"No man would like to sleep with me. I have nothing to offer to them! Yet, I am forced to sell my body. I come to this street every day and offer sex to men for 50 to 100 rupees. Some pay me a thousand rupees. Some sleep with me freeof cost and steal my money." – Sundari Nepal (name changed for obvious reason.)
Sundari Nepal is a 55-year-old urban sex worker in Kathmandu, Nepal. I met her while talking with several sex workers to gather their expectations from the new constitution.As we mentioned Nepal’slaws, government and society, Sundari burst into tears. It clenched our hearts and our eyes filled with tears too. As she shared her plight, I felt the pain in my bones and therefore I am sharing her story:
"My name is Sundari Nepal. This year I turned 55. My maternal home is in Far WestNepal and my home is in a mountainous village in the Mid-West. I was married when I was 12 years old before my puberty. My husband was 22 years at the time of our marriage. He worked for the Indian Army and soon after the marriage, he left for deployment. My mother-in-law was visually impaired and my father-in-law couldn’t hear. I had 5 sisters-in-law of my age and younger.
Life after marriage was laborious. I had to wake up at 4 am and walk for 30 minutes to reach the cowshed, collect dung and grass, and feed the cows. By the morning, I had to carry bundles of grass taller than me. I had to cook for the entire family, feed them, finish the chores and I had to go to the farm to start my work.
When I came back tired from the market, I had to start preparing dinner. By the time the meal was cooked it was already 10 pm. The damp firewood took a long time to burn and created a lot of smoke. My father-in-law would lash out at me for my poor skills with the firewood. It was very difficult. I would be done by midnight but before going to bed, I had to oil massage my mother-in-law. And again at 4 o’clock I had to wake up.
A year later, my husband returned to the village, and I became pregnant at 13 with a son. I later had 3 sons. My husband left his job in the army and moved to Kathmandu looking for employment. He used to come home during the festivals. In 2058 (1991), my neighbor received a call from Kathmandu. My husband, who was working as an electrician, had been killed due to electrocution. My eldest son was living in Kathmandu with his father. The last rites were performed in the village, after which my son left for Kathmandu again. Later, we came to know that he had married someone in the city. After his father's death and after getting married, he stopped sending money to us. I had to start looking after the house expenses. I had no source of income. I was illiterate and unskilled. One of my neighbors informed me about the widow security fund. He also suggested that I needed my husband's death certificate to claim the fund. I came to Kathmandu and reached the hospital to get my husband's death certificate. At the hospital I was told that the death certificate had already been handed over at the time of his death.
When I heard about the fund, I was hopeful that it would help me take care of my family. But I lost that hope; I started to cry. One of the hospital employees saw me, and he said that they could still provide me with the death certificate if I knew the exact date. The concerned guy was not in the hospital at that time and I would have to wait till he returned. I sat on a bench near the door, waiting for the man to arrive. There were lots of people coming in and out.
Just then, a lady in her mid-30s came rushing in. She put her bag next to me and said, "DIdi, I will put this bag here for a bit. I need to go and bring the blood report." Before I could say ok, the lady had walked into the crowd. Almost half an hour passed, but the lady did not return. I was putting the bag under the table to secure it, so I could check on the man's arrival. When I lifted the bag, I heard a child's cry. There was a baby in the bag. Within moments, everyone heard the baby. There was an uproar, with people cursing the woman who had abandoned her baby. A huge crowdgathered to look at the newborn, wrapped in a black shawl. People said, '' whose child is this?'' '' Why and who left in this situation?'' what a cruel mother, etc.
Some people were disgusted hearing that the baby was a girl. Some said they would have adopted the child if only she was a boy. By 4 o’clock that day, the child's mother had not returned. No one else was interested in the child. I couldn’t leave heralonethere. I had conceived three sons and I felt that this girl was a gift to me in the form of a daughter, and I decided to adopt her.
Before I could tell my son and daughter-in-law about the incident, they were saying the child came from my lover. "Don’t put on your drama. This kid has come from one of your lovers. Why didn’t the hospital take heror give her to the orphanage instead of handing her over to you?" I couldn’t feel the floor when my son said that.
I never felt the arm of a man other than my husband after I got married at 12. But my own son was doubting me. I told them to ask at the hospital, but they said they did not require any clarification. However,he pushed me out from the home and said go out immediately through the way I came before. I had no option. My eyes got wet; I rubbed my eyes with one hand and carried the baby by next hand... It was my first time in Kathmandu and I had no clue about what I would do. As I walked crying, I reached Maitidevi,I met a mid aged woman who was roasting corn in the street and described all my details. She showed sympathy towards me and took in her room. She bought powder milk, a baby bottle and some clothes for the baby.
The next day, I took the child with me, absolutely unknown about my destination. I called my son from a shop, hoping he had changed his thoughts. He snapped at me, saying they were shocked to know that I was still alive. It was painful and I started crying. The man at the shop offered me a household job. I agreed and started working. But the newborn baby was crying for her mother for24 hours. My employer got tired of the baby's crying and told me that I should handover the baby to the police or the hospital. I couldn’t let go of her, so I left the job instead.
While working at the house, I met a maintenance man. With his help,I started to remain in the open sky of the city and kept my body in the auction. I thought of killing myself several times amongst the lusting men. There was no difference between the little girl who had been abandoned by her mother and me who had been abandoned by my own children. I promised myself I would live for the little girl and do whatever I could to support her. I never spent the entire night with anyone, even if they paid me a lot of money. I don’t trust anyone.
My daughter is now 10 years old. She studies in class 3 in a boarding school. I have been selling myself to look after her expenses like school fees, stationaries, food and health expenses.
This society, the law and the government considerwhat I am doing illegal. They treat me with disgrace. Why doesn’t the government look after people like me who have to sell their body in order to survive? I am also a part of this society. Was it my fault that I gave life to a little girl who had been abandoned by her own mother? I do not have trust on any government, community or law because even the son whom I have kept for nine months in my own womb told me a ‘’prostitute’’Therefore, I do not trust anybody."As she finished, she cried out loud.
Menuka Thapa- President of RakshaNepa, www.rakshanepal.org