Far West Diary!

Posted May 31, 2014 from Nepal
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I descend down the stairs- A group of village women are sitting at the reception. I enter restaurant – a group of men stare at us with intense observation. The stare push us outside the hotel and we eat in a small shop outside on the streets. Same species, but different flocks – women in women’s space and men in men’s space – we make a third- the outsiders! The market is dominant of Indian merchants. Migration is two ways – to and from India – Migration to UAE is very recent – We are in Dipayal, Doti!

The driver starts engine and we drive the street up slope. Leaving the smooth road behind, we move ahead feeling each bump in our body from the unpaved path. The road is 4 years old, with all kinds of bumps developed due to heavy vehicles and rain water. The unlimited roller coaster continues. Cluster of villages are in view at each crossing, far off prevails desert look of the some mountains but then suddenly we enter a green valley.

A bowl shaped valley, with lush green forest and ready to harvest wheat fields. An amazing change in temperature – Dipayal is as hot as Terai, Durgamandu popular as Wayal feels like a heaven compared to Dipayal. The cold water quenches our thirst. The VDC is amazing, a small valley, surrounded by mountains all around and decorated by small clusters of villages, all 9 wards in one bowl. I had never been to such a VDC before. In other places, we had to walk long hours to reach another ward, sometimes it took days. From the place I am standing, I can see all 9 wards in Durgamandu.

We wait with our unloaded backpacks. A man unlocks the doors and start cleaning the floor. After a while, a woman appears, apparently, the man’s wife. In Doteli she asks– How many kids do you have? I smile and answer, ‘I am not yet married’. Expressionless, she points to my colleague and questions – Is she married? Yes, she has a boy. She stands there satisfied and stares at our male colleague. ‘He is not married yet, if there is any suitable match, let us know’, and she smiles back – we smile. At around 40, she is a proud grandmother. She has never stepped out of the VDC. Her husband is now old to re-migrate to India.

Doteli sounds like Haryanvi, somewhat like Kumaon, a lot similar to Punjabi. The majority of male migrates to Haryana and Punjab, sometimes female accompany them but for only short visit. The migrants work in Kothi of rich Jain’s else in factories or restaurants. More than half of men from the VDC spend their entire life in India. Young boys as young as 13, follow their father. We are working on issues related to adolescent boys and girls. How old is he? 14 – A dropout! He is going to India very soon. Jobs in hotels and restaurants are easily available to youths like us – shares a recently married boy aged 17, who sees India as the best option to repay his loans which he made during his marriage ceremony. He carries no further interest for studies.

In the market area, we organize a group discussion with men, two of them from India, running small shop in this corner of the mountains – globalization indeed – we keep moving. In this place, to our astonishment people ask for formal letters– almost everyone. People expect snacks and tea. A lot of development initiative ongoing. A young boy aged 19 doing first years of his bachelor’s in Dhangadi makes a statement – ‘you come here, because you get money’. Shocked by his words I wonder – Is this a new Nepal? A total Negativity! - Inactive youth club and active negative minds – selective women who participate have learned at least one thing - to ask money for participation. Collective effort is absent. A high dependency is visible. Everyone is waiting for donors\ the government – to construct road, toilets, for all sorts of development. A place with abundant natural resources ( agriculture, water, forest) and where so many organisations are working, but is devoid of basic necessities – water, sanitation – education for Dalit girls.

I ask a group of drop out Dalit girls – its free isn’t? Why don’t you go? All aged 15, drop out after class 2, some of them going to marry soon, all arranged. Unanimously they reply, economic condition at home, parents can’t bear the expense of school dress, books, pencils. Are your siblings going to school? Yes. Next month she is getting married – WHO? – The one in the left – she covers her face with her dupatta. She is 15, looks much younger than the said age. She hasn’t met the boy, neither her mother. Is it arranged? Yes, by my grandfather, my father will be coming for the marriage ceremony from India. By giving consent she is keeping ‘nak’ (honour) of her family. They are shy. I ask questions about education and marriage.

Change is happening – some have crossed marriage age – the biggest worry for parents – and the society off-course! Aged 25 a woman, married with two kids expresses - Now things are changing. My time was different. My sisters are educated. They are married to army men. They live in Kathmandu. Bhagya ho (destined)! Yes, change is happening. Durgamandu has been declared Chaupadi free zone. ANAMI answers, ‘yes, even if we stop the incentives, women would continue prefer birthing centre’. One or two, are encouraging daughters in law to continue studies. Distance matters! Class 12 is the last destination, which should be within walking distance in the VDC. Almost all attain primary education. Drop out begins from class 5, seldom girls reach SLC. All people say – education is important, yet daughters are set off for marriage at an early age – no body deny good proposals with government job – army, else a migrant. Parents ask for grace marks- just to get SLC passed certificate for their daughters, so that they get better groom, and for son – it relates job. Yes, Change is happening – first Brahmin, Chettri, Thakuris then Dalit. Change also follows hierarchy, class and status. Why similar kind of change doesn't occur everywhere at the same time?

Cases of sexual harassment- unwanted unwed pregnancy and rejection from society, inter-caste love marriages, young hearts- breaking laws, 16 girls eloped during SLC exams this year. Will they be accepted back into the family and society – yes, if she goes in caste? A big no- if it is inter-caste. Some are marrying against their parents wish; a majority are marrying against their wish. We discussed on the issue of polygamy, tried to work on a theory – I see it similar to westernisation process – the only difference is – westernisation without any compulsion of divorce and compensation. Married early, illiterate, with no legal entitlement, she is dependent, she is scared, and she accepts it as a part of life. Again, it’s ‘Bhagya’.

I want suggestion- my sister in law couldn't bear child, her husband remarried – she is kicked out of her house – it was an arranged marriage. I coin a word for her ‘caretaker’. She lives by herself. She is taking care of his property, fields, house, and livestock, with no economic return. He lives with his new wife in the market. She is grateful for him that he is supporting her children. She is young and able, therefore does hard work. What she thinks about her future when she will become weak. Those concerns have never occurred to her.

Walking up down sloppy mountains, passing wheat fields, we visit schools, temples, different hamlets. Toilets show the level of the household. The one we use is so small that we hardly fit ourselves in. All the households don’t have taps at house. They are in process of building water tank. Women fetch water, walk long distance. Girls are shy; they don’t go to the temples. We saw boys gather there. But girls go to the mills, to the forest, to the river and streams, to graze animals, to the market, - yes, but they don’t migrate, seldom take jobs and go for further education. They wear shoes, they earn money, and they are son. Daughters don’t earn money. Women are working all the time. Boys do nothing. The month of March – fields all covered with wheat – no men – but women working all the time. All the way, its women – where are men? Visible feminisation!

The valley looks beautiful, with wheat fields, fruit trees and spring flowers. Returnee migrants are enjoying holidays – gossiping, playing cards and carom. They will plough the land for paddy and will re-migrate to India. Men never learnt to harvest wheat. Why? It’s like this from old days, they just don’t know. I wish to go back when it is not wheat, its paddy in the field, just to watch men working in the fields instead of women. A reputed old man, aged around 70 is seen in all important discussions. Where is Ama? He replies, ‘She is never free. She is working at home. I ask ‘and you? I am old now.

Kathmandu is not Nepal. Nepal is in the remote villages, in far off mountains- where even development mantras refuse to work.

In rural attire, in rural looks, I am urban. We are different. Though aged, I look young, I am free, I am independent, I work, I earn, I interfere in their lives. I'm a change – this has bought me the right to enter poor houses and irritate their minds with non-sensible repetitive questions. That’s my job. Often, people run the sooner we are in their sight.

If my father wouldn't have migrated, I wouldn't have been able to become literate and with no education, I would have been the same – shy, immobile, married at an age of 15 – at some remote mountain. Although from migrant family, her fate differs than mine. With my father, I am a migrant but not labour, I am a student, whereas, she, whether migrates with her father or not, is a worker, with no economic return. We share some similarity; we both always carry the honour of our family.

We return with ideal boy and girl characteristics jotted down in our notes, we head off on bumpy road – my colleague sneak question of polygamy to driver, who himself has two wives. She tries to make the conversation informal with a smirk of joke and laughter, that’s how we try to do our job. Outside- Women are working in the fields and Men are sitting in a circle in tea shops- we look at each other – Ah! Men’s FGD – And everyone burst into laughter.

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