by Berit Madsen.
“My deepest wish for my son is that he will get a good education”, Sher Bahadur Bishwakarma says. “When I was a child we did not get the opportunity to go to school. Instead we had to look after cattle, cut leaves, and work in the fields. Today it is difficult to make a living up in the hill villages. So, if my son wants to go to Kathmandu or India when he grows up he will need some knowledge”.
Sher Bahadur Bishwakarma is twenty two years old. His son – and first born child – is only thirteen days old. Sher lives together with his wife, his parents, two younger brothers, and a younger sister. His wife, Jasuli Bahadur Bishwakarma, is twenty years old. They live in a small clay house in Pachnali village in West Nepal. Their house is next door to Parvati’s shop (first article) in the kami tole. The house consists of three rooms with a separate kitchen for each nuclear family in the household. For the last two weeks the entrance to Sher’s house has been decorated with a net, hanging down from above. An axe and a curved knife are put on each side of the wooden door. The net, axe, and knife protect the mother and the new born child from evil spirits. Since Sher’s wife gave birth two weeks ago, she has not left the house without taking the axe or the knife with her as a protection. Nobody can touch her nor the new born baby before a name giving ritual, Nwarani, has been carried out.
The kami caste
Sher and his household belong to the kami caste. The kami is one of the dalit castes, the untouchables, in the Nepalese caste system. For generations Sher’s family has worked as blacksmiths – an occupation which is interrelated with the kami caste. The blacksmiths make farming tools, knifes for cutting leaves, cooking stoves, and other kinds of utensils made of iron. It takes three days of preparation to start up the blacksmith work. First charcoal has to be prepared. Charcoal is made of wood collected in the forest some hours walk away from the village. The wood will burn on low temperature, while the blacksmith watches it carefully. He sprinkles the burning wood with water to prevent it from burning down to ashes and instead, eventually, be turned into charcoal. Nowadays the general lack of forest due to the massive cut down of trees in the surroundings has made it more and more difficult for the blacksmiths to make charcoal.
Today Sher’s son is thirteen days old and the nwarani ritual is carried out.
“My great grandfather was a very big man. He had good physical strength which is needed if you are a blacksmith”, Sher says. “We kami people are known for our ability to work hard. This is also why kamis are employed in wedding ceremonies. We carry the bridegroom in a wooden chair – a basket – from his village to the home of the bride; and after the wedding we bring the bride to her husbands household. You have to be strong to carry the basket for many hours in the steep hill sides”.
Sher has decided not to follow his traditional caste occupation. His argument is, that there are already three blacksmiths in the village, who share the few orders coming in from the upper castes. He also prefers to work as a wage earner. Often the blacksmiths are not paid in money for their work, but instead with goods such as wheat and millet. The same goes for the work which Sher and other dalit villagers carry out on the upper castes’ land. As payment for taking care of the fields they receive half of the harvest – a system which is known as Bali Ghare Pratha. The harvest rarely lasts Sher and his family throughout the year.
Another reason for Sher not to become a blacksmith is due to the way the caste system works. Sher exemplifies how the system works: “During harvest time the upper caste people provide us with a meal a day”, he explains. “We cannot eat inside their houses but have to sit outside. After finishing the meal we have to wash the dishes ourselves. The upper castes believe that we have polluted the plates by eating from them. I don’t know why they think that we are polluting. We all have the same blood, we eat the same kind of food, wear the same kind of clothes – so why should we be different?”
Pavitra Malla, an upper caste woman who lives a few minutes of walk from the dalit hamlets, gives her point of view upon Sher’s caste and the other dalits in the village. “Yes, we do not allow the dalits to enter our houses. The dalits eat cows and buffaloes, that is why they are dirty. If we eat this kind of meat or touch somebody who eats it, the gods will make us very sick. When one of our buffaloes dies we tell the sarki dalits to come and fetch it. The sarki use the skin to make leather strings. But they also eat the meat – so how could we allow them to enter our houses or take water from our water tap?”
The primary school system
Most of the grown up dalits in Pachnali are illiterate. Especially the women. There were no schools in the villages during their childhood. Today there is a small school in Pachnali. It is situated on the hill top behind the village.
The children sit outside in the school yard. They are split into three groups; first and second class in one group, third and fourth in the next, and fifth class in the third. During daytime the sound of children repeating after the teacher echoes in the mountains: “one, two, three… a, b, c”. The teacher is a chhetri from a neighbouring village. He walks around the children with a cane in his hand. If a pupil is not concentrated or has forgotten the numbers or the alphabet the punishment comes immediately: he or she is caned on the shoulder or in the palm of his/her hand.
The majority of the boys attend school up till fifth class. Some dalit girls in Pachnali do not go to school. They look after the cattle and fetch leaves. The school starts at 11 am followed by a lunch break at 1 pm. Classes are continued again from 1.30 to 16.00 pm. Most children do not return to the school after lunch. They either play around in the village or are send to the forest to collect firewood and food for the animals.
The evening school
Two months ago Sher was employed by a German NGO to start up an informal evening school, proudha, for the illiterate women in the village. The evening school runs for a period of six month. From 7.00 to 8.30 pm each night the women gather in an unused stable. Sher has only five years of schooling from his childhood. He is, however, an enthusiastic teacher and as the months pass by the women gradually learn basic reading and writing skills.
Sher receives 765 rupees (approx. 10 US $) a month for the job. He is also provided with a kerosene lamp to light up the stable, since there is no electricity in the village. A damai teacher runs a similar informal evening school for the women in the damai tole. According to one of the damai women, Sundari, they need two separate evening classes as the kami stable is too small for housing all of them. Sher thinks that there is another reason as well related to the caste system.
“When foreigners come to Pachnali, most villagers tell them that there is no untouchability among dalit people. They say so because they know that this is how it should be”, Sher says. “But when the foreigners leave the village we just follow the tradition: We don’t touch each other, we don’t eat together, and we cannot enter each others kitchens. The damai people think that they are superior to us kamis. But most people from my kami caste believe that the damai and sarki are inferior to us. It is because the sarki eat buffaloes and cows; the damai grown-ups don’t eat this kind of food but they sometimes feed their children with buffalo meat. The upper castes say that all dalit eat cows and buffaloes, but it is not true”.
The internal hierarchy among the dalits in Pachnali is partly based on eating habits, and partly on caste occupation. As kamis are doing the most physically demanding work, the other dalit groups in the village consider them to be at the bottom of the caste system. Traditionally the damai caste work as tailors and drummers. As drummers the damai play an important role in different ritual practices. Due to this religious profession the damai consider themselves superior. Sher explains that this internal hierarchy and untouchability is one of the reasons why kami and damai women cannot participate in the same evening classes.
Change is difficult
Sher wants to change the caste system. He hopes that the social practices that differentiate people based upon ideas of purity and pollution one day will disappear. Therefore he has taken up these discussions in the evening school. He believes that most of the younger generation feels like him. But it is difficult to make changes since the elder generation resists. “My parents would never allow a damai into our kitchen. They tell me not to accept food from their hands. If I do they say to me: “Look at yourself – you are a grown up person, how come you behave like a child?”. How can I go against my parents will? I have to live in this society, and therefore I also have to accept the caste system and its practices. If I alone start to behave differently I will be kicked out from my home”.
The ritual for the new born child
It is the day for Nwarani ritual. When the son was born Sher’s uncle went to the brahmin priest in the neighbouring village. The priest looked into his astrology book and found the right date for the nwarani ritual to be carried out: Thirteen days after the birth. People from the kami tole gather around Sher’s house. They bring tika – red powder – to put on each others forehead. The tika brings good fortune. Damai drummers arrive.
They play the drums to get the attention of the gods. The brahmin priest also found a suitable first name for the child. During the ritual the name is made public – the son is called Dil Bahadur Bishwakarma. Sher himself decided which surname to give to his child. Traditionally the dalit groups use the caste name as surname. But Sher didn’t want his son to be called kami. “When your surname is kami everybody knows that you belong to this lower caste group. If we call him Bishwakarma instead, then people outside this village might not know that he belongs to the dalits. Maybe this will help him to get a better position in the society”.
Through the nwarani ritual the new born child becomes part of the human world. For the first time since the boy was born Sher is allowed to touch his child.
Nepal has about two dozen laws that discriminate against women. One debars them from inheriting parental property, unless they remain unmarried till age 35. That is more than half the average life-span of Nepali women. Also they have to relinquish property, after deducting wedding expenses, if they marry after inheritance. Women can dispose inherited property only with the consent of male family members. For Nepali men, inheritance is a birthright.
Equality of the sexes has been in Nepal’s constitution since 1958. But when the Muluki Ain or Public Law was amended in 1962, clauses that discriminated against women were not changed. A bill in parliament seeks do to that. The proposed 11th Amendment of the Public Law has resulted from a court ruling that required the government to table a draft, following a petition by two women lawyers. The two had petitioned the Supreme Court in 1993 seeking annulment of laws that contravened with the provisions of Nepal’s democratic constitution (1990).
There are, however, no guarantees that Nepal’s parliament—which has traditionally had more males than females—will adopt the bill. The politics was apparently afraid because the new law could have change some long standing traditions. That the bill could have caused some short-term vote losses in the May 1999 elections was perhaps one reason why the now-dissolved parliament did not make approve the amendment.
The 11 Amendment would allow daughters to inherit parental property. They would, however, be required to return the inheritance if marry thereafter. According to the latest version in the House, the provision would ensure that women, who can also inherit their husband’s property, are not doubly propertied—in “unfairness” to men. The draft also drops some derogatory words and phrases used to refer to actions associated with women. “Elope,” for instance, has been replaced by “marriage.” “Daughters” has also been added to every reference the law makes to “sons”.
The opponents still argue that allowing women to inherit property would destabilise the social system. They fear that the law could lead to increase in property disputes between kin and further division of already divided land holdings. Some have even gone to the extent of arguing that the economic freedoms for women could lead to increased infidelity, divorces and sexually transmitted diseases. Still others argue that giving uneducated women their rights could be taking them only half the way. They ask: what would they do with rights if they are not capable of enforcing them? As solution they argue for leaving inheritance to the will of parents. The argument for this is that parents can pass on property to those that take care of them in old age.
Women comprise more than half of Nepal’s 23 million people. They are less educated and work longer hours than men. Son preference is very high in the predominantly patriarchal, Hindu kingdom. In a society where social security does not exist and property is passed on to male descendants, sons are looked upon as old-age insurance. It is also widely believed that sons “open the gates of heaven” by carrying out the last rites of parents. Daughters are “given away” in marriage. These explain, to an extent, the prevalence of sayings like “let it be later but let it be a son.” The resultant discriminations in upbringing of girls perhaps explain why Nepal is one of the few countries in the world where men live longer than women.
Nepal’s adult female literacy is less than 25 percent, compared to about 55 for males. There are also many communities that prefer to marry daughters early rather than invest in their education. The new law would also raise the legal age for marriage of girls from the present 16 to 18 years.
The draft is silent on many other issues activists have been raising. One is enlistment of women in the army. Another is registration of personal incidents—births, deaths, etc.—which can now be done only under the name of the male head of family. Nor does it address another provision which bars individuals from obtaining citizenship on the basis of a mother’s status, but can if the father is a Nepali citizen.
Marriage and Love by Nirmala Dhital
Man is a sentient, social being. Women and men have a significant role in the fullness of the family and society. In the absence of either woman or man, social structure can be come upset. Since ancient times the tradition of marriage has existed to make relations between them natural and licit. Marriage as something that makes the family complete is guided by religious, moral, legal and social regulations.
According to renowned psychoanalysts, the stability of marital relations is mostly dependent on sex and those who remain celibate are rare. In other words it is stated categorically that two thirds of the problems besetting man arise from sexual repression. Various situations are associated with marriage, such as physical relations, procreation, mental and emotional ties, companionship and spiritual fellowship.
Nepali society is characterized by narrow minded attitudes concerning marriage, love and affection. On top of that women inthis male dominated society cannot speak out openly because of shyness, and family and social restraints. Moreover, women have been taught since ancient times that sexual urge is something scornful and sinful and should be repressed. As women for the most part have problems in establishing marital relations when compared to men, article 16 among the rights mentioned in the Convention on Eradication of all kinds of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979 has guaranteed this right to marriage or to freely choose their life partner, under the heading of right to marriage and family.
Marriage for disabled women as a problem and a challenge
The active involvement of various classes, groups and communities and inter-linkages among them are needed for building a society in its entirety. A physically weak class known as the disabled is looked at negatively by society and subjected to ridicule and contempt. Society and the family have never been able to contemplate establishing them in marital ties and rehabilitating them socially and in the family. Disabled or not all have the desire for satisfaction of what nature has given them. It is but natural in human life for all to desire marriage, love-affection and sex. This being a male dominated society, there is no real difficulty for most disabled males to establish marital ties. In fact there are examples here and there of marriage proposals coming to them from the female side, and some of them have married more than one wife. But disabled women have lagged behind in social completeness because first of all they are women, secondly they are poor, thirdly uneducated, fourthly disabled, fifthly lacking in awareness, etc. Because of negative ideas concerning the marital ties with disabled women such as that they cannot have babies, even if they have babies these are also disabled, disabled women do not live long, they remain deprived of their right on one hand and are looked down upon by society on the other. As our society is not so open when it comes to the question of marriage with a disabled woman such women have to remain single for life. Even disabled men hesitate to marry disabled women, preferring instead a life partner who is not disabled.
Disabled women have to bear the frustration of not being able to share with a friend of the opposite sex their feelings of love and affection because of the narrow attitudes prevailing in family and society when it comes to marriage, sexual relations, love, etc. Men come close to disabled women dangling prospects of marriage and express sham love and affection. But there are plenty of examples in our society of men being drawn to disabled women only for sexual satisfaction and to disown them afterwards. The tradition in our society is for women to spend most of her time looking after her in-laws apart from the household chores. Against this tradition setting up a disabled woman in matrimony is a problem because of the prejudiced attitudes such as that she will not be able to meet her traditional responsibilities, satisfy her husband’s sexual needs or look after her children properly. Furthermore, the superstition that a disabled woman will beget a disabled child makes it unavoidable for her to live out her life alone.
United Nations regulations concerning the marriage of disabled women
The United Nations, bearing in mind that disabled women also have an inherent right to marriage, love and affection, has mentioned in Regulation No. 9 of the Evidentiary Regulations of 1994 concerning Generalization of Opportunities for the Disabled under the heading of Family Life and Individual Fulfillment that the law is not to discriminate in matters like marital life and sexual relations. The state has encouraged the full participation of the disabled in family life and promoted individual fulfillment besides making definite arrangements for avoiding discrimination. Disabled people might experience difficulties in getting and establishing a family and although it is mentioned that communications media should beencouraged to play a significant role in changing the negative thinking about the disabled still prevalent in society, the government has apparently not gone about it seriously in spreading awareness to facilitate implementation.
Legal discrimination over the marriage of disabled women
Disabled women have been discriminated against by the law also. Although Nepalese law has prohibited polygamy this practice is allowed in specific circumstances. The Civil Code section no. 9 on marriage allows the husband to marry again if his wife is blind in both eyes, or cannot move about because of a disability. But if the husband suffers from the same disabilities, his wife cannot marry another husband. Instead of making it legally mandatory to provide family social security and upkeep in case of physical disability, the law has created discrimination between disabled and able by making a separate provision that encourages the husband to marry again. The speediest refinement and amendment of such discriminatory law is an urgent need of the day.
The role of the family, society and the state in resolving the problem of marriage of disabled women
If there is a disabled woman in the family it should be made legally binding to give her the right to paternal property on par with the sons. Opportunities should be created for open discussion in front of the disabled women about their marriage, sexual desire, love, etc.. Various NGO’s and governmental bodies and civil society should organize workshops, interactions, discussions and seminars to spread awareness among the general public. Government and civil society should make it legally compulsory to encourage both disabled and able men to marry disabled women through awarding of cash prizes and medals, felicitations, etc.
If as provided in article 12(f) of the proposed disabled service national policy 2053 ((1996/97) under legal facilities, job reservations are provided for able individuals who marry disabled spouses and priority is given to their children in education, training and employment under article 6, and if legal amendments to this effect are implemented as stated, there is a possibility that people will be encouraged to some extent to wed the disabled. The family, society and the state should consider in a positive light and as natural the human desires among the disabled for marriage, affection and family fulfillment. Marriage prospects for disabled women will grow if the family takes the initiative for giving them opportunity for education, health care, skill development, training and self employment and makes them self supporting and capable
citizens. Material on the marriage of disabled women and stories of their success should be included in school level curriculum.
Physically disabled Roma Neupane was born 22 years ago in Sunsari District Itahari Municipality Ward No. 1. At the age of eight she lost her right leg from above the knee when she was run over by a jeep. Although disabled, she has married a non-disabled man and succeeded in putting paid to negative attitudes existing in society. Chiran Pokharel, who chose her for his wife, was born 23 years ago in Asahachetra Chautara-4. This is how Chiran describes his experience. “For me, nobody in the world is completely non-disabled. Everyone has some defect or weakness. That is why nobody need boast that he is able bodied. And I thought why should anyone not get married just because a part of his body is weak. So after four years of encounters and mutual love we tied the nuptial knot in 2061(2004).” Pokharel said earlier – in the beginning I felt that the family would object to my marrying a disabled girl, but gradually I came to learn that they took it in stride, and I am very satisfied with her. Her qualities like self confidence, competence and sense of duty have attracted me greatly.
Roma dances on the stage on her one leg to the great astonishment of the spectators. Before she lost her leg she used to dance during the Dashain and Tihar festivals and sometimes at picnics. She tried to give continuity to this after losing her leg also and finds no difficulty in dancing for five minutes. So far she has danced on the stage 15 times and also received some awards. She says “I can never forget the encouragement to dance given by Buddhiman Majhidai when I first came to Kathmandu three years ago.” Just because she was disabled there was no question of foregoing something indispensable like marriage, she says. After finding a selfless person like Chiran her family life has become very happy and blissful. She is going to appear on the big screen also in the near future. There have been no real challenges of a practical nature that the family has had to face because she is disabled, Chiran says adding – there is nothing that she cannot do. People may be astonished when watching her dance on stage for five minutes, but on seeing the same thing I think I will remain astonished for life. I find it intriguing. Speaking about the marriage of disabled women, she says all able bodied males should take up
something new from today and become an example in society. Disabled women can be just like the able bodied if we work together to help them a little, and they also have desire for marriage, affection, love and sex just like anybody else. Marriage is a social necessity. Disabled or not marriage is an inherent right.
Tika Dahal of Morang District, who has been doing social work for disabled women since a long time, is herself physically disabled. Asked about the marriage of disabled women, she says- “Since Nepal is a male dominated society there is no problem for disabled males who wish to marry. But for disabled females marriage is a problem and an issue which has been emerging gradually these days. So far there is no statistic on how many disabled women have gotten married. As disabled women, their hand has never been sought in marriage through their families, but there are occasional instances of educated males falling in love with and marrying disabled women.”
Similarly, physically disabled Ram Pyari Karki of Nuwakot trains people from various organizations in sewing and cutting. This is what she has to say about the marriage of disabled women-”Even disabled men will not marry disabled women, let alone able bodied men. Are disabled women to remain single all their life?”
Education at the Mercy of Political Violence by Rajaram Gautam
Sharada Higher Secondary School in Mudbhara VDC, Doti district, has been transformed into a cemetery. A clash on October 3, 2003, between a Maoist group eager to force school children out of their classrooms and make them watch a cultural program in the open and a security forces patrol which reached the spot at that very moment left not only some Maoists dead. Four innocent students also lost their lives. Half a dozen others were injured. Following that incident, at least 18 other schools in the district closed down because of insecurity.
The locks at 76 schools in Bajura in Far Western Region have not yet been opened a month after the end of the October Dasain/Tihar holidays. This situation has arisen as the school teachers, terrified by the Maoists, have moved to the district headquarters. And when the Maoists issued an order requiring all teachers to submit one month’s salary as donations, 112 teachers in the district applied to the district education office to be sent elsewhere on assignment.
On November 5, Maoists torched the zonal level primary teachers training centre at Bhojpur district headquarters and razed it to the ground. This arson attack on the center which trains teachers from the eastern hill districts of Sankhuwasabha, Khotang, Bhojpur and Solukhumbu caused damage estimated at five million rupees minimum.
The armed conflict raging in the country since the past eight years has hit the educational sector hard. Especially after the second breakdown of the ceasefire in August, the battle ground has extended to the educational institutions. Incidents of Maoists killing and abducting teachers on allegations of espionage, and government security forces also accusing teachers and students of being Maoists and subjecting them to torture have since long become commonplace. Things have now reached the point where schools in the countryside are commonplaces for clashes between rebels and the army. Senseless killings of children on their way to school have not stopped, and many children have come under the grip of psychological trauma. Schools are closing down one after another. Thus education in the countryside has been thrown into chaos.
In the past year alone, the Maoists have torched and destroyed at least 41 educational establishments. These include the offices of school resource persons and teacher training centres. One hundred and nine teachers engaged in their work have fallen victim to violence perpetrated by the state and the Maoists. According to figures from the human rights organisation Informat Sector Service Center (INSEC), 240 children have so far lost their lives in the course of the armed conflict. The state is responsible for the deaths of 156 children and the Maoists for another 84. More than two-thirds of these children, who perished in two-way clashes or through booby traps, were school students. Just two months ago, Deepak Gurung, a 12-year-old school boy in Kathmandu, was killed in an explosion set off by the Maoists. These figures on the directly observable impact of the armed conflict will increase further in the days to come, but already, education as a whole has experienced a big set back.
Displaced by fear
Another example: The Maoists looted the entire property of Krishna Datta Pant, principal of Durga Secondary School in Maharudra Village Development Committee far away from the headquarters of Baitadi district, and expelled his family of 11 members from the village. The family, including his 81-year-old mother, has been living at the district headquarters as refugees for the past month. The Pant family is not the only family to be displaced by fear of the Maoists. Many teachers, students and their guardians have taken to working as labourers in Nepal’s larger cities and towns or in India in order to escape the dual menace of government forces and Maoists. In particular, teachers and students have fled their home places by fear of being abducted if they fail to make donations to the Maoists or being killed on accusations of spying. School children displaced from districts like Rolpa and Rukum which are badly affected by the Maoists can easily be found working as labourers at brick kilns inside the KathmanduValley.
Caught between Maoists and government forces
While some have been displaced by fear and now live a life of want, others have had guns thrust into their hands instead of school texts and copybooks. Tenth grade student Prem Oli of Srikrishna Secondary School in Ghartigaon of Rolpa district gave up his studies and became a guerrilla five years ago. Two years later, his path was followed by seventh grader at the same school Man Bahadur Gharti, who took up the gun. Today he is known among the Maoists by the nickname “tiger”. Sapana Ghartimagar of the same village, who is also known as Jeevika, joined the Maoist cultural group while studying in ninth grade. These are just some examples. Students and teachers are used for political ends either voluntarily or under pressure from the Maoists. It is said that the number of callow Maoist combatants who have dropped out of school is considerable. CWIN, an NGO working on child labour issues, estimates that at least 4,000 children aged 14 to 18 have taken up arms for the Maoists. INSEC chairman Subodh Pyakurel says the percentage of child soldiers among the total Maoist guerrilla force could be around five.
- While the number of those who actually carry guns may not be large, those who take messages back and forth and play an active part in the cultural troupes could be quite numerous, he says.
And it is not just students; teachers in the hill villages have also joined the Maoists. Those in leadership positions within the Maoist movement tend to have teaching backgrounds. This is easily borne out if we take Rolpa, a district under very high Maoist influence, as an example. Maoist leaders from Rolpa such as Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Jhakku Subedi, Nandakishore Pun, Santosh Budha and Harshaman Pun were all active at one time or other as school teachers. It is because of the teaching background of most Maoist leaders that the state now tends to look with suspicion on those engaged in the teaching profession in the affected districts. At the same time, teachers are also subjected to abductions by Maoists or are even being killed on charges of spying. Nepal National Teachers Organisation General Secretary Baburam Adhikari says, “Teachers have suffered most from the impact of the conflict raging in the country. Impacting on teachers means impacting students, guardians and the educational system as a whole.”
As it is, our educational system is already riddled with shortcomings, and there should have been a movement towards setting things right. But the political violence that commenced in February 1996 has only made matters worse. The problems of this sector in Maoist affected areas include obstruction of school inspection and monitoring activities, obstruction at school buildings, resource centres and in school mapping, declining number of students, accusations of spying levelled at teachers and resource persons, inspiring of students to become guerrillas, the use of educational premises for political programs, and many more. This is apart from the forced participation of students and teachers in Maoist political activity. What will be the impact of all this on impressionable young minds? It is something to be pondered on.INSEC chairman Pyakurel speaks of psychological trauma among students resulting from political violence. He asks, “When children going to school see one of their friends being hit by a bullet and dying before their very eyes, what kind of effect will it have on the rest of them?”
Professor Ananda Aditya feels that the psychological trauma of students, guardians and teachers caused by political violence has had a negative effect on education as a whole. These traumas among teachers and students, the death of children in bomb explosions, the upsetting of school calendars and school lock-outs have to be put up with by educational establishments in rural and urban areas equally. But schools in the remote hill districts have borne the brunt of violence over the past eight years. Although private schools in cities are subjected now and then to lock-outs because of the educational demands and donation drives of the All Nepal Revolutionary Maoist fraternal organisation, academic activity has not been brought to a halt over long periods of time. Well to do urban families started sending their children to school in India or elsewhere once the upheaval in education commenced. Those falling prey to political violence are mostly lower middle class rural families.
Schools as zones of peace?
Voices have indeed been raised for declaring the educational sector a zone of peace. Once political violence in Nepal began to escalate and impact seriously on education, human rights activists within the country and various donor organisations started calling for such a declaration. This demand has been made by Unicef, the Danish, Finnish and Norwegian aid organisations, the World Bank, ADB, JICA, the European Union and others which expressed their anger over the Mudbhara incident in Doti1. In principle, both the Maoists and the government agree to the idea of keeping the educational sector a peace zone. But neither side has implemented this in practical terms. Insec’s Pyakurel says: “Children are a symbol of peace. At the very least, violence should be kept away from where they study and play.”
With children getting used to incidents of violence and murder, people have started talking about the need to include in the school curriculum informative lessons on the insurgency. Examples abound of children mistaking explosive substances placed indiscriminately by the Maoists for toys and losing their lives while playing with such things. That is why Pyakurel says that at the very least, the curriculum for grades eight to 10 should contain lessons on weaponry and explosives used by the Maoists and the security forces along with instructions on ways to keep safe from them.
The educational sector will produce qualified manpower only if it is rendered free of violence. Any society or nation needs qualified manpower if it is to make progress. There is an urgent need for Maoists and government security personnel to understand this.
Why are some people considered “untouchable” by others? Why do many upper caste people sprinkle water to purify themselves ritually when are touched by a Dalit?
Two documentary films about the lower caste people -the Dalit- in Nepal have just been finished. The films are a result of a joint project between Danish Association for International Co-operation (MS-Nepal), Danida/HUGOU’s Dalit Support Unit and a Danish filmmaker/anthropologist. The two films “We have the Same Kind of Blood” and “Why Dalit?” are the first ever close portraits of Dalits made in Nepal.
“We Have the Same Kind of Blood” gives a sensitive and in-depth view of the daily life of Dalits as it is experienced by the villagers in Pachnali, a small mountain village in Doti district in West Nepal. The village is inhabited by several Dalit castes – the Kami (blacksmiths), Damai (tailors) and Bhul (leather workers) among others, as well as some Thakuri upper caste households. The filmteam settled in the village for 1½ month to participate in the daily life and create a close relationship to the villagers. At first the villagers were reluctant to be filmed: “Why should other people to see our poverty?”, they asked, being shy of wearing their worn out clothes in front of the camera. Slowly the confidence was built up.
Some of the glaring examples of the caste based discrimination are revealed in the film: as in many parts of Nepal, they are not allowed to use the water taps reserved for the higher castes; they cannot enter the Hindu temples as they are considered to be “impure” and have a “reckless” behaviour. The strong influence of the religious cosmology upon the caste behaviour and the daily life as such is also reflected in the films.
“Why Dalit?” provides an insight portrait of the Dalits’ situation in Nepal at large. Through the words of Dalit and upper caste people, the film explores many of the paradoxes in the caste based discrimination: like why are the shoes made by Sarkis, lower caste people, allowed into the house of the upper castes, when the person who made the shoes cannot enter? The film moves from the mountain areas in the West down to the Terai in the South and sheds light on different Dalit castes and their living circumstances – e.g. the Sunars (goldsmith) who try to escape from the caste discrimination in the hill villages by migrating to the more populated market areas in Terai; the Badis who struggle to get citizenship for their fatherless children; the Dhobis (washermen) who spend their life washing clothes, but still are considered “dirty”.
The practice of caste discrimination is illegal and punishable by law in Nepal. But the caste system still forms an essential part of the cultural landscape. In many ways the Dalits live on the margin of the Nepalese society – economically as well as culturally. But the films also show the humour and strength of the Dalit as they try to live a life in dignity. Being the first in-depth portrait of Dalits’ way of life and the discrimination as it takes place every day in many parts of Nepal, the films are important inputs in the process of asking for equality for all citizens in Nepal and raising awareness about caste discrimination.
Produced and directed by Ms. Berit Madsen/Manche Film with Ms. Ganga Gurung as sound engineer/interpreter, the two documentaries have enjoyed expert inputs from Dalit NGO Federation, Feminist Dalit Organization and Dalit Welfare Organization. The documentaries, edited by Mr. Rabindra Pandey, are enriched by Aavaas’s music/lyric and songs by Mr. Tirtha Gandharva.
Video Distribution in Nepal & Asia:
GPO Box 4010
Tel. 977 1 434040
PO Box 6332
Royal Danish Embassy, Nepal
Tel. 977 1 432131
Blinds find a new life in Tibet by Paul Kronanberg & Sabriye Tenberker
It is 7 o’clock in the morning. The first sounds of people waking up are heard on the courtyard of the “Project for the Blind, Tibet”. It is very cold. In the dormitory, 15 blind children get up to start a new day of school.. Breakfast, watery rice-pudding, tsampa and butter-tea will be served in a few minutes. The children like this food very much. This day is another one in which they will learn to write and read. They are highly motivated and straight after their morning meal, they get up and walk to the classroom where they start preparations for today’s lessons.
On wooden boards Velcro dots are glued in groups of six. Every group represents the dots of one Braille Character.
The children first learn the script in this rough form. Later when the motor skills and movements of the hand are trained, and all the characters are learned, they switch to Braille on paper. Sabriye Tenberken (German, 29), herself blind, developed the Tibetan Braille script initially for her own use at the Bonn university where she studied Central Asian sciences. Now this script is being used here. In addition to this script, the children learn Chinese Braille, English Braille and the basics of mathematics and arithmetics. Further they are trained in mobility and skills to make the daily living. Together with Paul Kronenberg, (Dutch, 31) Sabriye Tenberken founded the “Project for the Blind, Tibet”.
In Tibet, religion plays an important role in the treatment of the blind and the handicapped. If a person is blind or handicapped it can be seen as a punishment for bad behaviour in a previous life. So why should they help these people? Nowadays, a lot of Tibetans visit the project and they see that the children are very happy and that they have the ability to read, write, walk independently, play, wash themselves and their clothes. The staff of the project explains what is wrong with the eyes of the children and the Tibetans respect the children as they are. This is generally a very important step towards complete acceptance of the blind in the society .
At present 15 blind children are receiving education. The infrastructure in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R.) is not very well developed. The country is very big and the distance between villages stretches vastly. The children who come from remote villages are boarded in the school. In the future the children will be housed with guest-families in Lhasa. Then they will visit their school as “day-scholars.”
After two years of training in the Project for the Blind, Tibet they will be integrated in regular elementary schools in their villages. Because of religious reasons or overprotection, some children are locked away in dark rooms for a great part of their lives. A few children with such a background once came to the school. At first they were very shy and hardly looked like human beings at all. It showed immediately how important it is to confront such children with other children that have an equal “way of living”. They suddenly find out that they are not the only ones in the world who are blind. They exchange experiences and since they are in a place where everyone is being treated equally, within days they grow into respected humans.
According to official statistics more than 10 thousand of the 2.5 million inhabitants of the T.A.R. are blind. Compared to most areas in the world this is well above the average ratio. Causes of visual impairment or blindness are both climatic and hygienic: dust, wind, high ultraviolet light radiation, soot in houses caused by heating with coal or yak dung, lack of vitamin A at an early age. Inadequate medical care has also played a role. Cataract is widespread. Red Cross and several private organisations set up eye-camps where cataract operations are being performed and local doctors are taught to do the procedure. However, there is a large group of blind people that can’t be helped this way. It was for this group of people the Project for the Blind, Tibet was founded.
In June 1998 the first school for the blind in the T.A.R. in China opened. This represented a small step in the project for the blind there. It was the beginning of a much bigger project which aims to give blind people a chance to participate in society.
In addition to the school for the blind, “the Project for the Blind, Tibet” plans to:
1. Start Braille schoolbook production – translating schoolbooks into the Tibetan Braille script.
2. Implement a re-integration program facilitating the return to local schools and home life.
3. Start vocational trainings to give the blind opportunity and skills to generate their own income.
Professional skill training will incorporate massage therapy, physiotherapy, animal husbandry, agriculture, knitting, candle making and the like which will help address their problems.
The goal is to start all four programs within four years and to hand over the project to local staff and the community that can give continuity to the work.
Nepal Water For Health (NEWAH) is an organisation that works throughout rural Nepal providing clean drinking water, sanitation and health education. Established in 1992, it is the largest national NGO specialising in the rural water and sanitation sector in the country. It is non-political and non-profit making. NEWAH has a written constitution, is registered with the District Administration Office and is affiliated with the Social Welfare Council. It has an Executive Committee responsible for policy decisions.
NEWAH aims to improve the standard of living of poor people in Nepal by supporting community development initiatives.
All the people of Nepal have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.
Achievements to Date
NEWAH has assisted 116 local NGOs and 89 Small Farmers’ Development Program (SFDP) offices, to complete:
2,429 community tap stands serving 151075 people with clean water:
3,837 tube-wells serving 295,490 people with clean water;
30 hand dug wells serving 8,000 people with clean water;
12,247 domestic latrines benefiting 97,976 people with safe sanitation facilities;
7 public latrines in semi-urban areas;
training for 15,029 NGO, SFDP , Women’s Credit Groups and community groups
(project management committee members) in hygiene education and maintenance..
The NEWAH Approach
NEWAH encourages the community to take a lead in planning, construction, operation and maintenance of new facilities by using participatory approaches. This aims to ensure the community is the owner of the facilities.
NEWAH forms partnerships with locally based NGOs, Small Farmer’s Groups, Women’s Credit Groups and community groups to implement projects.
NEWAH encourages the use of technologies, which the communities can afford and maintain by themselves, in both water and sanitation sector.
NEWAH integrates water, sanitation and hygiene education as an approach to community water service delivery.
Building the capacity of local NGOs and community groups to construct, manage, operate and maintain infrastructure projects is an integral part of NEWAH’s work.
“NEWAH believes that by working with communities in implementing water and sanitation projects the people will realise their potential for improving their lives, and so work towards other development orientated activities.”
Relation between NEWAH and Local NGOs
NEWAH implements all its projects through local partners (NGOs, Small Farmer’s Groups and Women’s Credit Groups) These partners are village-based and generally have very limited organisational, accounts, management and technical skills. Therefore, NEWAH provides training to these partners including community health volunteer training, project management community training and basic training for caretakers.
The community contribute to the projects through managing the workforce, planning activities, labour; site clearance; excavation work; collection of local materials such as stone, aggregate and sand; stone breaking and transportation of these materials to the site.
To increase poor people’s access to clean water and sanitation services;
to conduct research and development in the drinking water and sanitation sector so as to improve delivery mechanisms and document best practice;
to improve linkages with sector agencies;
to involve NGOs in water and sanitation activities at the policy level;
to include funding activities within NEWAH to reduce donor dependency;
to provide training opportunities for researchers and students, and
to expand development activities beyond water, health and sanitation.
Nepal Water For Health (NEWAH)
Phone 417603, 418248
POPULATION: 21 million. Total population of the country doubled between 1961 and 1991. The population consists of 61 caste, subcast and ethnic and sub-ethnic groups who speak 40 major languages altogether. Nepal is a meeting place of two great civilizations Hinduism and Buddhism.
AREA: 147, 181 square km. Cultivable land comprises 20 percent of the total areas. Nepal is divided administratively into 5 development regions and 75 districts and 3995 Village Development Committees. There are 36 municipalities in the country. Ecologically it is divided in to three ecological regions, mountain, hill and terai. There are eleven world heritage sites in Nepal listed by UNESCO for their rich historical and natural values.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT: The country is not rich in mineral resources but it has abundant surface and groundwater. Forest covers about 38 percent of the land area. The high pressure on agricultural land has led to considerable deforestation and soil loss. Unplanned urban settlement, receding forest cover, industrial establishment, the over-concentration of economic opportunities in urban areas are further aggravating environmental population. Pollutants from cooking with kerosene and industries such as the dye, brick kilns, cement factory, fuel-wood, diesel, etc continue to aggravate the air pollution problems.
HUMAN RESOURCES: Nepal is potentially rich in human resources. However, rapid population growth and sustained poverty at the household level are the two critical obstacles to the realization of this potential. The contribution of women to the national economy is not adequately reflected in the national statistics.
HEALTH AND NUTRITION: Average life expectancy within the last two decades has increased by 13.5 years. Nonetheless, average life expectancy is only 55 years (1994 figure). Women have a life span which is shorter by two years compared to men. Infant mortality rate is improving, but is still one of the highest in the region. Diarrhea, pneumonia and measles remain the main determinants of infant mortality. High incidence of undernutrition, early marriage and child bearing, poor housing conditions, inadequate access to safe drinking water, insufficient sanitary facilities and abuse of alcohol and tobacco contribute to the nation’s poor health standard.
LITERACY AND EDUCATION: The national literacy rate, which was 14 percent in 1971, increased to 40 percent by 1991. Enrollment of primary school children increased from 8,000 in 1960 to roughly 3 million in 1992. The adult literacy programme contributed to the literacy of 1,000,000 illiterate adults during 1992-97 only. However, the literacy rates among male and female populations remain grossly disproportionate ( 2:1).
ECONOMY: Agriculture contributes more than one-half of the household income, provides employment to 88 percent of the population. The intensity of poverty, which is correlated with illiteracy, malnutrition and other forms of deprivation, has hindered the overall pace of human development.
INCOME: Nepal with a per capita income of US $ 210 (equivalent to US $ 1,186 in terms of international purchasing power parity) belongs to the group of very low-income countries in the world. Economic growth averaged at 3.9 percent per year from the ’70s to the ’90s. Given the high population growth rate of 2.5 percent, per capita income grew by only 1.4 percent per annum during the last 25 years. The country’s gross domestic saving (GDS) is very low: on average it stood at about 10 percent of the GDP during the last decade.
DISTRIBUTION OF PRODUCTIVE ASSETS AND INCOME
Sixty-nine percent of the landholdings are less than 1 hectare in size; 88 percent are below 2 hectare.
The bottom 20 percent of the households receive only 3.7 percent of the national income while the top 10 percent claim a share of 50 percent.
Gender disparity in income distribution is acute as well due to the control of male household members over family income, absence of property rights for women.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Nepal as a state is now 230 years old. The 1990 constitution envisages a parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchy. It guarantees the standard civil and political rights of the citizens. The directive principles and policies are intimately related to human development, protection of environment, participation of female population in national development, safeguarding the rights of children and protection and welfare of orphans, the aged and the disabled.
(Extracts adapted from Nepal Human Development Report 1998)
No effective cure is known for the chronic arsenicism, which is the direct effect of contaminated drinking water, especially not in a poor country like Nepal. The only durable advice is to cease consuming the poisoned water immediately.
Contaminated drinking water
Water is the most essential element for all beings and plays a vital role for the entire life cycle on our mutual planet. Life needs water. Human beings need safe drinking water. Thus presence of unwanted contaminants in drinking water makes it unacceptable to drink for humans from both an aesthetic and a health aspect, and can have severe implications for all life forms. In order to be used as a healthful fluid for human consumption, water must be free from organisms that are capable of causing a number of diseases and from minerals and organic constituents that produces various, adverse physiological health effects. Hence we have in the later years witnessed a justified raising demand for safe drinking water in the World, and today this is by most organizations regarded as a Human Right.
Unfortunately water is a universal solvent, which can dissolve a variety of solids. None known solvent can dissolve the same number of different substances as water. Such dissolutions of myriad of solids cause the contamination of the water by various harmful contaminants. One of the substances that water can dissolve is chemical combinations of the element Arsenic.
Arsenic is considered as one of the oldest, most dangerous poisons, and is a well-defined contaminant, which has various acute and chronic health effects on the human health. Only 60 milligram of arsenic can kill an adult person instantly. Arsenic is a shiny metalloid, but dissolved in water or on gaseous form, humans cannot detect its presence before it is too late. We cannot see, taste nor smell, whether the water we drink is contaminated with Arsenic compounds. We can however feel it, since Arsenic compounds severely damages human health, and the sight of its effects is not pleasant.
Into the fire
Due to an assumed reduction of the microbiological contamination of the drinking water in developing countries, most stakeholders recommended and started to construct tube wells in rural areas to improve the microbiological contamination. On a worldwide scale these wells and hand pumps are constructed in a variety of ways and extract groundwater from aquifers in different depths. Similarly, private persons have the last two decades constructed millions of such tube wells. The improvement of the bacterial contamination have been shown to be questionable, since many tube wells in the third world are not constructed correctly, and furthermore the last ten years have shown, that some aquifers are chemically contaminated with for example Fluoride and Arsenic.
Especially in South East Asia – Bangladesh, West Bengal and now also the lowlands of Nepal, the Arsenic concentration in the pumped “drinking” water have shown to be of such a magnitude that the population in these areas, by switching from surface water to groundwater, can be said to have come from the frying-pan into the fire. Millions will in the future develop a slowly killing cancer in the internal organs due to unhealthy Arsenic concentrations.
Relative to the Arsenic crisis the microbiological contamination of drinking water can be said to be acute or instantly, whereas the effect of the former develops over periods up to thirty years and hence can be referred to as chronic. This fact can give some financial and awareness type of problems, since an effective mitigation of the Arsenic contamination will only be seen after several years.
Nepal overtakes Bangladesh
Lately measurements in the affected areas of Nepal have revealed concentrations almost double the highest measured in Bangladesh. Until now Bangladesh was the country which worldwide was believed to be the worst influenced. Furthermore initial measurements the last two years in Nepal have shown that the average percentage of the contaminated wells is rising with the number of wells measured. Today less than 5 percent of all wells in Nepal have been measured. Hence the actual number of arsenic contaminated tube wells in Nepal is still unknown.
A matter of mathematics
By mathematical calculations and predictions based on several factor like the Nepali migration towards the lowlands, the population increase, the risk analysis, and the rising number with access to groundwater. the Arsenic calamity can be shown in future to reach similar levels of death rates in Nepal as the microbiological contamination. The numbers can be turned if effective measuring programs combined with a throughout information campaign and a subsequent mitigation program is started immediately and “finished” within few years.
If such effective programs are not initiated at once, large numbers of the population will inevitability suffer, and since the mitigation effect is delayed up to thirty years, Nepal may reach a point, where the death rate curves, due to this problem, will be impossible or very difficult to bend.
Next time we might consult an engineer…
Hari Parajuli is a member of the Community Radio Madanpokhara listener club in Pokhara Chowk VDC, ward no.9, Palpa district. Being 23 makes him the oldest member in the group that consists of 24 children between 8 and 23 years. Out of the many experiences being an active member of the listener’s group has given him, constructing a new road leading up the mountain to their village proved to be very challenging.
Over the years many frustrations had built up among the villagers in Pokhara Chowk VDC, ward no.8 and 9. The villagers badly needed something to replace the narrow trail connecting them to the main road between Pokhara and Tansen. Since the Village Development Committee (VDC) was not paying attention to the interests of ward no.8 and 9, the listener club decided to take action and start building a road themselves.
Making the road has been a long journey. After having conceived the idea the listener club decided to ask a neighboring community saving and credit group to construct the road jointly. A road construction committee of nine people was formed and the spades were pulled out from every household to do the digging. Fathers, mothers and children all contributed with four days of work during the two years of construction. Around 150 people were involved in the project which was all free of cost for the villagers – except for those people who were not able to participate. They were obliged to pay 105 rupees per day instead. The fees went to the VDC which eventually decided to help the local initiative by providing a bull dozer to do the hard work.
“We needed a road because it would make our life so much easier. All villagers now feel they can easily go to the market by taxi to sell vegetables and to do practical matters. It is a lot easier to transport maize seeds to either Pokhara or Tansen. If somebody is sick and need to go to the hospital it now only takes 10 minutes to walk to the car. Before it would take half an hour”, says Hari Parajuli.
To Hari Parajuli it was an immense effort for himself and the group to make the road. He feels his confidence has been boosted during the past two years. Before he could not speak up in public, but now he is often the one chosen to give welcome speech when the listener club has cultural and social gatherings in the community. Saying it with a smile on his face, Hari admits that he and the group also have learned to take advice.
“Actually we must say that the road is not really good. We should have taken some technical advice on how to construct a road before we started digging. But what were we to do? We had no money for that! Anyway, the District Development Committee has offered their help so that an engineer can examine the road.”
So what exactly was Community Radio Madan Pokhara’s role in all this?
Hari Parajuli answers – “The DDC started knowing about our project after hearing a radio programme broadcasting our story and being in the listener club I feel I am a member of Community Radio Madan Pokhara.”
What about the future challenges for the group? To outline these does not take Hari Parajuli long. A paper is quickly revealed from his pocket listing 13 new goals for the club: “1. Develop tourist area, 2. Green road concept (plant trees along the road), 3. Collect plastic…” Giving advice from the listeners to CRM is also included as well as conducting a 12- hour cultural programme that is also to be broadcasted.”
“CRM is experimenting with public hearings on certain issues. We would also like to contribute to the development of this program,” says Hari Parajuli.