PICS: MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Uma was rescued by Rakshya Nepal, a charity dedicated to rehabilitating abused young women. Her body, hands and face are badly scarred but she is enrolled in driving lessons with eight other women rescued from violent husbands or abusive employers.
Sushmita Basnet lost her right arm when she was hit during crossfire in a battle at Mulkharka, Okhaldhunga five years ago. She was helicoptered out by the army and it took her one year to recuperate at Chhauni Hospital. Today, at 20, she has started rebuilding her life and, undaunted by her handicap, is taking tailoring lessons at Rakshya Nepal.
Rakshya Nepal was founded by Menuka Thapa, who herself sang at one of Kathmandu's dohori restaurants. After personally witnessing the mistreatment and abuse of women in the restaurant, Menuka was motivated to work against it.
Menuka interviewed 200 women, who also filled out questionnaires. Her study shows that 80 percent of the women working in these parlours were directly affected by the conflict. They came to Kathmandu in search of work and fell into the capital's netherworld of commercial sex. The dancers, the masseurs and the waitresses mostly come from Dhading, Makwanpur, Kabhre, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot, Ramechhap, Sindhuli and Dolakha. A majority were married but are separated.
Rakshya Nepal tries to help the women earn an alternative living by providing skills training. Besides driving and tailoring, the group also trains the women to become beauticians. Thirty former dance restaurant women have quit their jobs and are working in beauty parlours in the city. There are currently 50 women undergoing various types
of free training at Rakshya Nepal's training centres.
Twenty-two year old Sunita Chaudhary's father died when her mother was pregnant. Sunita came to Kathmandu from Bara when her mother married another man. She was forced to work at a dohori restaurant after the man she married started beating her up. She is now working as a beautician trainee. "I have no relatives left, the didis at Rakshya Nepal are my family now," she says.
Menuka Thapa knows that her work is a drop in the ocean. The plight of the women also shows just how conflict leaves long-term effects. "The government has to formulate clear policies so this blatant exploitation of women stops," she told Nepali Times, "there is only so much people like us can do."
Rakshya Nepal 01-6912734