Nepali Times goes back to meet some of the people it profiled in 2015
Not so lucky
The story of his miraculous survival made headlines in newspapers and magazines in Nepal and around the world. But global attention hasn’t brought in much help for the family of Sonish Awal, the baby who was rescued alive after 22 hours from the rubble of his house in Bhaktapur.
Eight months on since the earthquake, the Awal family is still homeless and living in a barely furnished one-room apartment rented out by a friend. Six months ago when Nepali Times interviewed them, they were staying in the basement of the same house.
“Everyday has been a struggle,” says Rasmila, the baby’s mother. Due to the fuel crisis her husband Shyam has also been struggling to find work as a driver. He spends most of his days queuing up for fuel.
“That’s fewer working days and less money,” says Rasmila. Without a steady income, the family is barely scraping by. Even though a benefactor has paid one year of school fees for Sonish’s sister, Sonia, their mother is unsure if she’ll be able to continue sending her daughter to school.
To add to the family’s troubles, the land on which their house was built has been mapped out for a road expansion drive. “We are homeless now but once the road widening starts, we will be landless as well,” says Rasmila.
Despite the hardship the family has been through, Rasmila repeats what she told us six months ago: “If I think of all the difficulties the family faces, I’ll spend my days crying. I see my two children and realise how lucky I am that they are alive.”
The baby who lived, Sahina Shrestha
Tears of joy
Rising from the dust
“The images of violence and killings from that day still haunt me,” says Bir Bahadur KC of Pashuhat Bazar in Tikapur, recalling the deadly clash between Tharuhat protesters and police on 24 August in which nine policemen were lynched and a two-year-old child shot dead.
Four months later, things look much calmer in the surface on the dirt lanes and farms of Tikapur, but there is still simmering resentment among the Tharu and Pahade residents of the area.
“We still can’t move freely at night, and fear for our lives,” admits a Tharuhat leader. After August, many Tharu families fled the area fearing reprisals from police and residents. Some including those of Resham Lal Chaudhary, Janak Raj Chaudhari and Tilak Chaudhari still haven’t returned to their homes.
The families of police killed and the family which lost the child are also not satisfied with the government’s response even though they got Rs 1 million for each deceased.
“What will I do with the money? It’s not going to bring my son back,” says Yashoda Saud, the mother of the two-year-old boy who was shot dead by protesters. “What I need is to see the person who killed my son go to jail.”
Among the 58 people who were charged with murder or abetting murder, 22 are in police custody while the rest are at large. Among those on the run are Dhaniram Chaudhary and Reshamlal Chaudhary of the Tharu Welfare Society who are said to have masterminded the attack.
However, lawyers representing those who have been imprisoned question the integrity of the police investigation. They claim that the police arrested random people without any evidence just to give the impression that they had done their job quickly.
“The police rounded up innocent people and presented false charge sheets,” says defence lawyer Nathuram Mahato. After the incident, prosecutors presented affidavits at the district court, call details of those who were arrested, mobile phone videos and recorded conversations between Dhaniram Chaudhary and Reshamlal Chaudhary.
“We’ve left no stone unturned. It’s a full and fair investigation,” says Deputy Sub-Inspector Bishwaraj Khadka. “All 58 of the arrested are guilty and we are trying to track down those who are at large.”
But the parents of some of those who were arrested claim their children were wrongfully charged. “My son can’t even speak properly, but the police took him in for questioning and filed a case against him,” says Sonia Chaudhary. The wife of another arrested, Sundar Chaudhary, says her husband wasn’t even in Tikapur on the day of the protest.
Another accused, a 14-year-old boy named Karan, is said to be mentally disabled. His parents admit he was present at the scene, but played no part in the violence. The people here have little trust in the police investigation.
Though a committee headed by the former chief of the National Investigation Department, Deviraj Chaudhary, submitted a report of the incident, it has still not been released.
Says Narendra Bista, brother of slain policeman Balram Bista: “All of the accused haven’t been punished, but at least the report should be released.”
Bachu BK in Kailali
Ground zero in Kailali, Om Astha Rai
Footnotes from the Far-West, Anurag Acharya
Getting away with murder, Post B. Basnet
Dying for rights
Sobiya Khatun is just 20 but is eight-month pregnant with her second child. An uneducated young Muslim woman from Gajwonapur of Bara district has been reminded of the meaning of the word ‘rights’ since her husband Hifajat Ansari was shot dead by police in Kalaiya on 1 September. She was five-month pregnant at the time.
“He went out to buy medicines for his mother who had a fever, but there were rallies and tear gas so I told him to go later in the afternoon,” says Khatun, holding on to her one-year-old daughter who is disabled.
Her husband repaired bikes and used to talk about the need to struggle for Madhesi rights so their children could have a brighter future. More than 1,000 people attended Ansari’s funeral, but no one from the government or the police came to visit.
“He would still be alive if he didn’t have to go to pharmacy that day,” says Khatun who is trying to learn a skill so she can take care of her family. She knows it is dangerous but wants to join protest at least once in memory of her husband and his struggle for rights.
Seulki Lee in Bara
Death of an unlikely protester
Happily ever after
Just a day before the earthquake on 25 April, Jamuna Neupane and Kumar Rai decided that they would elope. The two had met two years ago when Jamuna was visiting her sister in Kathmandu. Kumar ran a handicraft workshop on the top floor of the same building.
The two fell in love, but kept their relationship a secret. Kumar finally told his parents, who were happy to hear the news. Jamuna was unsure if her parents would accept an inter-ethnic relationship. Afraid that they would get her married off to someone else if they found out, the two decided to run away to Kumar’s home in Sindhupalchok.
But the earthquake forced them to put their plans on hold. Jamuna returned to Dharan where her family found out and locked her up in a room. Worried, Kumar rushed to Dharan and rescued her. The couple headed to Sipaghat of Sindhupalchok where they hastily got married, and the photograph of their wedding procession amidst the rubble made it to the front page of Nepali Times.
They spent a month in Sindhupalchok and then moved to a rented apartment in Kapan in Kathmandu. Eight months after the earthquake, the two are happily married. Says Jamuna: “He is very hardworking and keeps at it even when faced with difficulties and that is what I like about him.”
“She takes care of me and the house. If I make a mistake she corrects it. But sometimes she can be a little strict,” Kumar says, laughing.
Jamuna says her life has changed since they got married, and she is still getting used to sharing her life. “Before marriage all you had to do was think about yourself. Now I worry about whether or not our business will do well and how to run the household,” she says.
Kumar has shifted his handicraft workshop to their current address and employs four others. Both say they don’t regret the decision they made and are happy they found each other. Kumar is planning to finally meet his in-laws soon, and hopes they will accept him.
The couple feels there is no such thing as caste or ethnicity when it comes to love, the main thing is to keep each other happy. “Before I met her, I didn’t think I’d get married so soon,” says Kumar smiling, “but I knew she was the one I’d marry.”
Love in the time of quakes, Devaki Bista
Binita Devi Shah was widowed at 22 this year when police shot dead her husband, Sohan Sah Kalawar on 2 September during the Madhes agitation in Parsa district. Kalawar went out to the main street to buy medicine for his mother when he was caught up in the protests.
Kalawar had opened a tea shop to earn extra income to raise his two sons and take care of his 50-year-old mother. The plan was for Devi to run the teashop while he went to Malaysia to earn money. All those hopes have now been dashed.
Kalawar’s mother Subira Devi wept as she showed her son’s passport. “After he died I am out of my mind, I cannot stop thinking about him,” she tells a visitor, “we need help, but so many people come, ask questions and just leave.”
Since her husband died, Binita Devi has become more vocal about Madhesi rights. “My husband died for the cause, and that is why I must also know about it,” she says. “If the government accepts the 11-point demand of the Madhesi Front there will be more opportunities for me and my children.”
Seulki Lee in Parsa
Faces of Madhes
Picking up the pieces
It took just one minute for Nirmala Maharjan’s life to be turned upside down on 25 April. Her husband, Raju, brother-in-law and his family died when their home collapsed in Tuchigale of Patan.
“I will remember that day for as long as I live,” says Maharjan, eyes downcast. She and her two sons and mother-in-law are staying in a flat provided by the local community of Khapinche.
Thanks to donations from overseas, Nirmala is busy these days in building a new house, but she is not sure whether it will survive a future quake. A heap of bricks from the collapsed building reminds her of the relatives she lost. She wishes she had a job so she can finish her house and take care of her sons and the rest of her family.
“I don’t want to be a burden for the community so I hope we can move into the new house as soon as possible,” says Maharjan who is grateful that a Nepali Times reporter visited her after the earthquake. “I’m grateful that you came back to see us again.”
Microcosm of a calamity, Cynthia Choo and Sonia Awale