Sujita Basnet

Sujita Basnet (Backward Education Society- BASE): Sujita was born and raised in the United States, although her family is Nepali. She has made numerous visits to Nepal and volunteered for several Nepali NGOs in the US. At the time of her fellowship Sujita was in her second year of studies at the George Washington University, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering. After her fellowship Sujita wrote: "I feel privileged to have had this opportunity to give a voice for justice to those children who have dismissed the idea of a better life.”

Politics vs. Humanity

03 Aug

Friday, July 26, 2013

Today, we were in Kailali, one of the first district BASE started its movement in. There we got an opportunity to delve into the complicated relationship between 19 year old Tharu, Manju Chaudhary, and her landlady. We sat in the middle of their living room, on an extremely hot evening, trying to decipher the boundaries between the law of the nation versus the law of a human nature.

As I stated in my previous blog, kamlari practice was abolished in 2000, and any perpetrators are to be prosecuted, this was the argument BASE employers were making. On the other hand, the landlady was arguing that she always felt empty because she never had a daughter so there’s always a girl staying in her house. Very suspicious! So once one girl leaves another one moves in? “Yes, they coordinate when they go home”, says the landlady who refused to give us her name. Her refusal to do so made the BASE employers curious about her relationship with Manju and the other girls that live with her.

The landlady’s story was that after Manju completed her 10th grade, she had to walk an hour to attend the closest high school. Because of this Manju was searching for a room closer to her school. Through outside sources Manju found out about a vacancy in the landlady’s house and moved in shortly after. When first moving in, about 6 months ago, Manju had offered to help out around the house to compensate for her school fees. Since Manju was of the Tharu origin, the landlady had no intentions of keeping Manju as a kamlari and had refused to let her work. Although, she says Manju cooks and cleans the house just as any daughter would.  She also added that Manju often visits her parents but dislikes going home because her parents are forcing her to get married. As a matter of fact, her groom has already been  chosen and now its just a matter of taking the wedding vows. “It hurts me from within to be accused of being a perpetrator of the kamlari practice when in reality I consider Manju my daughter”, she stated. The information that she gave us didn’t lack any truth, but there were still some suspicions.

Manju’s says, “I want to go to school and specialize in a technical field so I can be financially independent. I don’t want to get married for another 10 years”. She says she has never been mistreated and her landlady not only pays for her school fees but also pays for her extra computer and English courses.

Finally, after 30 minutes of discussing both the law regarding kamlari practice, as well as the emotions that no law can create nor destroy, the two sides came to a conclusion that both are right in their own ways. As an outsider, I too agreed with both sides.

The BASE employers were right in that Manju is staying in the landlady’s house and is being given large amounts of money for school and extra classes. In the condition that the landlady is living in such a situation would only be appropriate if Manju was giving them something in exchange, most likely working as a domestic servant. The other issue that was raised by the BASE employers was regarding the landlords hesitancy to accept Manju as a kamlari. If they accepted this fact than at least under the new 10 point agreement Manju would be able to get her kamlari ID. The government of Nepal has stated that all freed kamlari’s will receive an ID that will help ensure equal representation of freed kamlari’s in all fields, making it easier for them to venture into the caste bias and corruption driven working world.

The landlady made a fair argument that Manju is 19 years old, old enough to make her own decisions regarding her life. Manju is there by choice and should not be suppressed to return to her home where she will be married off unwillingly.

Listening in on this argument it seemed to me as an issues in the governmental level, the recent law regarding kamlari practice puts both the freed kamlari’s as well as the general public in an obstacle. This law conflicts with the child labor law of Nepal which allows children above 14 to work as domestic servants, but it is illegal to employ a Tharu girl as a domestic servant even if she is older than 14. Some girls in the Tharu community who are above 14 are neither educated, nor have proper vocational training and the only other source of income for her family is for her to work as a domestic servant. But because of this conflict their work needs to be hidden, in effect creating an even more corrupt labor market.

The landlady refused to be photographed, but here are some pictures of “15” year old Suman Chaudhary. She works at a local restaurant in Kailali, she washes dishes from 6AM to 10PM. She lives with her owner and his family shown in the photos below. When asked if she attends school she said no, but claims to have been tutored by her employers daughter. When asked when she was tutored in her schedule her employer choked up. Having seen my co fellow Emily, an American, he was very excited to show off the fact that he had a “15” year old working for him.

Sujita ✌

"15" year old Suman Chaudhary and her employer

Suman's Workstation at the restaurant

BASE employer explaining the law regrading kamlari practice to local restaurant owner in the Kailali district. Suman Chaudhary, a "15" year old Tharu girl, who works for this family is sitting in the back in a green and orange outfit.

Posted By Sujita Basnet

Posted Aug 3rd, 2013

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