My job basically was a translator and a coordinator of the trip. The name of the project was Women in Difficult Circumstances (WDC). The project worked against Human Trafficking by empowering women through Women’s group/Adolescent girl group and conducting awareness activities. Throughout the Makwanpur trip, we spoke to several women who were trafficked to brothels of Mumbai, Indian circus, and those who chose the Middle East for employment purpose. We conducted one on one interviews, often most times in a separate room with closed doors and windows shut. We were speaking only in our breaths, making sure nobody else would hear our conversation.
The interviews were just like peeling an onion. Poignant emotions, they were. Every time we peeled one layer of story, our eyes would well up more. The stories were raw, first-hand account of traumatic experiences from the victims themselves. I can share you about this lady, middle aged who was sold to a brothel by her neighbor in lure of good clothes and a better life. Seti Maya is her name. She is a native of rural VDC of Makwanpur district. She said that she was 17, married, and had a year old son when she decided to leave her house and son to go to this unknown place where her golden dreams would come true. I mean, the stories were just as dramatic as they sound in movies. After all, movies are inspired by real life, excluding South Indian Rajnikant type movies where every macho protagonist is buoyant while striking a punch against “the hero”. While in the brothel, Seti said she sometimes served up to 15 clients every day. She said she would be unconscious while her client raped her multiple times, berated with incomprehensible slurs, and dragged her about the floor. Seti said she lived in the brothel for 16 months. Apparently, Seti suffered from a breathing problem which required a daily shot (which I guess, should be a steroid shot for Asthma illness) and the front woman of a brothel would let her go outside to clinic to receive that shot every day. Later Seti told that the same illness made it possible for her to escape from that hell. One of the smart friends of Seti told her that she should utilize her time to go to the clinic as an escape method. Poor Seti was reluctant to even try that until then, as she thought that she would never be successful and would have to suffer more of physical punishment and verbal berating if the brothel owners find it out. However, one day, Seti said she was courageous enough to try her friend’s idea and hurray! she was successful. She said she had saved seventeen rupee IC from her share of tips and got into the taxi and asked the driver to drive her off from the area as far as that Rs. 17 would take. Later, she was able to return home after receiving help from local police station.
However, the ecstasy of freedom was to be short-lived. The stereotypical, discriminatory, judgmental, ignorant society once again trapped her life. First labeling her with ridiculous pet names such as “Randi,” “Marne-rog-lageki,”Besya” and others. Seti was later rehabilitated into her society when she found a loving husband who never mistreated her. Seti was living happily, a life of dignity; however, until recently. Some five years ago, Seti lost her husband. Before she could grieve about her husband lost, her society decided to add one more moniker behind her name, ” The Husband eater” or “Buda-khane.” Seti must have been jubilant with happiness when gathered all the courage to free herself from such a place. However, the safe haven she thought, her home, betrayed her. She now is living a life full of repent.
Seti cried like a baby for almost half an hour when she told us about this. It was really bitter to see Seti crying helplessly over my shoulder, recollecting all the bad memories. Everyone’s eyes pooled up with tears. I had been realizing that I was making Seti more vulnerable by making her relive all the bitter memories by asking all the probing questions. I know I was guilty and am guilty. However, it was necessary that the world learned about her stories, so that, more of Seti Maya would not be created in Nepalese land. Guilty logic, I provide.
We went through several of such interviews. It was emotionally draining to listen to those stories. Each day I would go to bed wondering how shielded our lives are. The beauty of middle-class status; leaves us completely ignorant about several of such stories; while it keeps on occurring so often that the community around does nothing than acting aloof about it.
Interviews were not sad only. We spoke to several such women who have become a survivor, a true hero in their community, and are now living a life full of dignity. This organization has connected women in the community by forming women action groups. The action group act as a self-help group or support network which conducts empowerment activities and teaches the women to speak, read, and write. For these women, who have been told all their lives to bow their head in front of strangers, and to not speak with anyone besides family members, being able to introduce themselves in front of a group of people whom they are meeting for the first time is a huge achievement. The ability to speak, to be able to come to the group and talk about their feelings, and be able to acquire some loan and conduct business to generate income for the family are the biggest achievement for their lives. It was truly delightful to hear the story of hope and change from these women.
Talk about self-professed ambassadors of empowerment, city born, beauty queens, for whom undersized clothes and tall heels are granted token of empowerment. I doubt if they have met any of these kinds of women. They are the real, the bonafide ambassadors of empowerment. I am very glad to have been able to meet these wonderful ladies.