At first glance, Drona Kumari Pandey is like any ordinary Nepali woman from the hills with a migrant worker husband working in the Middle East and two children to raise. But when she is introduced, it is her profession that raises eyebrows. Officially she's a Gramin Pashu Swastha Karyakarta, a rural animal health worker. In layman's terms she's a castrator.
In her mid-30s, Drona Kumari is the only woman in Sankhuwasabha district, and one of only a handful countrywide, to practice a profession that does not welcome women, to put it mildly. Earlier she was plagued by criticism and mockery from men. "They would tell me, being a woman, how can you even touch the vital organs of animals?"
In tears, she sought advice from her husband, who has worked in Saudi Arabia for the past six years. He told her to ignore the public jeering and gave her his full support. Encouraged, she persevered and today is making a living out of castration.
In 2003, Drona Kumari took part in a 50-day training session in Jhapa under a women's empowerment initiative funded by the British agency, DfID. Afterward, she was given a tool called Burdzzo Castrator. Since then, she has been crisscrossing Sankhuwasabha district and has castrated over 450 goats and bulls in the last two years. "I used to feel guilty seeing goats suffer but now I find it normal," she recalls.
As Dasain approaches, there is a lot of demand for Drona Kumari's services. She dreams of settling in a larger town and having a proper professional set-up so that she can turn her job into an industry. She also wants to learn more about animal health. "If ever my dream comes true, I will employ a lot of women," she says, "it may seem like one needs a lot of guts to do this job but it's a job like any other." Adds Drona Kumari with a big smile: "and it feels good when people call you a doctor."