There are four major castes in Nepal: Brahmin (highest), Chhetri (middle-caste), Baishya (lowest) and Shudra (untouchable or outcaste). I am in between Baishya and Shudra. In school, we were made to feel our caste differences every day. Brahmin children sat in the front row, Chhetris in the middle, Baishyas and Shudras last. Furthermore, the poor children were frequently harassed by the teachers. For example, my mother used to sell milk from our cow to put me through my studies in English boarding school. My teacher used to demand a litre of milk for free every day. If my uniforms were dirty, my teacher would force me to stand outside class and hold my ears for 45 minutes. As a child, I felt that school was basically to remind us children of our parents’ social status, and we were discouraged from asking any questions.
Girls were not seen as capable, and it was felt that education would be wasted on them. Teachers used to pay more attention to the boys, especially those from the upper castes. Not only was the school environment prejudiced against lower class girls, but pressures at home made it nearly impossible to have any time to study or do homework. After school, I had to wash mine and my two brothers’ uniforms. I had to help prepare food for the family, serving my brothers first. My brothers were free to play, study or do homework right after school. However I had to help clean, wash dishes, make tea for guests, mop up the rooms, and fetch water from the pump which was 500 metres away. By the time I was done, itwas nearly 9:00pm, and there was not always enough food leftover for me to eat. Our neighbors considered this our tradition and good behavior expected from daughters.
Our society just didn’t think much of girls taking out time from the family chores to study. I really wanted to study and learn, but I was so tired, sleepy, and often too hungry to concentrate on it. This routine and expectation has carried on for generations, and is still very much the same. Since I was six years old, I knew one family living about 500 meters from my house. The wife stayed at home and her husband worked in an oil mill. They had four daughters and sent none of them to school. I heard screams every, as if a woman was being badly beaten. I heard it every day and felt scared, but I never talked about it with anyone, nor asked about it. Just like everyone else in our neighborhood, I pretended as if nothing was happening. Everyday, I wanted to tell her not to cry, but I couldn’t say anything. A year later she gave birth to a son. Her husband came to our house and invited us along with the whole neighborhood to his house. He said, "today is feast at my place because I got a son. Please have the whole family come".
This was our culture and tradition but I somehow felt disgusted by this news. I didn’t remember him having a feast when his fourth one year old daughter was born. I didn't remember any of their daughters’ names. Everybody was talking about what name he should have, how he would be the king of their family. I later heard that he used to say things like “There is too much salt on the food,” “Why are you wearing make up when your husband is not home,” “Why can’t you take care of your daughters when they are crying,” and “Why did you give birth to whores?” After they had their son, I didn’t hear screams every day, but it was at least twice a week about their daughters. When I was around ten, I saw a palanquin on my way from home to school.It was a bamboo box covered with yellow cloth. I was so curious to see what was inside that I ran in front of the box and lifted the cloth. Inside was a girl who looked younger than me in a wedding dress. I thought about her on my way to school. I had lots of questions in my head. Why was she wearing a wedding dress? Where were the men holding the palanquin taking her? How is she feeling? How old is her husband? Did she do something terrible that she had to marry at this age? Will she be able to play with other kids?
Growing up, I saw hundreds of similar palanquins with child brides and I wondered about them every day. Although stories like these were a regular part of growing up, internally I could never accept them as right. I envisioned my life to be completely different, but I didn’t know what and how. I didn’t have any role models, but I knew I didn’t want the life of most of the women around me. I wanted to be treated like men were, with respect as human beings, and I wanted to do things that no woman did. Upon finishing school, I wanted to be a doctor but my family and relatives were against my studies because it was time for me to get married. However, my family knew that I was quite stubborn about most things. I would not give up on pursuing my education. My parents got tired of my demands and put me in a girls’ college to study art and education. I went to college for a week, but I felt treated like a two year old child in the sense that the teachers simply would teach how women should behave. This was not a real education and it didn’t interest me at all. I complained everyday about my college. Being persistent and stubborn, I convinced a couple of my neighbors who were boys studying science to come to my house and tell my parents to admit me in a science college. At the time, not even one girl was admitted to the science college.
After much convincing, my parents somehow agreed. I chose to study physics, chemistry and biology in a private college called Monastic Science Campus. My brothers were younger than me, and this college had a school and a college at the same place. My parents thought it would be good to put my brothers in same school so that they can keep their eye on me. When our class started there was all together 23 students and I was the only girl in the whole class. No one talked to me and neither I talked to anyone. Later, we had to discuss and talk in groups so there were few students who were helping me sometimes when I had to discuss something. I liked it. I made few friends. Slowly, it became normal for me to interact with teachers and other students in my class. If I can say so, that was one of the better part of my life until now. I finished my 12th grade with good marks. I started to get involve with local clubs and NGO's. I was a member of Mahabir Youth Club where once a year for ten days I worked volunteerly at Hindu Goddess Durga temple for ”Dashain festival” (Nepal’s one of the biggest festival) I was member of Janakpur lady Jaycees, which was sister organization of Junior Chamber International. I started helping people during the floods in our area which we had almost every year. Voluntarily I was member of Red Cross Society, Leo Club of Nepal, etc. Got trainings in different fields like leadership training, Gender equality, Human rights etc. You got trainings in a room in Janakpur, that was like a dream. No matter if anybody have learned anything to apply in their daily lives or not.
Most people in our training, our trainee at end of the session during the lunch men talked about this and that project without having clear picture of how would that work? When it was about girls education everyone were quite and looked at me. I talked and discussed lots of issues important thing of this training for us regarding women rights. But, as soon as i wanted to talk or ask about their family wife or daughters they got furious and thought that I was crazy. I said something very simple like "can't your wife come to receive training like this", they were quiet. In 1998, I was a teacher after my college for four years in a private school to be able to study further at the university B.Sc (Bachelor of Science) to support myself economically. I taught English, Math, Social studies, history, geography, moral science, Ethics and biology to primary and secondary level students, which was fun. It was possible for me to do household activities, work and study at the same time. I was even able to have tutorial classes for interested school children at home. I had three tutorial classes in a day. There was no everyday classes in the university to attend to. When sometimes there was classes I didn't had time to go so rather I had tutor for Physics and Chemistry which was good. However, even with all these pressures, I was stubborn and refused to accept what I was told to do. I knew that I was capable of more. I saw what boys were being allowed to study and demanded that I learn just like them.
I entered in 2000 millennia and there came group of IBC (Israeli Backpackers Contribution) people to Janakpur in search of doing Literacy and vocational training for children and women in the villages. They were all together 33 children and 12 women . They came to JWDC Janakpur Womens Development Center where I was working on a post Project supervisor. JWDC couldn't give me the post Project co-ordinator because they couldn't pay the salary for the post of Manager but in contract all the responsibilities was for Manager. I met IBC people to meet with the kids in Kuwa village, almost five kilometers away from home and Musahari tole (tole means a area where majority of low caste people e.g. Musahar, dom chamar, dusadh etc lived) We talked about how do we start and they had few different ideas to divide in the groups for reading and writing, few of them drawing, few playing games, few going out in town to see markets etc. IBC did good job although they couldn't continue more than two months. There wasn't any group to continue with these women and children afterward. After a few months kids had forgotten everything, which was pointless in the first place to start without having a plan. I called to Israelis Ambassador to Nepal, Iris Nir and talked to him that it was good initiative that he sent a group to rural area for something completely different and that they should continue, I will try my best to help them.
Iris Nir said sorry Dollie, that was just a short term project and we don’t have more money to continue. I thought nothing new this is just how almost all the aid organisation in the world function. If they want to get money/aid its just enough to do an education project for a month somewhere and show the world by pictures and texts how great those childrens life are. At least that was my knowledge of understanding by then. Getting back to my work at JWDC (Janakpur Womens Development center) is a Women's Empowerment NGO where there were more than 50 women who does skillful work like painting on hand made paper, Sewing, Ceramics, card board paper, Printing. JWDC women come from different villages and they haven’t been to school at all. But, all of them are taught to write their names to receive salary in the account section. Some of the women cycle for two hours to reach JWDC and some of them walk for two hours, some of them have access to public transport. Women at JWDC work very hard from Ten to five. I could take a break and sit together with the women in the painting section where they are singing, sometimes telling folk stories it was inspiring to work fthere. I asked one of my favorite artist Phulba Mandal How do you learn to paint? She said "sister when I was young my mother taught me to do paintings during the rituals and ceremonies, we painted with flowers, rice, lentils, cowdung on our clay wall and floor”. How does your mother know? "She learnt from her mother". How could you do these amazing designs and patterns? "Its not very hard, I cycle to JWDC everyday and whatever I see around me, or if I have dreamt something I come here and draw it you see its very simple, Sometimes I dream of peacock, cat, tiger and I come to draw my dreams in a paper". Fascinating! JWDC has few buyers in the west but usually they produce for Mahaguthi, Sanahastakala etc who are the FTG (fair trade group) wholesalers in Kathmandu. They also have few western visitors a year but that depends upon the season. Just before my two years contract was finished.
I met a woman from USA who was looking for a Research Assistant. It was just good for me to do something different and it was the right choice. She wanted to do research on women and their life stories plus folk stories. We went to villages that I had never been met people who were friendly. We sometimes cycle to places which felt like there wasn't the end and I didn’t want ending of my cycling. That’s the reason even today I cycle a lot. Coralynn Davis was her name. Coralynn stayed with my family for seven months. Our dog gave birth to seven puppy's and Coralynn gave them Dwarfs name. We worked together for almost ten months. During our work Coralynn invited me to come to Kathmandu to work on the translation. During my time in Kathmandu I made lots of contacts met lots of interesting people having different background from all over the world.
I wrote these notes to myself almost fifteen years ago. After finishing my research assistant job I went to Japan to attend 59th JCI Congress in Fukuoka and for Mithila art Exhibition in Tokyo to promote and support JWDC by the end of 2003. Returning from Japan Jan. 2004 I went to India, Bodhgaya to do a volunteer work at an orphanage school for two years and at the same time I was working for Kohlberg Education and Publishing Foundation (KEPF) partly. KEPF Founder was David Kohlberg. KEPF aim was to ”Right to Information Act (2005) research and awareness, Promoting the development of moral reasoning in colleges, schools and bar associations, etc. Environmentally sound, low cost building. I even had fortune to practice Buddhism and attend lots of teachings by great tibetan masters and as well as honorable masters Karmapa. I received tibetan name by Karmapa ”Karma Monlam Lagpo”. By the end of 2005 I was invited by a friend Barbara to visit Germany & Austria. Together we organized Mithila art exhibition in Munich to promote JWDC.
Just turned 35 and its been eight years since I had been living in Sweden. Since I came to Sweden had been mostly working with disabled and elderly people. Have a nursing degree from Sweden. And of course have a wonderful family. Proudly I wanted to mention about our work that took almost a decade but finally its completed, a book that Coralynn Davis Published ”Mithila Women’s Tales”.
Interested in knowing what other sources have to say about Dollie, please visit link below:
The Journal of the association for Nepal and himalayan studies: