Now, she is my friend and I am hers : Deepa Shrestha

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There was a time when, because of her, I would sit in a corner of a room and cry. But, lately the smallest changes in her, brings me a lot of joy. Also, sometimes I feel very proud of myself because I was able to recognize her at a proper time. It is because of her that today the story of my life has turned around.

I have always wanted to live independently. So, as soon as I was done with high school, I came to Kathmandu from Lahan to pursue my further studies. Even till today I can vividly remember my college days. I never wanted to depend on anyone and so just after I completed my BBA I started to work at “Kohinoor Housing Center”. I was able to sustain myself with my earnings and I also enrolled myself for a Masters course. I got married soon after. I started to work at Siddhartha Finance after my marriage and both my marital life and career was going smoothly. Three years after our marriage, we decided to have a baby. We were really happy when we conceived successfully. Like any other mother, who dreams of what she would do for her baby and how she would raise the child, I too began to have a lot of dreams for my child. I wanted to raise my child to be independent and instead of pressuring her to become a doctor or an engineer, I wanted her to be whatever it is that she wanted to be. I had a little dream to be known because of her. Nine months after dreaming every possible dream for my child, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter. Few months after her arrival, I slowly went back to my normal routine.  I was fulfilling my role sometimes as a wife, sometimes a mother and other times as an employee.

In 2015, my daughter was 14 months old when we had a massive earthquake in our country. I still remember that she was asleep and I had cried endlessly when I carried her during the earthquake. After that, I had left my daughter at my mother’s place. Four months later I brought her back envisioning all wonderful possibilities. However, as they say, life is never how you imagine it to be. I felt that there was a huge difference in her behavior. She preferred to stay alone, she didn’t interact with anyone, it looked as if she was really hurt. I started to get worried. I assumed that maybe her fear of earthquake was still there and that’s why she was behaving that way, or maybe because I kept her away from me for a long time and hence she was behaving like that? I started questioning myself a lot.

How can a mother possibly be okay with any of that?
I too wanted to see my daughter laughing and playing
like any other normal child.

I started to research. I realized that I have to spend good amount of time with her. I even consulted with my brother who is also a doctor. While researching, I came across a word – autism. This word was very new to me. I knew nothing about it. I was advised to meet and consult with another doctor. During my first meet itself, the doctor said that she has symptoms of autism. I got even more stressed. There wasn’t much information about autism in Nepal during those days. I consulted with many doctors looking for its cure. It got so tiring and I lost my hope. Surprisingly, Autism Care Nepal brought back my hopes. Without any further delay, I took my daughter to that organization. After careful and thorough inspection, the special educator there finally concluded that she did have autism. But, her treatment could take some time. She was only 18 months old then and so I was advised to wait for a while. It was so disappointing. He was a special educator so he spoke in the medical terms but I am mother. How can a mother possibly be okay with any of that? I too wanted to see my daughter laughing and playing like any other normal child. I didn’t want to wait any longer. My entire life was upside down. All I could see was just my daughter. I didn’t want to lose even a single day for her treatment. I thought that autism is also like any other disease, that the sooner treatment started, the sooner it would be cured. I was confident that I will take her anywhere in the world for her treatment. No one in Nepal was really able to explain to me what autism really is. I always thought that if she’s provided with proper treatment she will be perfectly fine and so, I never stopped my research.

2After a while I found out that my aunt’s child was also autistic. They were in Kochi, India for the treatment. Me and my husband discussed about the treatment in India and decided to take our daughter. I really didn’t have to think much whether or not I should resign from my work then. I just wanted my daughter to get better. The next day after my resignation, we took our daughter to India. We stayed there for four months. The heat and the weather of India didn’t suit my daughter’s health and she often fell sick. We had to admit her to a hospital instead of the therapy center. In Kochi, they only communicate either in Malayalam or in English. Our daughter was small and didn’t speak either of the languages so communications became a major issue during her therapy sessions. During our four months stay there, she was only able to get a month’s therapy. There were not much changes in her so we decided to get her back to Nepal.

We didn’t know where in Nepal we could take her for a proper treatment. To make her a little more active, I started to give her therapy at home with whatever I knew. While researching, I came across National Institute of Psycho Educational Counseling. I took her there and started the therapy sessions. I noticed few changes in her and I was hopeful again. Along with my daughter’s therapy session, the counselor there also started to counsel me. I used to think that my daughter is disabled but after careful analysis, I understood that she was differently able.  We then slowly began to accept her for who she is and when that happened we could feel that she was also happier. Earlier, she would be terrified even to cross a small path and now she can walk across big roads.  I still remember the day when she called us mother and father. I felt like we had won it all. I was so happy that I couldn’t stop crying. Even now sometimes when she is playing, she would randomly blabber these words – mummy and daddy. I realize that it will take a long time to bring changes in her.  We have to teach her in the way that’s more comfortable for her. Clearly, this is not the easy way but it’s not impossible.

I do feel very sad but at the same time I am also happy that because of her, I am learning new things.

Whenever I had to go out, parties or gatherings, I never used to bring my child along with me thinking that it would be very difficult to manage her. I used to drop her at my brother’s place. Later, when I understood what autism is and her behaviors, I now take her with me, every place I go. Once she started to spend time with these groups, she began to understand our world. It takes a little time for her but it’s not like she doesn’t understand. Hence, these days I only go out when it’s feasible for me and my daughter. My family and my friends are very understanding and that’s why they organize any gathering according to our feasibility. I have noticed that many other parents who have autistic children find it difficult to bring their child in social gatherings. But, I think these children should be brought in social gatherings and slowly they will learn to adjust.

3I have to pay special attention to my daughter. This is the major difference between us and mothers who have “normal” children. No matter what, we cannot be as free as other mothers.  Autistic children have a different world than ours. My daughter’s therapy starts at the beginning of my day. My daughter is now six and a half years old. I need to help her to go to the toilet and brush her teeth. After a lot of therapy, she can now eat on her own. Other children can learn many things by themselves but she couldn’t. I need to teach her in a symbolic way which she can understand well. After finishing my household chores, I prepare her to do her exercise according to the schedule of her school. I spend my days mentoring her to do her exercises and playing with her.

Every one suffers and it’s that suffering which will teach you a lot about life. Sometimes I used to feel sad because of my autistic daughter but it is only because of her, I have so many positive changes in me. I am very glad for that. I used to very reserved person. I never could talk to people quickly and openly and I lacked confidence. Now, because of her, I can speak with confidence. When I first started taking my daughter to the therapy center, she used to happily run towards her therapist – Sarita maam. She was happier with her mam than with me. That made me feel very bad. Therefore, I started to talk to her caretakers. I observed how they used to interact with her. Then slowly, I got closer to my daughter.

Now, she is my friend and I am hers.

In many cases, women feel bad because after having a child, they cannot continue to work on their careers. But, when I look at myself, I feel I have learned a lot and achieved a lot as well. I find myself a lot different than other mothers. I think I have gained all the skills required to look after autistic children and would like to work with them on a professional level one day when my daughter is a bit more grown.  I am really proud of my daughter and who she turned me into.

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Photo courtesy : Deepa Shrestha

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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I sang through war and peace: Nirmala Ghising

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When I was studying in grade 8, I joined the Maoist Movement.

I imagined a just nation where no one had to face any problems. This is why many of us were attracted to the movement. I was ready to die for the cause. ‘If my death makes my country better then it’s not a big deal for me to die’, these types of patriotic thoughts directed people towards the movement. The thought that poor people will get food to eat, no-one needs to face caste and class discrimination, and women will not be oppressed and get the same rights as men; all these ideas motivated me to join the movement.

1We had to be fit and well-trained. Biologically women are different than men but the training in our camps was the same both for male and female combatants. It was all about being courageous and breaking your mental barriers. We did everything that men would do. We would fight furiously at the forefront of the battles. Many of my friends became martyrs. I am one of the lucky ones who survived death.

I was born and raised as a child of a poor farmer in Faparbari, Makwanpur. Life in a village is difficult compared to the city. I could only go to school after finishing my household chores. I had no big dreams about what I wanted out of life. I don’t think I was ever taught to dream – rather to just accept my fate and live my life which would be filled with struggles. But I loved singing from a very young age. When I heard songs on the radio or television, I tried to copy and sing correctly. I would practice for ages.

During the movement, our life was tough. We would walk all night; sometimes from the hills to the terai. While walking we carried our musical instruments and food. We would stop in villages and stay with the villagers. We sang progressive songs, danced, and performed dramas. Our art was what inspired people to join the movement. Many people joined the movement, many supported. I think it was possible only because of this soulful artist’s front.

We would reach remote and far away villages. Our songs spoke of people’s sufferings. That’s how most people connected to us. Our songs work like medicine to their wounds of poverty and state of being. And many times it would work like an appeal to support the movement. We’d walk these downtrodden villages everywhere, throughout the country. We would walk from Tamang villages to the Chepang habitats. We would reach Thami villages and Dalit settlements. While traveling to all these areas, one thing I remember vividly is that – the nature of poverty and state oppression was exactly the same regardless of their geographical differences.

People in these villages and settlements welcomed us wholeheartedly. We went in there like a messenger and left as a family member. In some villages, our whole team would have to leave abruptly due to army patrol and raids. We’d run from those villages and sleep in the middle of the jungle. Wartime days were tough but they were worth it.

2It was after the peace agreement that our leaders failed to protect us and the overall artists’ role became weaker. There was scarcity in the artist’s front but the leaders did not care. They would not directly tell us but their behavior showed that they didn’t need artists anymore. Many artists went back to their previous lifestyle of farming but many left for the Gulf countries in search of work.

Many of those who left to go abroad for work have returned home empty-handed. They still have that fury inside them against the system and the leaders. They say, ‘Even after all these years, things haven’t changed.’ I feel for them. I know the level of anger they must have inside them towards the leaders who failed to guide or protect them. The rising inequality and mass poverty that still exists in our country are unimaginable. Instead of working to increase our living standards, our leaders have turned to middlemen and mafias who constantly exploit their own population for labor, money, and resources.

We were very young then; maybe around 13 or 14 years old. But we weren’t naïve. We knew what we were getting into. All our socio-economic struggles in the village left no other options to fight for change. We wanted a drastic change in our system and that was the only reason why youth like me participated in the movement.

However, in our country, change has only been limited to words. Few words have changed here and there, but the situation of the country and its people hasn’t changed much.

3After the peace process, I decided to continue my education. I completed my bachelor’s degree in journalism along with focusing on music lessons.
I started working at various radio stations. Though I was busy doing journalism, I wanted to engage myself more in music. So, I started networking with people in the music scene. Gradually I started to go to studios and getting offers for performing live. I got an opportunity to sing a song in a Tamang movie. In 2014, I released my first solo music album ‘Rahar’.

I was becoming more of a commercial singer. I had to, to sustain myself. At times, I wondered how my former comrades would see me in this commercial world. And at times, I wondered how my new audience would react if they find out about my communist background. Gradually both my comrades and audiences seem to pretty much accept the reality of who I am now.

After releasing albums and going around the world to perform, I’m still giving my best to create more opportunities and to preserve my existence in the musical world. I feel blessed to have supportive audiences and Chandra Kumar Dong and Maila Lama, my uncles, who inspired me a lot to continue.

Being a musician, I am trying my best to raise awareness in society through music. That’s what we did being a part of the musical front during the war. Now, all those memories of the war feel surreal.

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अब स्कूल खुल्छ की खुल्दैन त्यो पनि थाहा छैन

Designed by crowf / Freepik

मलाई घरमा बस्दा एकदम नरमाईलो लागेको छ । लकडाउन हुनु भन्दा पहिला नै इन्डिया जाने प्लान बनाएका थियौं तर जाने भन्दा भन्दै लकडाउन भयो । त्यसपछि जान पाएनौं । अब त मलाई डर लागीरहेछ हामी कहिले इन्डिया जान पाउँछौ कि पाउदैनौं भनेर ? मेरो हजुरआमा यहि बिचमा बिरामी हुनुहुन्छ । डर झन बढेको छ उहाँलाई निको हुन्छ की नाई ? धेरै बिरामी हुनुभयो भने यो बेला हस्पिटल लान पनि गाह्रो छ । कोरोना भन्दा पनि मलाई यस्तै अन्य कुराले बढी सताई रहेको छ ।

लकडाउन पछि म बिहान ७ बजे उठ्छु । फ्रेस हुन्छु, चिया पकाउँछु, भाईहरुलाई खुवाउँछु अनि आफु पनि खाईसके पछी भाईहरुलाई पढाउँछु । १० बजे तिर ममीले खाना पकाईसकेको हुनुहुन्छ । सबै परिवारसँगै बसेर खाना खान्छौं । ममी भान्सा सफा गर्नुहुन्छ । भाई र म लुडो खेल्दै टि ।भि । र्हेछौं । त्यस पछि म पढ्छु ।

अब यो लकडाउन खुल्छ की खुल्दैन?
के हुेने हो?
दिनदिनै चिन्ता बढी रहेको छ

अन्य धेरै स्कूलहरुको त अनलाईन क्लास भईरा’छ । हाम्रो स्कूलमा त अनलाईन क्लासको व्यवस्था पनि छैन । अब स्कूल खुल्छ की खुल्दैन त्यो पनि थाहा छैन । मलाई पढाई के हुने हो ? भनेर धेरै चिन्ता लागीरा’छ । लकडाउन कै बिचमा हाम्रो त रिजल्ट आयो । म पास भएँ । मलाई एकदम खुशी लाग्यो । तर एस ।ई ।ई । को त परिक्षा पनि भएको छैन । उनीहरुलाई कस्तो धेरै चिन्ता परेको होला ? उनीहरुको परिक्षा हुन्छ कि हुँदैना भन्दाअ भन्दाइ उनिहरुलाई परिक्षा नै लिन नपर्ने भन्ने समाचार पढें । हाम्रो अनलाईन कक्षा हुन्छ कि हुँदैन ? हाम्रो स्कूल खुल्छ कि खुल्दैन सोच्दा सोच्दा अब के हुने हो ? भन्ने डर लागिरहन्छ ।

ममी बाबाले हामीलाई चोकमा समेत जान दिनु हुँदैन । कोही साथिहरुलाई भेट्न पनि पाएको छैन । यो कोरोनाले गर्दा मलाई कस्तो चिन्ता भईरा’छ । अब यो लकडाउन खुल्छ की खुल्दैन? के हुेने हो? दिनदिनै चिन्ता बढी रहेको छ । घरमा बस्दा राम्रोसँग खान पनि पाएको छैन । मेरो बाबालाई धेरै चिन्ता भईरा’छ । लकडाउन अगाडि मेरो बाबा फुटपाथमा लुगा बेच्नु हुन्थ्यो । अब त्यो पनि बेच्न दिँदैन । हामीलाई धेरै समस्या भईरा’छ । लकडाउन धेरै लम्बियो भने के खाने होला ? भनेर बाबा धेरै चिन्ता गर्नुहुन्छ । मलाई एकदम नरमाईलो लाग्छ बाबालाई देखेर ।

कक्षा ९
कान्तिईश्वरी मा.वि. प्याफल

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Hunger crisis during lockdown

 

I don’t like staying at home. We had plans of travelling to India before the lockdown, but the lockdown happened and we couldn’t go. Now I have this fear whether or not we will able to go to India ever again? My grandmother is also not keeping well. I am really worried about her health condition. What if it gets worse? How will we take her to the hospital? I am actually more concerned about other issues as compared to Corona.

These days, I wake up around 7 in the morning; make tea and breakfast for my brothers and myself. My mother prepares lunch and it’s normally ready by 10 in the morning. We all have our lunch together after which I play ludo and watch television with my brother. After that, I study.

Many other schools have organized online classes but since I go to a government school, our school doesn’t have an online facility. I don’t know if the school will reopen again or not. I am really worried about my studies. I got my 9th-grade exams’ result during this lockdown period. I was really happy that I passed my exams, but the National Board Exams (SEE) are still pending. I guess all the SEE students must be very worried about their exams. I don’t know whether the SEE exams will be conducted or not. I think a lot about all these things and I tend to get worried.

My parents don’t allow us out at all, not even to go to the main road. I haven’t been able to meet any of my friends either. I am really distressed because of this corona. I wonder if this lockdown will ever ease up and my stress is also increasing day by day. We have not been able to eat properly as well. My father is really stressed. Before the lockdown, my father used to sell clothes on the streets, and now he can’t even sell that. He keeps wondering what will we do if the lockdown keeps extending and how will we survive? I feel really bad looking when I see him in such a state.

May 24th 2020

From a big kitchen to bigger ones: Manila Tamrakar

COVER_MANILATAMRAKAR

I can only imagine how happy my family members must have been when I was born. I was the first grandchild to be born in my house. A Laxmi is born, someone must have said. In an extended family, led by grandparents, I must say that I definitely grew up pampered. But I wasn’t spoilt. At a very early age, I had started to take care of all my younger siblings.

We grew up playing in the little courtyard of our house in Dhokatole, Kathmandu. I had to be my sibling’s parent and friend at the same time. We’d play, study and eat together. I remember, each lunch and dinner was like a feast. Fifteen family members eating at the same time turned any ordinary meal into a Newar jho-bhwe style feast. My mother and aunties would prepare food and I’d help them by going to the market, buying vegetables and essentials.

Looking back, I’d say that my family was not that conservative when it came to educating the girl child. I was sent to the neighborhood girls-only school where I completed my school leaving certificate. I also completed my intermediate from Shankar Dev Campus. My brothers and cousins went to co-ed schools. Back in those days, parents would worry about their girls ‘reputation’. They believed that educating girls too much would make them ‘spoilt’ – their way to describe independent women those days. I was a decent student and doing well with my studies. I had plans to enroll into a bachelor’s study.

But I raised my concern over my study –
they said I could continue it after my marriage.

Meanwhile, a wedding proposal arrived from a well-to-do family. One evening, I was taken to the market in the pretext of buying clothes for Dashain. But the motive was that the man would get to see his probable wife-to-be. I had no choice of agreeing or disagreeing to it. But in my head, I was clear that I should focus on my studies. ManilaTamrakar_sheisthestory_1My birth astrological chart was taken to match with his. It matched perfectly they said. We weren’t raised to question our elders. In those days, you could not even raise your eyebrows to your parents. The wedding got fixed. But I raised my concern over my study – they said I could continue it after my marriage.

I was just 19 years old when I got married and moved from one giant family to another. I felt everything emotionally that a 19 years old ambitious girl would think to be sent to another family all of a sudden. I can’t even express the level of anxiety, pressure, embarrassment, nervousness that I had on those days.

I became another hand to help in the chores of this new unfamiliar house. I became another assistant in the kitchen where they’d cook food for another big family. I got scared to see the rice-cooker my in-laws would be cooking rice in. I remember the first day in the kitchen quivering until I finished making cauliflower curry for them. Although I grew up in a big family, I never had to cook at home. I would often make mistakes. Miscalculating portions, adding less or more salt, under or over-cooking kept happening. Gradually I got accustomed to it and life in the big kitchen got normal.

ManilaTamrakar_sheisthestory_3True to their word, my in-laws let me join college for my bachelor’s. I’d wake up in the morning at 4am to not miss any classes. I’d try to focus on my studies in-between my family responsibilities. Regardless of having too much chores to do, I completed my bachelor’s. I promptly enrolled myself into a Master’s program as well but I got pregnant and gave birth. A girl. Laxmi is born in the house, someone had said. After the child, it became impossible to continue my education. I had completed a semester of the Master’s program too but that went in vain. 6 years passed being a mother and then we had another baby. This time a girl child again, but not a definite Laxmi this time. Some of my in-laws were not that happy with a second girl child. I heard them saying “Oh no, not a girl again!”

But it didn’t matter to me. What mattered most, was my husband being happy about it. I knew I would be forced to have another child and try for a boy next time. Various nonchalant ways of putting pressure on me didn’t stop. Right then, my husband got transferred to Pokhara to work in the industrial estate, in a bakery factory. In one hand, it was a blessing to stop being pressured to have another child, on the other hand – I’d have to leave my families behind. We moved with two girls, one was only six-months new, to this new city to start our livelihood from scratch, with heavy hearts far away from all familiar faces. It took me a couple of months to get used to life in the new city but I adapted. Slowly my kids adapted too.

ManilaTamrakar_sheisthestory_2Years passed, we upgraded from our bakery factory into the restaurant business. I had both my children going to one of the best school in the city. I wanted them to get better education than me under any circumstances. Amidst all those days of business going up and down, we made sure their education wasn’t hindered. Today, both my girls have completed their bachelors and are successfully working in their respective fields. And I’m sure they’ll pursue an even higher level of education soon, unlike their mother.

Big utensils, same big rice-cookers, lots of food and vegetables.
It is a nostalgia I’m living in here even after so many years
of leaving my born place.

My husband and I own a chain of restaurants now. I am a supervisor in the cafeteria of Manipal Teaching Hospital. I make sure the food provided in there is healthy. I overlook and take care of 70 staff members who help us run the business. I feed doctors and nurses nutritious food so they can take care of others. But even today, after all these years, whenever I go into the kitchen, I feel like a small kid peeking into the kitchen of my house. Big utensils, same big rice-cookers, lots of food and vegetables. It is a nostalgia I’m living in here even after so many years of leaving my born place. It’s sentimental how I see my regular customers as my family members sharing their food experiences. I listen to their compliments and grievances about our food. I answer them, “not everyone has the same taste, we’ll make sure to match up to yours next time,” like I’d answer to my in-laws back in my Kathmandu home.

I never thought I would be in a position of leadership, entrepreneurship, and independence as I am now. After I was married off so young, I thought my life would be spent inside the 4 walls of my house. But here I am, successfully leading an army of staff.  I’m 52 now.  If I have to define life, I’d say – Life is like a hot-and-sour soup. It’s filled with sweet and spicy memories together. You keep stirring and sipping it, once spoon at a time. At times I step back and appreciate the life I have today, blessed with a supportive husband and two aspiring girls. Aspired to become ‘spoilt’ women – their way to describe independent women these days.

 

END_COVER

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Laxmi – a hindu goddess of wealth.
Jho-bhwe – a traditional feast where people sit on the floor and eat.
Dashain – a hindu festival.
Pokhara – a lake city in the western Nepal.

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Photo Credit : Manila Tamrakar, Bikkil Sthapit

 

 

Following the path of freedom: Indu Tharu

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I was born in Hasuliya village of Kailali district in Far Western Nepal. I am a Tharu – indigenous to the land where I was born. I grew up with my mother, grandmother and two younger brothers. My father was one of the founding member of then Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) in Kailali district. I have a vague memory of him. I remember him staying far from our home and would visit us at times. The army and police would often come to our house looking for my father. Not been able to find him, the authorities would give us all a very hard time. He stopped coming home that often. After a while he went underground.
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My father had a pharmacy. We don’t know when and how he got involved in the communist party, the then banned outfit. After both my father and uncle joined the party and left home, my grandfather took over the responsibilities of our home. My grandfather was a peasant. He had to struggle a lot to make sure I got educated.

The Nepal army would come and torture us all quite frequently. One day, the police took my grandfather and beat him inhumanely. He died with his severely wounded body as he wasn’t taken to the hospital on time. After his death, my family went through major financial crisis. My mother and grandmother did not know how to read or write. They only spoke our native Tharu language and did not speak Nepali. Due to the immense stress they couldn’t work much. But somehow, they managed to continue sending me to school.

On June 11th, 2001 we got informed by the party that my father died in an incident. We never saw his dead body. The Maoist party completed his funeral and lots of people told me that they saw my father’s dead body but I still don’t believe it. I feel that one day he will return home. I keep seeing him in my dreams too.

Indu looking at his father's photo in a hand-carved diary exhibited in Lavkant Chaudhary's recent solo art exhibition.
Indu looking at her father’s photo in a hand-carved diary exhibited at Lavkant Chaudhary’s recent solo art exhibition.

After a few months, my uncle was also brutally killed by the police force in one of the raids. He had also joined the underground party. Basically he had no choice than to join the party because of all the torture he would get from the authorities for being a brother of a Maoist. We did not see his dead body either. His wife was pregnant at the time.

Life became very difficult for us. The ten years long People’s War engulfed all the breadwinners of my family; my grandfather, my father and my uncle.

I used to be a very good student as a child but after losing my family members I stopped focusing on my studies. My entire family went through severe depression. Three women in my family lost their husbands in a short span of time, one after another. My friends stopped playing with me because my father was labelled a terrorist. Our society literally stopped interacting with our family. We were socially outlawed. All the remaining members of our family went through mental and physical trauma.

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When my father was still alive he told me a few things. His dream was to change the system. He would tell me how the Tharu people have been historically oppressed in Nepal. He made me understand the concept of Kamaiya and Kamlari practices. He showed me how we were discriminated against through the food we eat. In my childhood, it was humiliating when someone called us rat-eaters.

My father and uncle dreamt of federalism, of creating a Tharuwaan state for the Tharu people. Now, after all those years, the same Maoists are part of the government but still the Tharu people are oppressed every single day.

My father published a monthly magazine “Muktik Dagar” (means: a freedom path) with revolutionary songs, poems, and articles in Tharu language. During the war times, people would get arrested for just having that magazine in their house. People would immediately dump or burn it in fear of police raids. After my father’s death it stopped being published. I still remember many soulful revolutionary poems and articles published on that magazine.

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After years of struggle, I also started becoming very politically active in 2005. I was actively involved in the movement to get rid of the king in 2006 and then in the Tharuhat movement since 2007. I was the treasurer of the Tharuhat Tharuwaan Committee. Back then, the Tharus were put in the same category as Madhesi. We began our movement for our own identity. We demanded proportional representation and a Tharuhat autonomous state but none of our demands were addressed. I was young back then, just out of school.

In 2015 we started another Tharuhat movement. It was heavily repressed by the state. The police went around arresting every male who was involved in the movement and attacking every Tharu house. So, we made a strategy to protect our movement and women took over and led the movement. We wore our traditional clothes and protested in the streets of Dhangadi for weeks. We started celebrating our traditional festivals. In retrospect, by these actions at least we managed to save our clothes and culture. We also started lobbying for our native language to be taught in schools and to make it an official language in the government office procedures.12033791_1497165827247142_1518595684_n

We were organizing a mass conference where many activists from around the country was supposed to participate. The supporters of Akhanda Sudur Paschim – people who were opposed to our idea of autonomous Tharuwan – stopped villagers and participants to reach our venue in Dhangadi. They started pelting stones and blocking roads. Many participants from Tikapur who were coming to our conference also got stopped on the way by this group who started voicing against our movement. Many people were injured. After our mass conference, they then organized a motorcycle rally but the people of Tikapur didn’t let them pass. With the help of the police and local authorities, they started attacking us. They beat, torture and gave Tharu people a very hard time. They burnt our homes and offices, vandalized properties owned by Tharus. It was a one big systematic attack targeted against our community to silence our movement.

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On 24 August, 2015, we had a program demanding an autonomous Tharuhat State in Dhangadi. Me along with other Tharu activists went to put a banner in front of the Chief District Office. Meanwhile the Tikapur massacre happened. We were protesting and heading our rally towards the CDO. After a moment we got a call from Tikapur that many people were killed while demonstrating. Then, we decided to turn back.

There are many reports of Tikapur massacre, including report by Amnesty International, but the government didn’t publish any reports. They refuse to acknowledge the loss of Tharu lives caused in the massacre. Tharu people also started getting severely oppressed by the state repeatedly. Police would go around arresting people again. People fled their homes and started hiding in the fields. We were not even allowed to go catch fish. Our daily lives are linked with fish, it being a basic diet in our culture. Not allowing us to do our daily chores was definitely a major human rights abuse.

For me, that was a realizing moment, that I could not go much further politically without being totally destroyed by the repression. So, like my father, I picked up my pen and started to write.

I started writing articles on Tharu identity, women’s rights and other socio-political issues. I then joined Democracy Research Center as a researcher. With some of the money that I got from my job, I did something which I’ve been always meaning to do it since I was young.

After twelve years, I re-published “Muktik Dagar” in my own editorial, in memory of my father. For me, despite of all the state repressions and all those failed attempts at independence, Tharus will continue walking the road to freedom.

 

Indu Tharu, She is the story

Our identity and existence has been dependent on our male counterparts: Maya

A usual day was waking up at dawn and working all day; chores that were never ending and tiring. I could not be demanding but I remember asking ‘my family’ to send me to school. “You get enough to eat and survive, what is with these additional demands?” That is where it always ended; after all I was only a maid who was being taken care of.

I was 12 or 13 when I started feeling and understanding things, had they let me read and write or sent me to school I would have praised them my whole life. I could not bear it when the violence started becoming extreme and inhuman. Sometimes the simplest of things would invite terrorizing humiliation. Verbal and physical insults had no defined structure; sometimes she would spit on my face in front of people.

“They told me I was bought for 50 dollars when I was 5 years old from Guwahati, India. I grew up with a lot of negative reinforcements; slaps and punches were a part of my daily life.”

I grew up in Boudha with a Sherpa family; they told me I was bought for INR 5000 from Guwhati, India when I was 5 years old. I grew up with a lot of negative reinforcements; slaps and punches were a part of my daily life. I shared my life and bed with the dog they had, sometimes I felt it had a better life than mine. That is pretty much what I remember of my childhood.
1When things started getting too harsh at 14, I ran away for the first time and started working in a hotel. They found me and told me that things will get better and we will be a family this time, promising me with more smiles and dreams. It turned out to be the worst nightmare. This time I had to experience sexual abuse from the son of the family.

I was no one’s daughter with no family which is probably why  even when I ran away it was only to go back to the same people. Whenever I demanded to be sent to school. “What you are getting now is what you are worth, you are a maid” is the only education I ever really got. “If I am a maid why am I not getting paid?” I told them to pay me for all the years I had worked for free. Nothing ever happened however.

I was 16 years old and had already experienced so much pain and fear.A friend had told me about a marketing job in North India and I fearless decided to take that voyage. I even went to Guwhati looking for my parents but found no one, how would I anyway? I did not know their names or what they looked like. I spent a year in India selling sweaters, learning marketing,human behavior, relationships and most importantly myself. I learnt how fragile and temporary relationships were. I was feeling wiser and happier and things were working well until the owner started getting frisky with me and life became difficult again. I went to the owner’s wife and told her what was going on, for a change,she was actually a nice person. She bought me my tickets back to Nepal and helped me out. It was the first time in my life where I was taking my decisions, doing things I liked and stayed away from what I did not like.
Maya's daughterOnce I came back to Nepal I went back to the same place one more time, what other option did I have? They did not have anyone to do the chores and I had no food to eat so they took me in. This time it was not for too long, they started accusing me of being too flamboyant and that I was getting out of control.

A friend told me that Pokhara was the place to be in and make a living so I left for Pokhara. I worked in a cosmetic shop and started learning things faster than I thought I would. I found someone I felt connected with and attracted towards. My boss found out about my relationship with him and fired me. They took my phone, my sim card and put me in a bus to Kathmandu. I had lost all hopes once again but this time things were different. The first time he came to see me, he was hardly in his senses, half covered and no shoes, he rode his bike all the way from Pokhara without wearing a helmet and had bought me a phone.He would come to Kathmandu every week to be with me. We then got married at Pashupatinath temple, he made regular trips to Kathmandu but never stayed here with me for too long.

I got pregnant and things were still unclear. He brought money to get my baby aborted but I had decided that I wanted this baby; I wanted to have a family.I was lost in that phase and didn’t realize that his visits were becoming irregular.I was three months pregnant and something told me to go to Pokhara. After endless trips to his parent’s place I figured out that he was married to a new girl who was his real wife because she was his legal wife. I was not even a legal person.

I had no money to eat or even pay for my transportation. I walked kilometers each day, everyday. After uncountable trips to the guy’s house and the police station I got 1500 dollars to take care of my daughter. I bought a little gold because I did not have a bank account. I could not read or write. I was not an orphan, I was no one’s wife. I was identity less. It was especially during this phase that I did not even feel human because I could not even prove my existence, my identity.

Life started again with Yuma.There were days when my body could not produce milk and I had to “crush” beaten rice to produce milk like stuff to feed her to survive. Things were painful but the scariest part was to apprehend that my kid might have to live a life like mine. I went back to my ex-husband and asked him to get my daughter a birth certificate and he didn’t take it seriously. It took cops, and an educated lady who helped me through this and lots of courage to fight for the two of us. She took good care of me for one year.

I ended up working for a leading spa, training a team of masseuses. Things started changing, and life started getting more stable. Yuma is 6 years old today and goes to school. I run a spa in Kathmandu and work as a therapy trainer.

I have no papers or any thing proof to my nationality and identity. Today I am thankful that I managed to get my daughter registered legally so she can call herself a Nepali. It is a disturbing feeling to know that your birth and your death in this world does not make much of a difference. As women we suffer cultural and social setbacks but we have also been ignored by our government and the political systems. Our identity and existence has always been dependent on our male counterparts and the relationships that would validate our life, which is not fair. I do not know much legalities but I have had it difficult as a family-less person, a mother but mostly because I am a woman.

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.