The Fire in Their Eyes
Revolutionary Worker #1210, August 17, 2003, posted at rwor.org
The show, "Nepal: Faces of a People's War--Photographs by Li Onesto" was held at the Women's Building of San Francisco from May 3 to May 30, 2003. At a reception for the show, an audiotape was played from a young Nepali woman, expressing her feelings of growing up in Nepal and the effect Li Onesto's photos of the women guerrillas had on her. The following is a transcript of this tape.
I was raised by my grandparents for the most part of my childhood since my parents left for India to study until I was eight years old. One of my earliest memories is my grandmother teaching me and my sister that to be a worthy woman we must know how to keep our household happy once we got married. She would always say, "Your only duty is to your husband and your inlaws. The woman's true house is her husband's house, your parents have no rights over you, they are only taking care of you until the day your husband takes you away to your real house." These are the values I grew up with, saw all around me, rebelled against and have been fighting ever since.
Being born a woman in Nepal and probably in most of south Asia is, as people say out there, "a curse." In my great grandfather's day some people would kill their newborns if they were girls by smashing her head with a heavy object. These days they have newer, easier and more technological ways of doing that. A woman is told her only duty in life is to a man--a man that is chosen for her by her society and family, a man that she doesn't know. Arranged marriages are still a way of life in Nepal and a good daughter is one that marries the man her parents chose for her.
Growing up in Nepal as a rebellious girl in a male-dominated society was very difficult for me. Every day I'd hear of young, na‹ve and barely teenage girls being sold by their parents, stolen or seduced by men saying they would marry them but then take them to India to sell them for prostitution. Young Nepali girls were very desired, I heard. Girls that should be playing and going to school are forced to sell their bodies until they are old and diseased. After that they get sent back home. Cases of AIDS are rising in Nepal because of this. Oftentimes these returning prostitutes get raped, and then these men transfer the disease to their wives. These women are also primary targets for rapes because (the thinking is) since they did this for a living they must obviously like it!
Rape victims in Nepal are often treated as criminals. I remember when I was about 12 years old, a young girl in a neighborhood not far from where I lived got gang-raped. The poor girl killed herself after a few weeks. People talked about how her life was over now since no one--at lease no one decent--would marry her. I remember my elders having a talk with me and my sister after that, saying, "If you ever get raped, I'd rather see you dead than carry the impure scar for the rest of your life."
I saw my female cousins being less educated than the males. My uncles and aunts were always telling my parents, "Don't give your girls too much freedom, one day they'll walk all over you and you'll be sorry you educated them." My mother luckily is a very strong and independent woman who tries to give her girls the freedoms she never got. I guess that's why I am here today.
Every day my mother has to fight with the community out there who can't understand how she sent her daughter all alone all the way to the United States. My mother was married off to my dad when she was 16. She had my sister a year later and me two years later. She spent all her days taking care of my dad and his family; cooking for them, cleaning for them, washing clothes, etc. She couldn't eat her food until everyone in the house had eaten and she had to eat in the same plate my dad ate in.
Luckily my dad was leaving for Bombay to get his Ph.D. a year after I was born, so she left with him and got her Bachelor's and finally her Master's degree. My dad is very adamant about education so he fully supported her getting an education. She never got to put her education to practice though, because in those days women from "decent" homes did not work. It was shameful to a family if they had to put their women to work!! Only poor women worked as servants or prostitutes. In our house we have an old lady Kanchi didi who works for us. She has been working there, helping my mom, since I was two years old. All her life has been spent working at other people's homes. She's never had a family of her own because she was too poor and didn't have the time or the ability to have a family. Now she is very old and can barely work but she lives in our house because she has nowhere to go. My mom takes care of her but for the most part most others like Kanchi are not so lucky. They end up going back to their village in the remote countryside, which is a two- to three-day walk from the nearest road, when they are too old to work and wait for death to take them away.
When I see images of women in Nepal with guns it's like a dream to me. I cannot believe the power and the fire in their eyes. Women have traditionally been very dominated and suppressed in Nepal. Not just by men but by women too. It's a culture of submissive women. Women in Nepal couldn't own property until a few years ago. They didn't have the rights to their father's property. If there were no sons then grandsons got the property. It is extremely difficult for women to get a divorce. A woman can seek separation from her husband only after she has been married for 15 years and is over 35 years old--if she can prove that her husband frequently beats and abuses her, that he has taken a second wife, that she has been denied maintenance by or been expelled from the home by her husband or his family. The property issue is another long and complex story. A wife is not entitled to her half of her husband's property. If she is entitled to any property at all, she has to split it with her sons and her grandsons. Women cannot even sell all their property or anything they bought or were given legally. She has to first gain her father, her husband or her son's written consent and then she can sell only half of it! Abortion in Nepal has been illegal and many, many women in jail are there because they have been convicted of either abortion or infanticide. If Nepali men marry foreign women, the wife is automatically granted Nepali citizenship. But if Nepali women marry foreign men the husband cannot become a Nepali citizen. Even more, children are granted citizenship according to their "paternal relationship" and not their "maternal relationship." I could probably go on and on, but I think I should stop right here.
For years and years we have been fighting this sexist system in Nepal in a very slow and mostly inefficient way. Now when women speak through the barrels of guns and make up a third of the rebel army fighting in Nepal, the government has no choice but to listen to what we are saying. That's why I support this revolution in Nepal. This patriarchal system in Nepal has made women economically, socially and culturally very weak. It's about time we stand up to fight this fight!!
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