I’m standing before her, staring at her rough weathered hands as she crouches over a pile of rocks. She spends her days with a small steel hammer pounding stones from the nearby river into small marble sized pieces. These pieces are destined to become cement and pavement in towns many miles away.
If she can fill a nylon bag within two days, she promises to make 20 rupees (of which a middleman will take 2). In other words, she works 12 hours a day to make roughly 15 cents – a paltry sum that forces women in her position to sell their bodies once the sun has gone down.
The fact that we are both 30 years old, imparts on me a compelling sentiment. Crouching before this woman with an $800 camera around my neck gives me the feeling that she represents an unattainable opportunity for everyone I’ve enjoyed. Though I’m here to help and want so badly to accomplish something for her cause, I feel embarrassed at the inequities we’ve experienced in our now-converging 30 years. As a widow, a woman, and a Dalit, she suffers daily at the hands of extreme poverty and social immobility. Yet she sits across from me with such composure and sincerity. Giving me a moment of her time so generously.
This is the Doti district of Nepal, said to be ground zero for discrimination based on caste. As I interview this woman I’m reminded that this is exactly what I wanted in an effort to gain an understanding of this practice – the opportunity to physically see the hierarchy built on the backs of a so many Nepali citizens. But as I sit across from a face of the exploited, learning her name and that she lost her husband last year because they couldn’t afford medication, I have no idea how to respond. I also know that as powerful as this moment is, just by virtue of being a foreigner, a man and an American, I am completely incapable of truly understanding this woman’s lot. No matter how long I empathize with her on the jagged banks of the Seti River, I can never understand what it’s like to be shackled by caste.
Having just come from the 8 X 12 mud bricked home she shares with her family of seven, she explains that the thatched roof leaks on her and her children every time it rains. Having met her beautiful 14 year old daughter who’s been attending school on scholarship for the past two years, I attempt to uplift the conversation. I ask whether she has hopes that her young daughter will be able to live a different life by getting an education. But it was to no avail. She explains that her daughter’s schooling is only temporary. After all, she is one of five children. As the oldest, she must leave school because the family needs additional income.
Posted By Devin Greenleaf
Posted Jul 6th, 2007