eradicate issues which I don’t like and which matters to me. We have to understand that nobody will come to our rescue. Once we realize our individual strengths and contribute accordingly, our communities will be more sustainable that cities. We need to stop being ignorant and complaining. We have to break free of the myths that we are brought up with, relying on others is never an options. We have to ask ourselves who makes our society strong and what our responsibilities are as human and social beings.

It is known to everyone that education is the most important support in bringing development and sustaining it. I agree that we do not have enough institutions to make the most progressive developments with the quality that we would ideally like, but it is imperative also for us individuals to do whatever we can to take care of our present and future.

I have understood that people can only show you the way but it is you who will take that journey. I see no reason why you should not try, you might fail but it will be your journey and the success will be yours which no one can take away from you.

 

As a Madhesi woman I feel our culture expects too much out of us. editedIMG_6230Even if we are ace students it is only useful as a badge on your marital CV. Our culture and norms should move parallelly with demands of the changing world. My culture is a part of me and I want to contribute to preserve it but I would never allow it stop my growth. I wish the new constitution was a little more caring of women like me who have emotional, cultural and social ties across the border too. My mother is an Indian and we have had deep ties with what we call our neighboring country but considering how the political rights are structured now we women cannot choose men that we want to get married to if we follow our age old tradition.

My father was a vetenary doctor and had a government job but he passed away when I was only 3 years old. It was my mother who nurtured us into what we are today. I do not think it was at all easy for her to take care of two daughters with no financial or social support. I think the traveling my mother did with my father because of his job made her notice how important education was, hence she did her best to assure we got quality education even when she was completely illiterate.                                

My mother fails to understand why I am unemployed and I fail to understand it myself. There are benefits of living in a village but it has many disadvantages too. I have a degree that is good enough to get a job but it is actually the smaller things that hinder my growth.

When the whole world speaks of gender discrimination we did not feel it in our home. We were never treated differently and if we ever were, it was only because we were different individuals with a variance in the way we understood and learnt things.

Dibya, my daughter is five years old and things will start getting serious very soon. I will have to make sure she gets a good education but it troubles me sometimes to think how I will be able to make that kind of money to survive. Though things are not very developed here, there is a sense of security and belongingness in our simple village life.

The many faces of womanhood: Dhana maya

At 43 I can finally say that life is comfortable now. I am pleased with what has become of me and what I chose to make of my existence. Life was not always like this though, it was sometimes very rough, arduous and mostly cruel. There were many nights when I slept with growling tummy and empty soul. My biggest dream was to be able to manage two meals a day and the dread of not being able to do so was the recurring nightmare I was living with.
I was just a newborn when my parents passed away, ever since it has been my two sisters, a brother and me. I was born and raised in Ilam, most of my days were spent in the fields, collecting woods from the jungle and taking a new role of a vegetable vendor. When people my age were playing games and making memories, I was confronted with what we call ‘life’ with it’s many tests.
During my late teens there was this feeling I experienced, which was named ‘love’. I must confess that it indeed is a strong feeling, it had me leave behind whatever little I had or I thought was mine. At the age of 19, I fell for a man, in love I eloped with him to Kathmandu. Contrary to my belief in having gone through much in life, I felt lost in this big city.
Marriage was just another thing that happened, I was not expecting much but it was a little disturbing to know that I was his second wife. Nothing was solely mine, him, his love, presence or even his earnings. I never grieved my situation, probably the benefits of growing up in dire scarcity. There was nothing new about this life, just a change in location and a realization of the fact that I now had someone to call my ‘husband’. I was living a life of adversity, ever since I realized I had to take care of myself. Scarcities make you very strong, what mattered was that my survival instincts are stronger than ever now.
In Kathmandu initially I worked at a carpet factory in Jorpati with arduous setting and minimal wages. I worked seventeen hours a day just to buy food for my family, only to survive a day. It still was not sufficient to feed my family. I had to play many roles, of a mother, wife, bread winner and a pitiful worker. I worked all kinds of jobs, manual labor, at a garment factory, collecting wood,  selling them.
When I first became a mother I went to my house at Ilam thinking it would bring me some relief and post natal care. Instead I was loaded with chores which made me sick at the end of the day. I could not tolerate the work load and moved back to Kathmandu in after a few weeks.
As human beings it is in our nature to fight our odds, feel commotions of different nature and fight for what takes us further in our evolution. It is slightly different in the case of women because we can not always just think of our life, we have many biological and socio-cultural roles to play.

It is when I had my child is when I wished I was born a man. I wanted to be as free as my husband who could marry as many times as he wanted, loiter like it was his job, with no sense of shame or responsibility. He was free like a bird with no one wondering what he was doing, where has he been or what his responsibilities as a father were.

I was now emotionally and mentally drained. I accepted that he was always going to be the husband of his first wife and father of the kids born out of that relationship. I looked around and felt lost and lonely, worried about how I was going to be the sentinel of my son.
It is strange how men are always correct and have all the social rights in favor of all that they do, even in their promiscuous endeavors. It is stranger that the families, society and the world in general agrees to this inhuman discrimination in the name of patriarchy.
I was in awe of this disparity our society has laid its foundation upon, the classification that has made people believe that we are second class citizens. I wished I were a man. I wished I could be free.
Much later in life I felt like I had to do something for myself, something that made me feel good. I realized that working at a carpet factory or for others will never let me grow. I started making smaller saving out of the small income I made and it took me several years to make it to just Rs 15,000. Though it was a small amount it was enough to carve a new direction for my children and me and eventually change our lives.
It started with a shop in Dallu that where we sold cosmetic goods, for the next five years we survived on the income we made from there. After a while I was told to vacate the space and with a lot of effort I reestablished my shop in Khusibun. Unfortunately, I had to close my shop due to bad business.
I then decided to start an eatery, which looked like the only lucrative option in the area. However, I did not know how to cook chowmein or what food could I sell. So for first few weeks I visited different eateries to try out their chowmein and look at what they sell and how they do it.
I had sold my shop and was left with a mere amount of 10,000 NRS to start my life yet again. The trouble this time was that I did not know a thing about cooking. Sometimes the food was undercooked and sometimes overcooked and unappetizing.
Today I run my eatery and am living a comfortable life. I eat what I like, wear what feels good on my skin and travel with friends and people who matter to me.
Both my sons decided not to continue their studies after the primary level. I tried convincing them that education was important but they wouldn’t listen. Just like my journey, they have their’s and I know I have nurtured them well enough to make their own decisions.
Apart from being an orphan, I was illiterate and uneducated which definitely reduced my changes of living a comfortable life. However, I did my best to introduce my sons to a life that would not be as harsh as mine, I put them in school hoping they will make the best out of it.  My younger son is already in Dubai and the elder one is processing his visa to migrate to Dubai.
My childhood was brittle and unpromising, the only option I had was to be hard working. Without even realizing, it had become my principle and belief. I never went to school but I got my most important lessons out of living my life. Money, sense of fulfillment and pride in materialistic gains are impermanent but self respect stays as the real pride and honor.

I live each moment with a sense of satisfaction that these have been my experiences and I derive my strength from the belief I have in hard work and honesty. I am proud of what has become of me today.

Being a weaver: Basun Tamang

I got married at 16. My husband lived in Kathmandu and he brought me along with him when I was 18. Since there wasn’t any paying work in the village it made sense for me to come here and work to support my husband as he studied in a Government School. I started working in a carpet factory and learnt how to weave from my sister in law.

Born and raised to a poor farmer family in Dolakha we had barely enough things to survive. We were five siblings, three brothers and two sisters. We never got to study because my family thought it was useless for girls to get an education. My daily routine was to go to forest nearby and bring fodders and wood. So I didn’t have enough time to go to school anyway. When I go to a bank today I have to put my thumbprint instead of signing, which makes me feel bad. But it’s too late now.

When I first started my work as a carpet weaver I had to get up at three or four and go the carpet factory to start working. We all lived around the factory so it was a quick walk away. The mornings were filled with sound of machines. My husband used to cut up the carpets. We could take our first break at eight am and finally get to brushing our teeth, having breakfast, and preparing lunch. My husband had to go to school during the afternoons so he could accompany me only after his classes were over.  Eventually he had problems focusing on his studies as we lived around the factory so he ended up taking a room outside on his own. All day long in the factory while working we could hear Tamang Selo and songs from all the different ethnicities that worked there. We worked and sang. Younger girls and boys used to flirt with each other and many got married as well.


I was supporting my husband economically and with all the household work.  After having children, I moved out of the carpet factory and in with my husband. We thought it would be a better living environment for the kids. Everything was smooth and our living went quite normal until he was diagnosed with the severe tuberculosis. Slowly we ran out of resources. I had to manage my work in the carpet factory, take care of his medicine, help the children and take care of our home. We went through a hard time with all the expenses like the medical treatments, medicines, oxygen cylinders, education for my children, and just living in general. I had no choice but to move back into the factory in order to pay less rent. This was probably not the best for my husband because of all the wool flying around and the toxic fumes in the factory used for color and dye.

My husband died in 2007. I am still living inside the factory where the room made up of corrugated zinc sheet which is very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. The zinc sheet was filled with holes so during the monsoon we collect water inside buckets in the room.

I cannot help my children with their education because I am illiterate. My husband used to help them, as he was educated. It has been more than twenty years working as a weaver in carpet factory. We had our life going on until dark days haunted us. As a worker I have felt that we should be given basic facilities like health, water and sanitation services. Since we have low wages, atleast they can provide us with some basic living facilities. In the past they provided us with some basic amenities like health, free polio drops and educational bonus for our children. But these days we don’t get anything. The only extra we get beyond our salary is a Dasain bonus, which is Rs 500, which is not even enough to buy one kg of meat for our family’s celebration.

Back in those days many weavers did manage to improve their living standard. Those who could change with time and grabbed the right opportunities have advanced in their lives.Some have moved out and started their own businesses, some started their own carpet factory and some made beautiful houses in their villages. They were then able to give some opportunities and basic rights to their children as well.

But anyway I am happy now, even if I had a difficult life of a manual laborer, I have my children who are educated. I can see my dream being fulfilled through them. Because of the struggle I faced being a single mother, my children understand me better. My son has been abroad for three years now and all our loans are paid. He just recently completed his bachelor’s degree. My older daughter is teaching as well as studying for her bachelor’s degree and my younger daughter is still in school.

My greatest pride is when my daughter said to someone one day, “ My mother has taught me to face and fight all obstacles. She has taught me to fight continuously and move ahead in life. She is real source of inspiration. She never gave up on us.”

Disability is not a boundary : Nanda

If I go back to 14 years ago, I remember when it all happened. The night, the cliff and the incident are a strong memory. Today, the strength in me has grown so I can contribute myself to social welfare, work for people with disability and be a good social worker. The pain I have gone through, my experiences and the circumstances have made me stronger.

I am Nanda Sunar and this is my story. I am a thirty-year-old Dalit woman and am studying as a high school student in Chamunda Madhyamik Bidyalaya. I stay here at Khagendra Navajeevan Kendra, which is a home for people with disabilities. It has been a year now. As a part time trainee, I also paint thangka. They give 100 rupees per day for it. Laxmi Kaur didi told me about this place and helped me get admission in college. She helped me a lot.

About fourteen years ago I was walking through the jungle late at night during the days of the People’s War and I fell off a cliff. Ever since then I have been disabled.

“I will be a social worker, a social activist. Disability is not a boundary for me.”

I come from a big family of three sons and six daughters. All of my brothers and sisters are married now and live in my hometown Surkhet. We depend on seasonal agriculture for our daily needs. This gave us enough food but most of our other needs were unfulfilled. We were very poor but mostly everything was ok before ‘the incident’.

Due to the fall I had a spinal cord injury, and my lower part of the body stopped functioning. I am now bound in a wheel chair. I have a lot of issues to deal with; from something as simple as travelling around, to getting a job or an education. Not just me but most of us with disabilities face these issues. The local buses don’t want to give us a lift. Every time we need to travel long distance we have to take a taxi. By long distance I mean even going to the center of town. And whenever we need to use the restroom we have to search for something that is wheelchair accessible and has a commode for us to use. Unfortunately this is not available in most places.

I felt different in the crowd of physically well people. The way they perceive me and treat me has changed since I lost use of my lower body. Most people in society think; what can she do as a disabled person? She is useless. Why do disabled people need an education? Who can possibly benefit if they learn how to read and write? Why should we give an opportunity to people with disabilities?

Even my own family is hesitant to invest in me. I am sure this doesn’t only apply for me. Many other persons with disabilities are treated the same. If we were not disabled during birth but got disabled later in life, we notice a stark discrimination in the way we were treated and now.

However, there are some people who treat us well and believe in us. They think of providing an opportunity to us. I believe in the intellectual power we physically disabled have. We might be physically injured but we have the power to think. To bring change I believe I have to make people aware, make society acknowledge persons with disability and teach them how to deal with us.

I’ve found my role in life and I know what I want to do. I am on a path to make people aware about disabilities.

My aim is to help people with disability, work for common goals, make people aware of the discriminations we face everyday and learn how to fight it. There are so many of us who have it much worse than me but are so much stronger than me. They fight, not only for themselves but also for others. The state hasn’t secured us any rights. If the state doesn’t take care of us then how can we expect society to? I’ll give you an example: in Nepal if a “normal” son or daughter want to study or go abroad for work then parents will do anything to send them abroad. But they will never go out of their way for their children with disability.

Like I said before, they see no reason to invest in us.

Right now I am starting to help and work together with one of my friends. She used to live with her brother and sister in law. They treated her extremely badly. She suffered a lot of abuse and discrimination. So I told her about this place where we all live together and have been supporting her through it.

I now want to finish my education and get a job. I can then show everyone else that it is possible.

Never too late to start: Jarina

“It is untrue that we women are weaker, we all are very special and have our set of strengths and weaknesses. We need to start talking about weaknesses before the pressure of being strong and perfect wreaks our possibilities and happiness.”

I have always been a strong, independent girl. Since childhood I was really good at sports and academics. A trunk full of medals and certificate was usual sight for me. But no one really paid much attention to it in the society I lived in, not even my parents. So it didn’t matter to me as well. I boxed and played basketball at the district level. I didn’t have to worry about my yearly test results for I was hard working and got ranked first or second in school.

My parents were never around when I was being applauded and appreciated by my peers. I never blamed them since they came from humble backgrounds and probably didn’t realize that these awards and ceremonies mattered. I had decided to be a nurse unaware of the fact that my parents had their own ideas about what it meant to be a nurse. Apparently nurses ended up becoming maniacs.

Mom said, “Uncle will take you to get your admission done” when I was helping her in the kitchen, chopping vegetables. I told her exam date for entrance was not near and it would happen only after a few weeks. “I am talking about management, not nursing” she explained. I told her that why I wanted to be a nurse. We ended up arguing and I lost my temper. People have wounds and scars from physical accidents but mine was different. I took the same knife I was chopping the vegetables with and carved lines on my wrist. But things ended up being the way they wanted and I had to study management, which I had never imagined myself doing.

I am 28 years old now. I worked in a bank which was a strange experience. Mostly because banking is not nursing. I always felt that void in my life, unhappy and unsatisfied that comes from not being able to progress towards a dream.I stayed at home, hardly got out, watching TV and doing nothing. Recently I started Zumba, it kept me fit and I’ve finally made new friends. During the recent earthquake I finally got myself out of house, together with my Zumba friends and started relief work. My contribution might not be big but I was moving ahead each time with the hope that it might make a little difference. I started working on building a school.

One day we were walking up a hill when a villager approached us and requested to help with a delivery case. The first thing I saw was a mother laying on the bed. The room was full of screams, pain, sweat and blood. Suddenly I found myself helping to deliver a child. I had never seen or experienced anything like it before, just the memories gives me the chills. The sight of the baby’s head made me nervous and anxious. I heard people shouting at me “Jarina, get that baby, hold him in your arms.” I could not believe what I was being a part of.

I was the first one to hold this new life and I could feel power, love, hope and magic.

“Slap the baby, he is not making any movements”,

How could I slap such a harmless thing? But the baby really was not moving. I tried hopelessly, hurting the baby and finally managed. He started crying and I cried along with him. I had delivered a baby, become the nurse that I always wanted to be. I will never forget that moment in my entire life.

It is untrue that we as women are weaker, we are all very special and have our set of strengths and weaknesses. We need to start talking about weaknesses before the pressure of being strong and perfect wreaks our happiness. Women do not need to be told what to do and how to live their lives, it is time we realize our strengths and accept the way we are.

It is never too late to start. I have become independent. 

This experience taught me that it is not the weaknesses in people that stops us from being happy and progressive but the social system that constantly restricts us from exploring new avenues and forces us to live the life of someone we are not even connected with.

My unwritten story : Sanu

A typical day in the village started with my parents doing their chores and hunting, my siblings: three girls who worked in the fields and six boys who went to school. Our days would start pretty early; we would be in the field by nine in the morning to six in the evening. Sowing seeds, harvesting crops, playing in the rivers and watching the birds was really recreational. We did not care much about school or anything beyond in life.

My grandmother was a conservative person and dictated most of the household.She thought education ruined a woman’s life since it gave us independence and liberty. It was incorrect for women to get educated as it motivated us to make unethical and culturally incorrect choices, hence she decided that we stay home. My grandmother sent my aunts to school and they were literate but it did our family no good. My parents bought land and needed people to till and work the land so all his girls; me & my female siblings; were put to work in the farms instead of being sent to school. They thought that operating the land would provide a better future for us, more than getting an education would.

I remember that day very clearly; there were some strangers at my place, probably purchasing something from the shop my father owned. There was a man who I could partly see; he was behind a tarp sheet. He seemed like a healthy, tall person. After he left my father said to me, “I know you will keep my words and value my honor. It is time we get you married. Do not let us down.” It was then that I realized that the man I had partly seen was the guy I was going to spend the rest of my life with.

“I will never be able to write my story, and even if someone else did it for me, I will not be able to read it”

I did not know what was happening but I did not get angry or mad. I was nervous. I tried not thinking about it as much as I could until that one day when I was in the fields with my sisters. It was just another day and we were headed home.

“Your soon to be in-laws were here today. This will be your new family” father said as we were walking indoors. The feeling was exciting this time; I was the eldest out of all my siblings and still single. Most girls in my village were usually sent off by 15 or 16 years of age. I was the luckiest; my parents got me married once I turned 22. I knew that from now everything was going to be different, my friends and guardians, my home, the environment and my family.

After our wedding I went with him to his village and stayed there a few months but our life together started in Kathmandu. I feel lucky to have him in my life and a daughter that I call my family today. Marriage for a woman is different than for a man, the fact that we are not educated and self- sufficient that makes us the weaker sex.

My husband is a good man and it has already been ten years. He takes good care of me. When I look around I feel I am in a better place and very content but there are those days when I feel like a parasite, not capable of reading or writing or take a bus with confidence when I hate life and regret being born as an illiterate rural woman.

Although I have not been to a school, I saw how it makes the men in my family more confident and wise. Education is extremely important to know how to read, to learn, to know what the world is like. It is important because it is the most effective way to become economically and socially independent.
This ‘modern world’ does not have much space for people like me who are not literate. I send my daughter to school and tell her my story so that she lives her own life and not a life like her mother’s.

If I were to turn my life upside down for better, I would not even have to go too far. All I had to do was to be born as male in my family, if not educated I would at least be literate. I can express myself verbally and that is all. I know I can never express or write down my feeling, my story or even my name. One thing I will always feel dejected about is the fact that I will never write my story; I will always be the character someone else has imagined me to be.

I will never be remembered in the books and even if I am, I will not know since I cannot read.

 

It is ok to be different : Micole

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Family and society whose main purpose is to exist in harmony and contribute to growth has instead become something that plays with power, puts us in boxes and demotivates us. It is the things we are told and the way we are brought up that abstains us from honing our potentials, eventually making us the ‘weaker sex’. We are discouraged from exploring and this is how our chances of excelling in life automatically drops.

I was expected to get the best scores and I complied, they asked me not to be honest in my expressions or be flamboyant in my actions and I complied. They told me that women should not make their choices and I took orders. Such fostering where we are taught to give more weight to our shortcomings is where I started becoming unaware of my true self.

I remember those days when I was just out of my teens, I had just started standing up for what I liked. My family that I had loved left me. It is then when I understood how social beliefs can be mightier than love. This is when I was at my weakest. My friends understood what I wanted and gave me the strength to fight. In no time I was ready to fight the battle all on my own with the unconditional love my friends promised me.

Desire would have had a set of parents but her father chose not to be with us, he chose to let us find our own way. We didn’t just come from different socio- cultural backgrounds but were brought up with different set of religious beliefs as well. I tried getting our families together to start a new life with the baby and I let him choose. He chose to escape and I accepted it.

When I could not manage a social tie that would have certified a relationship with Desire’s father a lot of my own people persuaded me to abort. The most difficult part was to accept that I was going to be a single mother, something our society does not ratify, especially when it is a choice that a woman makes.

I chose to fall in love and then I chose motherhood. I also chose to fill my body with art. I painted Desire‘s palm on my skin which will stay with me even after I die. My life became tough when my choices started making me happier and I finally started saying no to things that did not matter. In legal terms isn’t this what human rights constitutes of? Are we all not fighting the same battle?

Today I am in love with the single mother that I am; my daughter is two and a half years old. It makes things pretty virtuous, almost perfect; the changes have been more inside me than outside. Her name is Desire. It is the only name I could think of since she was conceived. She makes me a better person each day, everyday.

The most difficult part was to accept that I was going to be a single mother, something our society does not ratify, especially when it is a choice that a woman makes.

I still do not have the answers but I am content in what has become of me. I have understood that my struggles helped me understand my real strengths. I learnt that I had to pay a price if I wanted a promising future for my daughter. The word ‘Aama’ gives me power to fight my blues and build my strength. I have lived a human life for the last 25 years but nothing compares to the emotions and beauty I have seen as a mother.

Long ago when I did not know the definition of feminism and human rights, it pained to see how worthless our lives were. The only way I could redeem myself for being a part of this unforgiving society was by contributing something positive in somebody’s life. I helped some kids from the streets to go to the school and a few to get married. IMG_1795

I have always advocated for a just and equal society but when I got pregnant I realized what it actually meant to be a feminist. I made a choice that felt right to me. But I was abandoned, no one cared that it made me happy, not even my mother.

As human beings our animal instincts stimulate us to attain what we desire, to feel accomplished and be happy. However our society is constantly disheartening us, teaching us otherwise, dislocating our spiritual balance and killing budding dreams. This turns us all into unhappy souls who end up contributing nothing positive to the social institutions and other realities, this is where the real problems thrive.

Why is it wrong for me to have a baby all by myself? Why was I left alone? Where were the women who talk of equality and humanity, what were the women in my family thinking? Why couldn’t the survivors help me in my struggle?

I do not have a plan for my daughter really but I do think that I will support my baby with all the choices she makes. I try to transfer the little wisdom that I have but I do not wish to dictate her life or make decisions for her. If the social norms do not help our growth we need to fight it and change it. From my personal experience I can tell her that it will be a difficult journey but it will also be absolutely worth it.

Today I listen to my heart and it guides me on the path of positivity and compassion. When I started taking my decisions is when I realized that it is ok to be different.