Dancing in dissent

Around two-thirty in the afternoon at Jitpur, a little off the T-junction on the Kathmandu-Kakani highway, a young woman in fariya-cholo was dancing to a catchy tune on the unpaved road: ladda laddai mero yo jyan gaegaijala, mero pyaro laltika pyaro jaljala. (Let me die fighting for you, my dear red revolution).

From a marquee behind her, a square, red drape read: “Let’s boycott the unpatriotic, anti-people and reactionary so-called second election of the Constituent Assembly. Kathmandu, Election Constituency number 7.” Hisila Yami won the 2008 CA election from this constituency.

But the senior politicians Samana Pariwar—a cultural troupe affiliated to Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M)—directed its satire, and sometimes unveiled contempt, at were Prachanda and Yami’s husband, Baburam Bhattarai. The two also made it, after Sikkim’s Lendup Dorjee, into a closing dohori sung by the members of the troupe: Desh dubyo Prachanda/Baburam parale, dukha paye janata saarale. (Prachanda, Baburam in the next stanza, led the country into the gutter, and people now suffer). Young men couldn’t stop dancing.

Usually, however, the message hovered away from petty politicians and focused on country, against Sikkimisation, on nationality, equality and classless society, on, as one of the MCs said, matters of liberation. Four young men in combat uniform tried to display it through a fusion of classical and modern dance and their abundant revolutionary ardour. Aau Yuwa ho aau sathi ho, hamro bhagya, hamro bhabisya tyehi bhetinchha, tyehi bhetinchha jaba samanatako gham jhulkinchha (Come youth, come friends, our fate, our future rises only with the dawn of equality).

Although old and middle-aged men were also in the hundred-plus crowd of spectators, the artists were appealing mostly the youth to fight to call this country their own because this proposed election was not for Dalits, women or porters. Khil Raj Regmi was an India-loving, Dalit-loathing pundit. Prachanda, his socialism and terrorism, and his production brigade were all sham. And if these two thought they could fool Nepalis with the promise of a constitution through the second CA, the real Maoists, the true ones, were willing to take up arms once again.

“Do you think the election will take place in Mangshir (November)” asked a man dressed up as a journalist.

“Mangshir is for nuptials, not elections,” replied Aroha Nepali, a talented young man playing Regmi.

“People say you don’t allow Dalits in your residence. Is that true?”

“All men are equal, but dung beetles should remain in dung.”

The subsequent act, in which Nepali played a drunken production brigade commander in Hetauda waiting for ‘the production’ to start, was equally punchy until the rain halted it. The commander comes out of a shop, holding a bottle of Tuborg and sings the popular drunkard’s song: Bottleko panile aankha sankai nanile (This bottle’s water…glares little mistress). A journalist then asks him about ‘the production’. The commander says it’s sensitive. “Sensitive?” asks the journalist, to which the commander replies, “Private”. Instead of wheat, or vegetables, the commander has recently produced a son—a formula lifted from Prachanda’s son Prakash, skilled at producing wives every six months. And about socialist revolution. “What is mean by socialism? Terrorism? Imperialism? Here is water aaing, yaar.”

After the “natural problem” obstructed the performances, the programme turned to the message on the red banner, denouncing vigorously the upcoming election. Maila Lama, the charismatic chairperson of the Samana Pariwar, rose from a chair borrowed from a tea stall nearby and stood on the deck of a shop acting as the platform for distinguished guests. The party, he said, was not against election, but if the leaders could not draft a constitution in four years, how could they now?

Maila Lama, now a resident of Sitapaila, was 23, a college kid, when Prachanda sold him the dream of a beautiful, classless society. During the war, he impaired his vision and lost his hearing and a finger to a bomb attack in Kavre. Since then, he has released three music albums, some co-written with leader Biplav: Naya Sankalpa, Yatri Jindagiko and Matribhumi, the last one launched before the CPN-M split from its parent party. Ninety percent of the members from the cultural troupe then shifted its allegiance to Mohan Baidya, following Lama’s lead. During the last CA election, he contested from Kathmandu, constituency number 9, but lost to a rival from the Nepali Congress. From the deck he shouted in the mike, “Prachanda does not have a plan. We, the Maoists, do. In 20 years, we will make Nepal like Europe.”

Ek Raj Bhandari, CPN-M central committee member and the leader of the election boycott campaign, kept the mud slinging at Prachanda and the November 19 election: The unified Maoists party was not Prachanda’s to divide. CPN-M is not obliged to abide by the 12-point agreement. It was signed as merely a means to a new people’s government. This boycott campaign is just a jiwanjal right now, not the 1,000 mg strong antibiotic it can be. If they want to go for an election without consensus, let them. Crush our rebellion and write the constitution. Lock the doors and promulgate it. We will burn it. Lal Salaam.

The talented performances and fiery speeches entertained the audience, including a few policemen; many were unconvinced. Fifty-seven-year-old farmer, Akka Bahadur Tiwari, who voted Nepali Congress during the last CA, said he would boycott the election this time. But not because the leaders will fail to write an inclusive constitution, but because the road, which acted as the stage for the programme, was carved thirty-four years ago during the Panchayat and no subsequent democratic leaders have bothered to blacktop it. Once Rs 4 million and later Rs 1.5 million were rumoured to be allocated for the road, but the money simply vanished. And the bus fare for the three-kilometre long road, for the Tinpiple-Jitpur Fedi-Nepaltar-Bypass route, is simply outrageous at Rs 20.

Another farmer, Maila Tamang, will also boycott the election because back in 1979, a bag of fertiliser cost Rs 250, now it’s Rs 2,600. Besides, while his four brothers have already received their voter registration cards, Tamang’s is missing.

On August 17, Samana Pariwar organised a programme at Jitpur, Kathmandu, bordering Nuwakot. The troupe has been organising five to six such programmes everyday throughout the nation for almost a month after the CPN-M party launched the election boycott campaign. In the next few weeks, the troupe plans to organise much bigger programmes.

Published: 31-08-2013, The Kathmandu Post

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From Mumbai to Magsaysay

When six of her 10 children died young like chickens in autumn, Sunita Danuwar’s mother thought it was a witch’s doing and the family decided to move out of Dailekh to Jammu and Kashmir in India. Once there, the family built a hut on a land leased from the locals and worked on potato farms and apple orchards. Danuwar’s father was also a mason and a carpenter and the little girl trailing behind him picked up his skills. But what Danuwar, then Ban Sanyasi, remembers the most about Kashmir is snow and how they used to make chatpate out of it to enjoy on hot days. She was five when she moved to Kashmir.

Nine years later, her 16-year-old brother would go missing. Danuwar’s uncle had come to visit and when he left, her brother went with him, no one knew where. The family decided to follow a lead that surmised the two might have gone to Nainital. On their way down, they stopped at Almora, Uttarakhand, to make money for the journey. For a month there, Danuwar’s parents, her older sister and her husband, and Danuwar herself started piling rocks and pebbles from the riverside for tractors to haul away.

Danuwar was 14 then, with her cheeks often compared to Kashmiri apples by young men, especially by two tractor drivers in their early-twenties. The men had no names, or at least none that Danuwaur remembers, but they were Nepalis. The Indians called them ‘bahadur’ and her parents ‘babu’, she just ‘dai’. They too addressed her as they would a sister and even went as far as to dole out free advice. “You are a grown up now. You shouldn’t be a burden to your family when you could work and look after them. Come with us and we will find you a job.” To which, Danuwar would reply, “If you know so much about jobs, how come you are driving tractors?” By the end of the month in Almora, the family had earned around IRs 5000 in wages. On their last night in the district, Danuwar’s family rented a room at a roadside lodging in fear of missing the early bus out, but they were not alone. The two tractor drivers said they too were leaving for Nainital and bought laddoos to commemorate the start of the journey.

Danuwar hesitated. So did her father, but eventually he gave in and took a laddoo. After her father seemed fine, Danuwar followed suit. When she woke up, she was no longer in Almora.

Danuwar began to scream. A Tamang woman told her that two young men had brought her on a trip and that they were out buying new clothes for her. “Take a bath and make yourself comfortable,” the woman said.

When the day went by and the two did not return, the woman told Danuwar to get ready for ‘dhanda’, by which Danuwar thought she meant cleaning dishes and washing clothes. When the woman added, “Look pretty and made-up”, and Danuwar still seemed confused, the woman flung her hands in the air and cried, “This is Mumbai. You have to look pretty and keep men satisfied.”

Danuwar understood. She had been sold for around IRs 80,000 to a brothel in Mumbai, but she would never be ready for any dhanda regardless of threats of death. The fight with the ‘gharwali’ continued for a month until the day one of the tractor drivers walked in with a nine-year-old girl. After depositing the little girl, the man went inside the bathroom. When he walked out, she slapped him, and received one from the gharwali standing behind her.  Soon after, Danuwar was sold to another galli, five minutes away, for double the amount. There, to get her ‘used to’ dhanda, a gang raped her. She only felt numb.

For five months she remained in that galli, along with around 30 other Nepali girls who weren’t allowed to talk to each other or go outside beyond the chain-gates guarded by men, unless you had resigned to fate and accepted prostitution as your sole profession. An Indian client was charged IRs 300 an hour, IRs 3,000 a night and a foreigner IRs 2,000-5,000 an hour, more than double that for a night. Nepali men were not allowed. Ironically, the gharwali thought these men would save the Nepali women trapped in those gallis.

The actual knights in shining armour, however, would be the Indian government and seven Nepali organisations—Women’s Rehabilitation Centre, Maiti Nepal, Child Workers in Nepal, Navajyoti Training Centre, Shanti Rehabilitation Shelter, Stri Shakti and the Agroforestry, Basic health and Cooperative Nepal—which in 1996, six months after Danuwar was sold into prostitution, raided these gallis and rescued children under the age of 18. Of around 200 rescued, only 128 were able to eventually return home to Nepal; the rest were denied entry either for lack of citizenship or for being a ‘poko of HIV/AIDS’. The Nepali government could not even pay for the airfare—Bollywood actor Sunil Shetty did.

Once in Nepal, the road to recovery and reconciliation with the past began. Danuwar wrote a letter to her uncle in Dailekh, but they refused to come visit her in Kathmandu. She tried travelling to Dailekh in search of her kin, but the fear that she might not be welcome after what had happened or that she might once again find herself in Mumbai prevented her, until last year. But by then it would be too late; her mother had been dead for eight years and her father for three. The only consolation: they had at least found her older brother in Nainital with her uncle.

Her eldest sister in Bardia told her they did look for her as well after she went missing, but because they had no pictures of her, the search could get nowhere. Danuwar finds it a poor excuse: They should have kept looking, like she is, for those two faces that changed her life.

“I can never forget them. Even now, I pause to check when I think I’ve seen them. They must look different now, but their young faces are engrained in my memory,” says Danuwar, now 31 and chairperson of the Shakti Group, a non-government organisation, formed soon after her return from India, dedicated to fighting human trafficking.

Shakti Group was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Published: 03-08-2013, The Kathmandu Post