Travel and Journeys: Minu Karki

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If I am sad today, it’s because of my past and not because of my present. I get chills even when I think of those days. Only I know the horrifying situations I have been through to be where I am today. I have to clear my throat first, when someone asks me about my past life. Tears roll down my eyes before I say anything. I wished I didn’t have to remember anything.

I and my brother grew up in this city, even though our ancestral home isn’t here. Our parents migrated here in search for jobs and hence we both had a rather modern city lifestyle; however, I believe in true sense my life only started after I got married at 24.

With the beginning of my new life,
it was the end of my student life.
I couldn’t continue my education and all my dreams.

It is very unnatural in our community to be not married when your younger cousins are already married, so my parents arranged my marriage to a man from our village and who they believed belonged to a good family. I still remember that day very clearly. I was at Indrachowk when my parents called me home ASAP. My marriage was fixed with someone I had never seen, never spoken, not even once. The man wanted to talk to be in privacy and the first question he had asked was whether I had a boyfriend? I was already nervous, and it just got worse. Slowly, I replied saying I don’t have any boyfriend. Again, he said, “Make sure this will not be the reason for any of our marital issues.” to which I replied that he can be rest assured that I will not cause any kind of issues. After this our marriage was confirmed. The initial plan was to get married after my 12th exams but I don’t know how, my marriage happened first. Instead of me studying and preparing for my exams, I was running around shopping for my marriage. I got married. My parents were happy that I got married and I was happy because they were happy.

I had to stay up to midnight fulfilling my role as a newlywed daughter-in-law of the house. Next morning, as a student, I went to give my final exam. As a result, with the beginning of my new life, it was the end of my student life. I couldn’t continue my education and all my dreams.

Even though my parents weren’t rich, they always kept me and my brother happy. Maybe because they loved us so much, it didn’t really matter to us when we had to borrow old books from our seniors in schools while our classmates would buy new books, every new batch. I grew up with abundant love from my parents but within a week of my marriage I came to realize the difference between a daughter and a daughter in law. I hadn’t cried so much even during my wedding, but soon after a week till the day I lived in that house, I never stopped crying.

To be honest, that wasn’t my first time at the station.
He had been arrested many times under domestic violence.

I still remember from the first week of our marriage, my husband used to leave me at night. I know why he didn’t come home and when I had asked, the tight slap I got; that was the first time.  That was the day when it had all started. From there on in, I don’t remember how many times I got slapped, kicked, mistreated; I have lost count. But I remember wearing a shawl to cover the marks on my face. I didn’t use to come to my parents’ house fearing that they would find about all of that. I never told my mother that every day I used to get beaten up by my husband and that I wanted to kill myself. Instead of troubling my parents, my concern was always about fixing everything. To protect my parents from all the social stigmas, no matter how much physically and mentally tortured I was, I never told my parents about anything. There was this one Dashain, my husband didn’t come with me to my parents’ house to receive blessings. My mother kept asking me about his whereabouts. I had told my husband that I have not told anything to my parents and come over, but he didn’t. He didn’t even answer my calls. After around 50 calls or so, he finally answered. I tired to save my relationship many times, but we all know it takes two to build a relationship. Even though I hadn’t mentioned anything to my parents, I don’t know how they figured it out. After that, both families decided to sit down and discuss. No one supported me. I had a little hope that maybe my mother in law would support me, but why would she support me instead of supporting her son? Needless to say, things weren’t going well after all that, and then suddenly one day he began to argue and demanded for a divorce. I told my parents and we went to the police station. To be honest, that wasn’t my first time at the station. He had been arrested many times under domestic violence, but I don’t know how he would be released the very next day. However, this time my purpose of going to the station was different. With everyone’s advice I wanted to file a divorce. I didn’t even take any alimony. I just got divorced. I got my freedom back.

“I am free, but where will I go?” was now my new concern. I rented a room. One day the landlady came to me and asked me about my husband. I lied and I said he’s away, will be back in few days. After few days she again came asking where my husband is. When I told her that my husband isn’t here, I was immediately asked to leave the room.  I didn’t have a place to go and I was all confused. After I shared my situation with my parents, they asked me to come live with them. Later while leaving the room I found out that it was my sister in law who had come and told the landlord that I was divorced, I didn’t have any money and couldn’t possibly pay the rent. That was the actual reason why I was asked to leave that room.

I again went back to my parents’ house. I worried that my relatives would talk behind my back and cause stress to my parents. The whole thing started eating me up. Even though my parents never showed any sign of stress in front of me, it was very evident. I could easily read their faces. Most importantly, my father is a taxi driver and he was looking after all of us (me, my sick mother and my brother). I really didn’t want to add any extra burden to them. Hence, I went looking for jobs. I used to work even while I was studying so I had fair amount of experience. Finally, I got a job at a shop in Asan and started contributing at home.

WhatsApp-Image-2020-08-25-at-11I wanted to move ahead in life instead of looking behind. I wanted to completely forget those few years after my marriage. To be honest, I never loved the man I had married then. One day I had seen him walking across the shop I was working at; I cried a lot that day. I didn’t cry because I loved him, but because of the pain that he had given me. I decided I wanted to go abroad and with the help from few people at my workplace, I started my visa process. I went Dubai on a cleaning visa. My work was alright. I used to feel very happy when I sent money back home to my parents. New place, new friends, new experience; it was all ok. My job was better since I had a bit more education than most of my colleagues so I got more facility than a normal migrant worker but I would see my colleagues suffer. They had to work long hours, couldn’t go out, eat what they wanted to, etc and that made me sad.

I made some good friends in Dubai. In a way, I was actually just beginning to live my life. One day a friend told me that an Indian likes me. She asked me if I wanted to be introduced to him. I was surprised as to where do this come from. When in Nepal, I had married a man my parents thought was a good fit for me. Even then I was betrayed. Why would I believe some foreigner in a foreign land after all that I had been? I rejected him instantly. Next day my friend came to me again and suggested that he’s a good man. I still didn’t agree to the proposal, but finally agreed to be friends with him. We started talking on the phone. Gradually, I began to feel a little closer to him. He asked me out. I was truly very scared to go out with him. I had heard of all these terrible incidents happen to other Nepali girls. I was worried the entire time. He had brought me many clothes and lots of things. But I was very scared to use it, so I would give it all to my other friends. We continued talking on the phone and went out many times. I began noticing how he cared for me, took me to places I liked, brought me things I liked, etc and because of such behavior I got closer to him. Then one day, I told him everything about my past. I also told him that I don’t want to be hurt anymore and it’s better if we went our separate ways. To my surprise he said that he doesn’t really care about my past. We then decided to live together. After some time, we got married. We were living a happy life.

WhatsApp-Image-2020-08-25-at-11.37I hadn’t told my parents about my marriage yet. I thought that I should tell my mother at least. She was really angry once I told her about it but again, I thought probably she will feel better. I got pregnant and I had to come home because as migrant workers we don’t have the right to maternity in UAE. So, I called my parents and told him. I guess my father had figured out about my marriage even though I hadn’t said anything to him. He had come to pick me up at the airport. I told him that I can’t go home because mother is upset. Even after several attempts of him convincing me to go home, I didn’t give in. He finally dropped me at one of my friends’ place.

I gave birth to a daughter. Everyone was happy. Looking at the way my husband cared for me, my parents also felt very glad.  They also accepted him as my husband and he finally came to Nepal to visit them.

After a while, I decided to go back to Dubai to work. We left our daughter here with my parents. I was working for a company that cooks meals for airlines. The work was good, but because of COVID we were returned back. It wasn’t that bad initially but the number kept increasing. For 3 months, the company fed us and paid our salaries. Everyone slowly started to return back home. I was worried about the quarantine facility and arrangements in Nepal. There wasn’t any good news about it. In fact, I was worried what if I get the virus while at quarantine. Nevertheless, I was put in a camp in Kirtipur and it wasn’t that bad as I had anticipated. It was well organized. We were 8 of us in one camp. We all had separate beds. After staying in quarantine for 13 days and after analyzing our medical reports, we were sent back home.

It is now a complete lockdown. My father hasn’t been driving his taxi because of which we don’t have any income, very obvious. Whatever little savings me and my father had, we spent it during the lockdown. Now we are worried how will be handle our expenses and take care of mother’s medical bill. I can’t tell my husband for I know there isn’t any income. “How do we survive?” is our worry. We don’t have any solution but still I have not given up. There will be some solution. I think all that confidence and bravery I have in me is from my mother. I have inherited that from her. My mother taught me not to worry during bad days and in fact be brave and fight against it. My mother is my hero. As long as my hero is with me, I believe we will overcome this struggle too.

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No one knows where my husband is: Bimala Ghimire

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On January 8th, 1999 my husband was abducted by the Nepal Army which suspected him of  being a Maoist. He was a lawyer by profession and also a teacher in a college in Gorkha where we lived. After that, I was the only person responsible for raising three of our children and my father-in-law. I worked as a teacher too. I was doing well at work but the school administration and the army started to keep an eye on me. When the State of Emergency was ordered, it became very unsafe for our family. One day, the police and army came to my school and arrested me along with two students on suspicions of being Maoist sympathizers. For the 15 days that we were locked up, we were heavily tortured. I was still breastfeeding my youngest son back then. He couldn’t drink his mother’s milk and for me the added torture was the knots and pain in my breast from not being able to feed my child. The army didn’t care about the fact that they were separating a breastfeeding child from its mother. They tortured us constantly. They would drop us into water tanks and beat us one by one.

received_862357877616147As a child, I always wanted to study and become educated so that I would have the same  opportunities as boys. Of course, this was problematic for a young girl from a rural place in Nepal. Our schools were very far and we had to travel long distances to study. Families wouldn’t let girls travel far because they thought it was unsafe. So rather than dealing with us, they married us off early in life to get rid of what they considered as ‘a problem’.

I was married early but after my marriage I continued my school and finished my SLC. But then I had children and slowed down a bit. I still managed to complete my high school by 1997 and continued raising my children. After high school, I started teaching.

After my torture and my husband’s disappearance I felt very unsafe so I took my children and moved to Kathmandu. I got a job as a librarian in a college which paid me Rs.3500 per month. Amid immense hardships, I managed to educate and raise my children. My oldest daughter completed her SLC from a government school and started working. My younger daughter got a scholarship at a private school in Kathmandu and studied there. And after some years my son got a scholarship at a school in Pokhara and left at a young age to live in the school hostel and study there.

94138313_214760513281989_3508796635096285184_nMy children have also gone through severe mental stress. In Kathmandu, I would work from 9am to 5pm every day. One day I came back to home to find my younger daughter and son crying. When I asked them why they told me that  our neighbor had told them that I had gotten arrested. They remembered the time when I was gone for 15 days and began to panic. They didn’t know anyone else in Kathmandu and were scared about who would take care of them and feed them without me there.

One winter holiday we traveled back to our village. We were almost home, and my kids wanted to eat oranges so I stepped out of the bus and went to buy it. After buying the oranges, I was about to get into the bus and the police came and arrested me. I was separated from my children. I didn’t know the where they were and how they were. The police kept me till 8PM the nest day and I ran towards my village as quickly as I could. I was so worried not knowing where my children were. But when I got to my village I found them at my brother’s home. Just thinking about these days is too painful for me.

When my husband first got taken away, I had so many responsibilities that I didn’t have much time to go look for him. The first two years, my brother-in-law went everywhere looking for my husband. After I got to Kathmandu, I continued the search. I would go to courts, attending hearings and try and find any information about the disappeared, including my husband. There were many organizations that worked on conflict issues those days. They would often have training and programs that I would always attend hoping it would help me look for my husband.

94253068_545784206128342_5348688228733943808_nOn 1st June 2007, Supreme Court declared its verdict on my husband’s case. The court had decided that the army officials that abducted my husband should be arrested. But since Nepal had no law on disappearance, the court’s decision could not be implemented. After that the TRC and CEIDP were formed. But nothing has happened yet. During those days, someone told me about the International Courts where I could possibly get justice. Even though many people told me not to approach International Courts because it could create a difficult situation for me and my children, I still went ahead and did it. I filed a case and until this day, our case is ongoing at the International Labor Court.

I don’t know whether my husband is alive or not but other people treat me like a widow which is unfair. We hide our identity to survive. My daughter changed her surname. Due to his sacrifice, dedication, and contribution- the revolutionary movement have succeeded but he’s disappeared. No one knows where he is. Is he alive or not? Who will be responsible for our lives?

Besides, all of these, I still wanted to continue my study. I completed my Undergraduate Degree in Sociology in 2008. In 2012, I enrolled myself in Master’s degree in Rural Development.

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After working as a librarian for 6 years, I finally quit my work and started a new job at Gorkhapatra Sansthan; a National Daily. I am still working there as the Head of the Attendance Branch in the Administrative Department. I manage the attendance of more than five hundred permanent employees and 150 temporary employees.

In the past, I couldn’t feed my children properly. Now I can give them proper food. Eating healthy food was a luxury for us then, and now it’s normal. I still remember during Dashain I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes for my children even though their clothes and slippers were old, worn out and torn.

Photo by : Guligo Jia
Photo by : Guligo Jia

Right now my older daughter is a journalist in ‘The Rising Nepal’, an English language National Daily. My second daughter has gone to China for her Master’s and my son is studying to become an engineer. I am proud of my children who are all very dignified, hard-working and honest human beings.

When I think about the past, I get angry when I realize whose benefit the People’s War eventually served. I often think about my husband. But forgetting about him and moving on is easier than to always live in his memory. I am thankful that through all the hardships, I managed to create an independent life for myself and my children. If I hadn’t chosen to be strong and make a better life for me and my children, we would probably all be living in some broken-down condition. But I chose courage and rose above all difficulties.

I am Bimala Ghimire and this is my story.

Photo by : Guligo Jia
Photo by : Guligo Jia