Her identity remains in a state of flux as long as it is associated with her birth and marriage. When she is born, she is considered a temporary member of the family. And when she gets married, she is still taken as an outsider who joined the clan later. Through the entire transition, she becomes a daughter, a sister, a wife, a daughter-in-law and a mother. The law grants her every bit of equal property rights and societal status as her male counterparts. But traditions and culture still deny her that. The reason is simple: She is a woman.
Time and again, there has been great hue and cry in Nepal about granting equal property rights to women. On policies and papers, a woman is eligible to have equal share not just on her parental property but also on that of her husband. But unlike in the case of men where these things are regarded as natural as breathing, when it comes to women, many conditions always apply.
Pilgrims Book House was more than just a bookstore. It was an institution of sorts for academics with its wide variety of books, a hangout for readers who could pick a novel and devour it over a steaming cup of coffee at the café located within the store, and a place where you could get interesting curios you wouldn’t find elsewhere. It was, in many ways, the heart of the tourist hub Thamel.
The night of May 16, 2013 brought sad new to all those who loved Pilgrims. The store was ravaged by a fire that broke out at a lounge right above, leaving behind nothing but heaps of charred pages as proof of the book house’s once staggering presence. For Elizabeth and Kahani Tiwari, daughters of the founder Ramanand Tiwari, it was night that changed everything.
The idea of getting married had fascinated her ever since she first understood the concept of marriage, which was when she was seven years old. But Ruchi Shrestha, now 32, is still unmarried. And that is because she never thought of marriage as something governed by age, contrary to popular norm and belief in a society which has unofficially made 25 the right age to get married.
“Marriage has only been an option for me and I’ve never felt the need or rush to get married till this now,” says Ruchi.
Like her, there are many women for whom the age of early or mid-20s – earlier viewed as an ideal marriageable age for girls – did not feel right to get married. Outside the rural settings where traditional norms still hold sway over the practice of marriage, women in the cities choosing to marry late has become a more common phenomenon.
Like every other professional arena, soldiering has been a domain of men since time immemorial, with a few exceptions. Before the Maoist war from 1996 onwards, the battle of Nalapani was the only example in Nepali history where women fought. The presence of women in a battlefield was considered inauspicious, and to follow a female leader meant certain failure. But all that changed in the decade-long civil war. Women made up 40 percent of the rebel army. Suddenly, women were stepping out of their traditional, housebound duties and exploring new frontiers.
How did their decade-long experience in the field shape their lives?
“Initially, women were attracted to the war because it gave them a sense of identity beyond being ‘means of entertainment’ or ‘baby producing machines,” says Amrita Thapa, Central Committee Member of CPN-Maoist. One of them was economic identity. Before the war, though women’s labour had a very important part in agriculture, they had little or no say in how the produce of their labor was used, and most often were not involved in the decisions about the gains. But during the war, women farmed and give some parts of what they produced to the party as levy.
Nepal is slowly but surely inching closer to a gender-equal society. There are still considerable hurdles, no doubt. Out in the Far West, thousands of women continue to suffer from the worst kind of gender discrimination and are forced to live outside the house, often in highly unhygienic conditions, while they are menstruating. In much of the Tarai belt, the practice of dowry, although now outlawed, flourishes, burdening poor bridal families with heavy loans. The ‘down payment’ has to be good. If not, the brides suffer. Many are burnt alive by the husband’s family to extract a bigger dowry from a new bride. Besides these more obvious ones, there are many other forms of hidden gender discriminations as well.
But the bigger picture is undoubtedly brighter. School enrollment of girls at all levels now equals (in many places even exceeds) that of boys, and more of them are staying in school, thanks to innovative measures like food and cash incentives for the families who send their children to study.
Our workplaces are a lot more inclusive, too. In most offices, government as well as private, male to female ratio is nearly equal, although women still have a tough time climbing up the corporate and bureaucratic ladders.
Any anthropologist worth his salt will agree that the earliest human societies were matriarchal. Nepal’s own Satya Mohan Joshi once mentioned to me the stories of Kathmandu’s mother goddesses who ruled the kingdom before men. But centuries of patriarchy has completely obliterated the evidence of such societies. In her book, When God was a Woman, Merlin Stone provides a refreshing outlook on ancient goddess worship and how they were obliterated by successive religions.
Let us start with what we know. In so many religions, the deity of agriculture is a woman—Laxmi in Hinduism, Demeter in Greek are just examples. And so are the deities of knowledge—Saraswati, Athena, etc. These attributions are not arbitrary—it is now agreed that farming and writing were developed in the earliest matriarchal civilizations. Stone documents evidence of worship of such female figures as far back as 25,000 BC in many parts of Europe and Asia.
With two novels to her credit already, Manisha Gauchan is a known name in the world of Nepali literature. For a writer who loves to write comprehensively about our society, people, relationships, and emotions, she is also an avid reader who enjoys reading anything on societies and human relations, be it in English or in Nepali.
Born and raised in Mustang, Gauchan came to Kathmandu in 1998 to continue her higher education. She completed her Masters from TU in Rural Development in 2008. She loves traveling, other than reading and writing, and is currently an advocate for the rights of disabled people in Nepal.
The Week’s Ashish Dhakal met up with Gauchan to talk about her reading habit, writings and interests.
Nepal’s volleyball star Sipora Gurung is the talk of the town not just for her sporting skills but for her humanitarian works as well. Besides her glamorous looks, the 20-year-old beauty from Pokhara has a golden heart, which is reflected from her selfless service to needy ones.
Sipora was the brains behind the concept of ‘Maya–Let’s Start Giving,’ a musical event held on Valentine’s Day for raising funds for orphans.
Ragini Upadhyaya Grela already has 60 solo exhibitions to her credit. Her extraordinary work has been recognized both nationally and internationally. Her amazing talent with the colors and shapes has made her one of the most renowned artists in town.
“Art is life,” says Ragini who completed her graduate study from Lucknow College of Fine Arts in 1982. She went to Delhi where she was awarded with a scholarship to go to Oxford University. Since then, she has always been painting and offering works of excellence in the world of art.