Imagining a different life: A post on Human Rights Day

Jane Carter, 10 December 2014
Imagining a different life: A post on Human Rights Day

Human rights should clearly set the frame for human behaviour throughout the year, but perhaps an international Human Rights Day serves to focus the mind. So given that this is today’s date – and the final day of 16 days of international activism on ending violence against women – let me finish my focus on Nepal with the stories of two individuals, as told by staff of some of our partner organisations in recent workshops.

Admitting the problem: Devika Badi (not her real name)

In the Far West of Nepal, there is a caste of Dalits called Badi. Traditionally, the caste occupation of Badi women is sex work; whilst legally they cannot be forced into this, the practice remains widespread. This story (which I’ve shortened) was told by Rangita Acharya, of the Peace Technical Training Centre.

“Devika Badi was enrolled on a vocational training programme [nicely titled “Path to Prosperity”] under the Employment Fund Programme. In her case, this entailed two months of residence at the training centre, where she was taught basic literacy, numeracy and other skills. She was visited at the centre by her husband, who was frequently seen drunk. The training centre staff noticed that Devika seemed unwell after these visits, and suspected violence – but when questioned, Devika always denied any problem. It was also known that she suffered gynaecological problems and needed to borrow money for hospital visits. One day when she came to borrow money, her face was black and blue – but she claimed that she had fallen down the stairs.

It was only after a long period of counselling that Devika finally spoke of the violence she endured, but even then, she simply accepted it as normal. “If it is not me who is beaten by my husband, who will he beat?” she asked. The idea that she had the same fundamental rights as her husband – and indeed of any human being – was utterly alien to her, and very difficult for her to believe. Yet without grasping this concept, she was unable to put her mind and energy into learning the skills offered through the training programme.”

Child marriage: Hari Nepali, told by himself

“I come from Jajarkot District, and I’m 25 years old. Since my childhood I have worked on my landlord’s farm as a bonded labourer. Ten years ago, I was married to a girl named Ram Maya Nepali, who was then a child of 13. After seven years of marriage, we already had three daughters and two sons. Things started to fall apart when my wife became sick. I was ignorant about what to do, and spent four years trying to cure her with traditional medicines, but she only got worse. I was advised by other villagers to take her to hospital, but this was a financial impossibility for me. Eventually I went to my landlord and begged him for support. He agreed to loan me NRs 12,000 (US $ 120) on condition that I signed a contract to work for him as a slave for five years. My wife was not in condition to walk, so I carried her to the hospital. It was too late. She was suffering from uterine prolapse and was in the last stages of cancer. I was unaware about the condition of uterine prolapse and why it happens. Following the consultation with the doctors, I brought my wife home. Within a month she was dead, and I was alone with my five children. I am still repaying my debt through working for the landlord, according to the contract that we signed. Due to our marriage at a very young age and her frequent pregnancy, my wife left this world without having had the chance to live a full life. I am so sorry for this, and would like others to know about it so that they will not make the same mistake.”

There are many issues raised in these two stories that could make separate postings in themselves. However, the commonality is the very human need for a sense of self-worth, plus the importance of knowing one’s rights. The human right to be treated with dignity; to safety from violence; to be a child and not to be forced into marriage; to education; to decent work, for example. For individuals who have been born into a society that treats them as socially inferior, knowing such rights is often an essential start to imagining a different future.

Jane Carter
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Jane Carter

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