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

Most importantly, I wish for the betterment of my family: Phoolmaya

Phoolmaya was born in the early 1970s in the Terai region of southern Nepal. Her young mother abandoned her while she was an infant, followed by her father also leaving to pursue a life outside of the responsibilities of being a parent. She was left with and raised by her grandparents, both of whom she experienced a deeply loving relationship with.

A few years after relocating from the Terai to Kathmandu at the age of 11, Phoolmaya’s grandparents passed away, and she was left in the care of an aunt, until she was married at the age of 19. Uneducated and illiterate, Phoolmaya moved with her husband to the rural village of Dandatateri in Sindhupalchok, where the two of them shared a single room home as well as a plot of land.

Phoolmaya’s marriage proved to be the cause of many hardships, as her husband, who was a construction contractor, fell into the world of addiction.

Amidst the years in which she birthed four children, alcohol was a constant in her husband’s life.

As he became immersed in the ways of drinking and gambling, Phoolmaya worked to keep their children’s needs met by doing local labor, filtering sand for plaster, moving loads of stones and cleaning stoves on the side.
Throughout the years, Phoolmaya suffered both verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her husband until, when her third child was four years old, he was convicted and sent to prison for money laundering. He remained in prison for the following 4 and a half years.

Upon his release, Phoolmaya became pregnant with their fourth and youngest child.

A few years later, without consulting her, Phoolmaya’s husband sold their plot of land for 7 lakhs. He spent the money within a matter of months, leaving the family destitute but for the money she earned working labor.

“In April 2015, Phoolmaya was one of the many people in Nepal who experienced the devastation of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. She and her five years old daughter were inside the house when the earth shook and the house began to collapse around them.”

In a state of desperately wanting to better the circumstances for her three oldest children, Phoolmaya sent two of them to Kathmandu, where her oldest son found work and her oldest daughter, a teenager at the time, took on duties as a domestic worker sewing and cleaning for a family. Finally, through Phoolmaya’s efforts in approaching multiple homes seeking domestic work, she was introduced to a local aid organization through which her two oldest daughters were successfully sponsored to attend boarding school and receive a quality education, as well as the necessities of physical care and nourishment.
Phoolmaya remained in the village with her youngest daughter, who was not yet of age to attend school.

In April of 2015, Phoolmaya was one of the many people in Nepal who directly experienced the devastation of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. She and her daughter, five years old at the time, were inside of the house when the earth shook and the house began to collapse around them. Escaping the house with their lives intact, a wall of the house came down upon Phoolmaya’s leg, crushing her knee and leaving her unable to return to any kind of labor work moving forward.

Their family home destroyed and her husband’s whereabouts after the earthquake unknown, Phoolmaya returned with her daughter to Kathmandu to join her other three children, now aged 21, 20 and 14.

The five of them are currently living in a single room apartment. While her 20 year old son has a labor job in iron work, the family continues to struggle economically, having nearly been evicted onto the street more than once due to their inability to make rent payments.

Through the efforts of Phoolmaya’s eldest daughter seeking help, their basic needs including rent and groceries are currently being met through the donations of international friends who have offered to temporarily assist them until their economic situation improves. Her daughter is currently in the process of pursuing work overseas as a housekeeper or factory worker in order to support the family.

Phoolmaya’s husband has recently been located in Kathmandu. He has expressed no interest in reconnecting with or supporting their family, and has made verbal threats against Phoolmaya’s physical wellbeing should they see one another again.

When asked what her wishes for the future are, Phoolmaya responds simply. She wants to live happily. She wants to be free from trouble, from the problems that she has experienced, and she wishes to be healthy. Most importantly, she wishes for the betterment of her family, for her children to live without the trouble she herself continues to experience.

To see her children happy.

To see her children succeed.

story & photos contributor: Mandy Glinsbockel
http://www.mandyglinsbockel.com

I am a merchant and I can’t count: Babita Das

I was the fourth child out of five that my parents had. They took good care of us and we grew up happy. We had a content, playful childhood and kept busy with games and other things we saw others do.

It never even occurred to us that there was a world outside of Malangwa -which is where I was born and raised. The closest school was about 4 or 5 kilometres away from Malangwa; the capital of Sarlahi district. None of us ever went to school; it took me a very long time to understand that proper education was not just important but a necessity in today’s world. Our ignorance, social setting and inconveniences were probably distancing us from education more than the physical distance itself.

“The ignorance, social setting and inconveniences were probably distancing us from education more that the physical distance itself.”

I got married off at a young age of 15 and had my first child at 16. Having a child as a teenager is a painful experience. Moreover the physical, psychological and emotional journey can be overwhelming, sometimes even devastating. Today when I see someone pregnant, it makes me uncomfortable and anxious, reminding me of my days of struggle. If I could go back in past and redo things, I would choose education over anything else and raise my voice against child marriage.

Babita Das, 35, lives in Baneshwor and owns a garment store at Ason.
Babita Das, 35, lives in Baneshwor and owns a garment store at Ason.

I have three grown up kids who go to school. I have understood how important schooling is for various reasons but primarily to know how to read and write. I own a garment store and have no option but to rely on my staff for almost everything. It is in times like these when I cannot do the simplest things, like maintain a logbook or read a newspaper, I feel helpless. There is nothing I can do about it since I am an illiterate person. I feel education makes you independent and self sufficient in the real sense, just like knowing how to cook helps you survive.

Babita Das. She is the story.