Shanta Chaudhary, a woman with indomitable spirit, former Kamlari and Constituent Assembly member talks about fighting for the rights of Kamlaris and her community.
It is a perfect story for a Bollywood film — a slave girl fights through poverty, reaches the Constituent Assembly of Nepal, pens an award-winning book, struggles against cancer and becomes the pride of her community.
Now Shanta Chaudhary, a woman with indomitable spirit, is again in the news. She has joined the eighth grade of a local school in pursuit of higher education. While her son is studying in the ninth grade and her daughter in the seventh grade at a boarding school in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, she has chosen a government school in her village.
Chaudhary, an activist and a leader with the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist-Leninist, has gone from Kamlari to national hero.
Kamlaris are young girls, belonging to the Indigenous Tharu community, who are kept as slaves by the rich living in Western Nepal.
Though slavery has been banned in Nepal, these girls are made to work day and night, lead a life of suffering, endure physical and sexual abuse and even get murdered in mysterious circumstances at times.
Kamlaris get little or no money in return of their service. According to some estimates, several thousand girls still work as Kamlaris in Nepalese cities, including Kathmandu.
Although the government outlawed the Kamlari system in 2013, this has not stopped people keeping Kamlaris.
Below is the story of three girls who were rescued from slavery and are now activists in a movement to end the Kamlari system in practice:
Like other Kamlari girls, Shanta faced attempted abuse from men and had to get married to save herself.
A story worth reading
Kamlari Dekhi Sabhasadsamma (from Kamlari to Constituent Assembly member) is the poignant tale of her journey from discrimination and exploitation as a Kamlari to an inspring figure for her community — a role model for girls enslaved and free.
In the tell-all book, she describes moments that still haunt her:
She spent her childhood as Kamlari in seven different houses since she was eight.
Most landlords exploited her. Most of them thought that she should water the plants even if it was raining. They [Kamlaris] should not be allowed to rest, they should work all the time – that was the thought deep-rooted in the landlords.
She had to work in place of her sister-in-law who got pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by one of the men at the house where she was working as Kamlari. It was customary to send someone else if the Kamlari is not able to work due to sickness or any other reasons.
At one of the houses, the daughter of the landlord used to spit on her and beat her. She used to show her contempt for her by calling her “Tharuni”. She thought as if one could do anything to a Tharuni. The girl’s mother and grandmother hated her too and they could not stand her staying idle even for a second.
There was a strange rule – the Kamlaris had to be ready to accept the abuse, but were not allowed to complain. Whether she was winnowing rice or bringing grass, while going to market or doing dishes – there were many attempts at abuse. But none of them succeeded which she considers a big achievement.
Once [as an MP] she was driving a car from her village to the regional centre of Ghorahi. On the way, one of her former landlords was waiting for a bus — she offered him a lift. He was amazed to see the change — it was difficult for him to accept that she was the same old Kamlari.
College student Shreepriya Poudel posts a review of Shanta Chaudhary’s autobiography:
People tell me that it is necessary to learn about the lives of the less fortunate because it makes you more grateful for the life you have now. That to me seems like a selfish reason but I decided to stick to it this time. So here is a list, based on Ms. Chaudhary’s book, of some of the things that a lot of people don’t think about but should be grateful for. Maybe it will help us find better ways to live.
1. A roof over your head that doesn’t leak.
2. Access to medicines, even if it is just a paracetamol.
3. A nation where laws are not only made but also implemented.
4. Newspaper, radio or television that ensures that other people cannot make a fool out of you.
5. Not having to go five days straight with nothing to eat.
6. Your paycheck, if you have one that gives you more than a meager seven dollars a year when you work 12 hours a day.
7. The freedom to hug and kiss your child when it cries.
8. The freedom to feed your child when it is hungry.
9. The fact that you did not go to bed on an empty stomach last night.
10. The fact that you haven’t lived your entire life within a 50 km radius.
13. The fact that you have never been sexually abused by someone you cannot speak a word against.
14.Your job that pays you more than 80 cents a day.
18. Your clothes and the fact that you have more then two sets of them.
19. Your ability to read.
20. The fact that you did not/will not have to wait 7-8 years to buy a new set of clothing for your kids.
Once again, I do not pretend to know what duties one human being has towards another but trying to be as generous as possible seems like a good idea. If this list does not prompt you to reconsider some of your ideas about your personal wealth and privilege, something else will.
Apart from fighting for the rights of Kamlaris and her community, Chaudhary has been battling cancer for the last four years.
And by joining high school, she has renewed her crusade against discrimination and exploitation.
This article is republished from Globalvoicesonline.org