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Nilam’s story

Sunday, February 21st, 2010
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Nilam

Every once in a while, travelling through Nepal, you come across a sight so incongruous that you have to blink your eyes to believe it.

We were in Gaighat, there was some chukka jam or other, and there were no vehicles on the streets. Neighbourhood children were playing badminton on the dusty road. Suddenly, there was the deep reverberating sound of a heavy-duty motorcycle.

A woman, dressed in jeans and T-shirt was driving past in a 123 cc Enticer. Sitting behind her was another woman carrying a bag. They roared off in a cloud of dust and parked alongside a building down the road. I learnt that she was Najbul Khan Nilam with a colleague from a battered women’s shelter called Muldhar.

Nilam, 33, is an iconoclast. As a Muslim woman living in rural eastern Nepal and being an activist for women’s empowerment is not an easy thing to be. And it is her own personal history has brought her this far. From her childhood, Nilam bore the brunt of the triple discrimination of what women from her community have to put up with it from family, community and society. But there was something in her genes that made Nilam rebel.

She rebelled against her conservative father, who discouraged her from going to school, by enrolling in adult literacy classes as a teenager. Her brother set fire to her salwar kamij, and Nilam started wearing t-shirts and jeans. Then he threw away all her books, and she taught herself to drive a Vikram Tempo and got a job as a driver to earn her own money so she wouldn’t have to depend on her family.

She saw many fellow-Muslim women suffering the same psychological and physical trauma that she went through, and she started helping them. But then she found that women from other communities in Udaypur also suffered discrimination, and decided to set up Muldhar.

The Mainstream Women Service Centre, as it is known in English, now works with Muslim, Madhesi, Tharu and Dalit women of Udaypur district. Nilam and her volunteers (all battered or abandoned women themselves) get a case almost every day: domestic violence, divorce, trafficking.

Supported by very modest grants from donors, Muldhar is now doing the work of an entire government line ministry in the district. Nilam climbs up the stairs to her office, which has mattreses stacked along the side. “It is for battered women who come here who are too scared to go back to their husbands,” Nilam explains.

The phone rings. A ten-year-old girl has been raped by a 67-year-old man in an adjoining village. She rushes downstairs, guns her Enticer and is off. We find out later that she has brought the man to the police station and started legal proceedings against him with the help of a woman lawyer.

The next day, Nilam travelled to Kathmandu with a woman who had been severely burnt in an acid attack by her husband. Nilam is modest about what she has achieved. She says her inspiration is Taslima Nasrin, the Bangladeshi author banished from her own country.

Asked what kind of help she’d like, Nilam says she doesn’t really need money. But having seen so many women die of domestic violence or at childbirth because they couldn’t be taken to hospital in time, she says: “I could do with a maternity ambulance. I’d drive it myself.”

A version of this article appeared in the hard copy of Nepali Times in May 2009.

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12 Responses to “Nilam’s story”

  1. Anonymous on Says:

    Brilliant, great work. This is change as it should be. You choose a path and you travel on it, regardless of what the world says. It is about your right to choose and to live that choice. The wrong is in not being true to yourself.


  2. Aakar on Says:

    Nice Story…Best of luck Nilam. Keep up the good work. I belive we need more Nilams.


  3. Kamal on Says:

    How true that one person make more of a difference than an entire government machinery! Nilam is proof of this. Let’s all pool our resources and get her a maternity ambulance. Maybe NT could start a collection campaign. If it can help save the life even one Nepali woman, it will be worth it. Kamal Upadhya


  4. Sarad Pradhan on Says:

    It is a good blow to our own so called women activities who prefer to go to abroad to attend meeting or conference rather than working for needy women. She is a role model, a real hero in true sense, a woman substance and a woman who inspires others to follow. Thanks Kunda Dai for such an informative article.


  5. Ken on Says:

    That’s the spirit of nationalism. We should first help our own kin rather than be anywhere else.


  6. JA on Says:

    great article, but he published the exact same story last may, with same content but slightly different wording, also in nepali times. why is this published twice?
    http://www.nepalitimes.com/issue/2009/05/08/Nation/15931


  7. radhika on Says:

    Ramro Kaam! all the best!


  8. May on Says:

    Nepal’s “donors” instead of lavishing millions in foreign “aid” that goes back to consultants from their own countries should earmark catalytic assistance to people like Nilam and bypass Nepal’s corrupt bureaucracy.
    M


  9. Paul Pettigrew on Says:

    You will be glad to hear that the Acid Survivors Trust International has set up an NGO Burn Violence Survivors Nepal to address the problem of domestic violence that results in the victim suffering severe burn or acid injuries.
    We are also delighted to note that on April 19, 2009 Nepal has finally followed the example of her neighbours, by enacting the Domestic Violence and Punishment Act 2065. However we are saddened that under the Law perpetrators will only be subject to up to four months of imprisonment and a fine of Rs6, 000 (about US$76). This is pretty pathetic as the original draft had been a six-month prison term, a fine of Rs25, 000, (aboutUS$325) or both. In India for example men who beat, threaten or even shout at their wives or live-in partners can be jailed for up to a year and fined 20,000 rupees (US$273).


  10. Nilam’s story at Asian Window on Says:

    […] Nilam, 33, is an iconoclast. As a Muslim woman living in rural eastern Nepal and being an activist for women’s empowerment is not an easy thing to be. And it is her own personal history has brought her this far. From her childhood, Nilam bore the brunt of the triple discrimination of what women from her community have to put up with it from family, community and society. But there was something in her genes that made Nilam rebel. More: […]


  11. dinesh on Says:

    yes, we need many Nilams to change the society. we should appreciate and support her cause. it is important that women made master of their Reproduction system not slave of her natural strengths. RH should be their rights, all preventable RH issues has to be addressed as family planning awareness, availability of means, prevention of cervical and breast cancers and Sexually Transmittable Infections.
    . nahdua, well women clinic in Kumaripati, lalitpur and Well women clinic in Baalmbu kathamndu are on the line to support women to take care their health.


  12. bikash on Says:

    women harassment is the most emerging issue of udayapur district. It’s good to see our sister’s like Nilams been involved for the cause.


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