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Kopila Wosti: A Girls’ Dreams Shattered as Nepal Fails to Curb Child Marriage

A study by HRW organization showed that child marriage was prevalent throughout Nepal and practiced in Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities.

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A portrait of a girl who was married at age 16 is shown in a presentation by New York-based Human Rights Watch during the release of a report on child marriage in Nepal in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sept. 8, 2016. Image source: VOA
  • Child marriage is a serious problem in Nepal. There are laws against the practice of child marriage which make them illegal in the country but the government has not been successful in implementing such policies
  • One such case is of Kopila Wosti, who was married off by her father at the age of 14
  • She was denied a chance to get a education and choose her own partner
  • A researcher from, Human Rights Watch, conducted a study which revealed that poverty, illiteracy and society’s disapproval of unmarried women was the root cause of the practice of child marriage.

Kopila Wosti was a 14-year-old young bride, who her father married off to a 19-year-old stranger. A year later, she gave birth to a baby girl. By the time she was 20, she had three children.

“The first time I became pregnant, I was not even aware I was going to be a mother and did not know how to raise the child,” said Wosti, now 34, as she sat cross-legged on the floor of a shelter home in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu.

Separated from her husband for over a decade, Wosti blames the marriage for ruining her life — denying her the chance of going to school and of choosing a more suitable partner.

“There are women of my age who are yet to have children,” said the petite woman, dressed in a green shirt and trousers, with her long black hair tied up in a bun.

“I could have gone to school and had a better future, too. But all that is a dream now,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Law not enforced

Child marriage is illegal in Nepal, yet the impoverished Himalayan nation has failed to put in place policies to curb the practice, with almost 40 percent of girls married before age 18, a report by Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

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It found that poverty, compounded by illiteracy and society’s disapproval of unmarried women, compelled many parents to seek out husbands for their daughters.

Yet child marriage often results in a vicious cycle of malnutrition, poor health and ignorance, since a child bride is more likely to drop out of school and experience problems during pregnancy and childbirth.

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Her children are more likely to be underweight or die before age 5, said the report, which was based on over 100 interviews with children, former child brides, parents, and activists.

“Many children in Nepal, both girls, and boys, are seeing their futures stolen from them by child marriage,” said Heather Barr, women’s rights researcher at HRW.

“Nepal’s government promises to reform, but in towns and villages across the country, nothing has changed.”

Heather Barr, center, a researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, speaks during the release of a report on child marriage in Nepal in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sept. 8, 2016. Image source: VOA
Heather Barr, center, a researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, speaks during the release of a report on child marriage in Nepal in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sept. 8, 2016. Image source: VOA

Deep roots in society

The study showed child marriage was prevalent throughout Nepal and practiced in Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities.

Government officials said the deeply entrenched nature of child marriage, which the nation has vowed to end by 2030, made it hard to tackle.

“The government considers child marriage as an act of violence and is making efforts to end the scourge, which is deep rooted in the society,” Sushila Paudel, an official from Nepal’s women’s ministry, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

One-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).

Child marriage is most prevalent in sub-Saharan African countries such as Niger and Chad, but because of population size, the largest number of child brides live in South Asia.

Marriage for food

Nepal, home to 28 million people, has the third-highest rate of child marriage in Asia after Bangladesh and India, with 37 percent of girls marrying before 18.

The country outlawed the practice five decades ago with a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 rupees ($95). The age of marriage is set at 20 years old for both men and women.

But HRW said the law was seldom enforced, with complaints rarely investigated by police or prosecuted.

Police were not immediately available for comment. HRW said gender discrimination and poverty were key factors driving child marriage. Almost 25 percent of Nepalis live on a less than $1.25 a day.

“Some girls said they welcomed a child marriage because they hoped it might mean they had more to eat, a hope that was not always fulfilled,” the report said.

In many communities it is normal for girls to marry soon after puberty, as parents will avoid paying a higher dowry to the groom’s family if the bride is younger, it said. (VOA)

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Injustice to Gorkhas in India

People are anxiously awaiting the big day when PM Modi will truly keep his words -- "Gorkhaka sapna, Mera sapna" and thus return back their land

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Injustice, Gorkhas, India
Indeed, it’s Gorkha army which is one of the most robust “armours” of the country.

BY SALIL GEWALI

One thoughtful scholar from Punjab had written once on his Facebook wall — “While our brave Gorkha soldiers are shooting the dreaded terrorists in the hostile Indo-Park borders, in Darjeeling their relatives are being gunned down by the West Bengal Government. What a contrary fact and heartless act!”  It was in the year 2017 when the Gorkhaland movement witnessed the despicable brutality of the Mamata Government. Injustice.

 Logically speaking, is this the price for being patriotic, and serving the country at the cost of life? Does it come under the laws of the land that those who shed blood for the nation should also be treated apathetically and even hurt grievously?  I think we have to recheck the constitution and sit down for serious introspection. I don’t think it is right to hit a person with a ladle spoon who lovingly cooks and serves you the food.

Injustice, Gorkhas, India
I think we have to recheck the constitution and sit down for serious introspection.

Firstly, it should be borne in mind that the history of Gorkha is not littered with any kind of treacherous misdeeds. The betrayal of trust, be it in service or in social setup, is not in their DNA. They never at any time acted like a terror group against India which some leaders want to claim. Indeed, it’s Gorkha army which is one of the most robust “armours” of the country. For ages, the fierce Gorkha fighters have been standing like a rock along the porous borders and terror-ridden POK et al in order to protect the country and safeguard its citizens within.  Of course, many top leaders never miss admiring our warriors — ‘Indians are sleeping because those brave soldiers are not asleep’. Given the spine-chilling situations across the borders, it is no an exaggerated appreciation either. 

A rare pride which the Indian Army often takes for having at its disposal 7 number of dedicated Gorkha Regiments such as 1 Gorkha Rifles (GR), 3 GR , 4 GR , 5 GR, 8 GR, 9 and 11 GRs, is always encouraging and rays of hope. These badass regiments had been most confidently chosen to put up strong fights against the Sino-Indian War in 1962, the Indo-Pakistani War in 1971, Battle of Sylhet, Kargil War in 1999. And, on several occasions, they represented Indian Army to serve in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Siachen and also sent for UN peacekeeping missions to Sudan, Lebanon, and Sierra Leone. How they fought and what ways they earned the unmatched commendations for “valor” are fully recorded in the arm forces archives. Yes, there hardly a month goes without a couple of brave Gorkha warriors being martyred while fighting against the enemy. 

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But what do ones feel when these loyal army personnel’s children and relatives are accused of having connections with the terrorists or insurgent groups? This is quite outrageous. What a big irony that during the present Trinamool’s rule the West Bengal has witnessed, and also endured, a lot many horrendous activities that have literally convulsed the state. Here now exist a swarm of “special citizens” who never hesitate to have a connection with terror elements/groups within and outside. But they all are well snuggled by all-comforting and forgiving Chief Minister who is popularly known as Didi. No wonder, it is often reported that many of her loving voters, who are mostly ill-bred but over- pampered, were even caught red-handed manufacturing bombs. Such “special citizens” are round-the-clock posing threats to the “indigenous Bengali” populace also — “Baduria and Basirhat communal”  clashes, and Murshidabad being the latest in which a brutal murder took place, putting humanity to shame. Here army has no power to use even a “Lathi” (stick)  upon those special citizens while in Darjeeling Didi has given “draconian power” to gun down even the innocent pedestrians.

Injustice, Gorkhas, India
I don’t think it is right to hit a person with a ladle spoon who lovingly cooks and serves you the food.

Well, NIA (National Investigating Agency) has unearthed many such “special citizens” having established secret nexus with other underground brigands outside the country too. It was also brought to the public that their special academic institutions also teach such kind of “lessons” to the children which themselves are the “recipe for disaster”.  Many are of the apprehension, instead of expanding the “economic investments”, the Chief Minister of the West Bengal is facilitating the “explosive investments” which have almost put the country in dire straits.  But, our all-merciful Didi never felt any regret, nor threatened and worried.

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But contrastingly, when no-nonsense Gorkha populace humbly kneels down and beg her to resolve their identity crises then she loses her cool. If they persist with their demand then her administration sends ruthless police forces. Needless to say, the backbone of security of the nation has apparently stolen the Chief Minister’s sense of security. She hurried herself to make a number of caste-based developmental boards. Cunningly schemed, the move was ostensibly to sever the mutual bonds among the several Gorkha tribes/castes and thus plant the seeds of discord in every possible way. The imposition of the compulsory Bengali language upon the Gorkha is the Chief Minister’s long-term plan but the plan was severely criticized. Mamata Didi must have felt the link language Nepali used by Gorkha, which is constitutionally recognized, could act as a great unifying factor among the Gorkha’s castes. The CM must have feared that her objective could not be achieved if the Gorkha’s lingua franca (Nepali) is not undermined at the outset. 

Injustice, Gorkhas, India
Firstly, it should be borne in mind that the history of Gorkha is not littered with any kind of treacherous misdeeds.

Yes, thus West Bengal CM’s excessive passion for remaining in power has amply brought out what is worst in human. She never gave a second thought to deploy the central forces in Darjeeling. And consequently, 15 innocent Gorkhas were shot dead. But it did not touch the CM’s heart.  Her police force rather pounced upon even the poor and naïve women from the villages and tortured them brutally. It is usually expected that one, being wrapped in a “white sari”, and with a “hawai chappal”, should always walk on the path of humility and compassion, not ever being overcome by the materialistic greed and antagonism. But here Mamata-ji has seemingly beaten even the snobbish pretense of a Bollywood’s star by cleverly masking her “true self” with the garb of “sanyaasini’’. A good many dirty scams by her party men have long sullied Didi’s  “lily white sari”. 

Injustice, Gorkhas, India
The betrayal of trust, be it in service or in social setup, is not in their DNA.

It is quite apparent that Mamata-ji is steadily eyeing Darjeeling and its adjoining areas as her private fiefdom.  It seems a bunch of good scholars are now urgently required to wise her up about its history. She probably does not know about the Nepal Kingdom (after the Anglo-Nepalese War) was prudent enough to come to have a patch-up agreement, under Sugauli Treaty 1815-16, with then rapaciously imperialist ‘East India Company’. So, “Nepal Kingdom’’, to avoid continuous unpleasant conflicts, surrendered about one-fourth of its land to the British.  This included the major chunk of the mountainous, hilly and plain terrains. Areas like Darjeeling, Sikkim, Nainital, Kumaon, and Garhwal handed over to the East India Company. Rationally speaking, if all this vast area of land, its mountains, its pristine hills, rivers, flora and fauna can be regarded as Indian then why can’t the human inhabitants in it? Why is there so much skepticism and callousness? It is totally unconstitutional. Well, if our leaders still dilly dally and desist from resolving the identity crises of the two-legged native of this land then I would suggest them to meet and

consult the bio-scientists and geoscientists, and if doubt still persists, then rush for the psychiatrist. Well, now all eyes are fixed on Shri Raju Bista, a very dynamic, prudent and considerate MP elected by the Gorkha people. He and his party BJP has made the solemn assurance during the last election. People are anxiously awaiting the big day when PM Modi will truly keep his words — “Gorkhaka sapna, mera sapna” by returning back their land.  

Yes, when I shared this article with one of my friends from New Delhi, he sharply retorted – “It is a total injustice to the Gorkha people by our leaders. Such apathy of a pluralist Nation towards those brave and loyal soldiers who “came with the land” is unbecoming. Even UNO or World leaders will be shocked when they know how Gorkha are demonized in their own land.”

Injustice, Gorkhas, India
They never at any time acted like a terror group against India which some leaders want to claim.

Incidentally, Indian leaders jump in ecstasy when Sunil Chhetri scores a goal. Whole India cheers for Chhetri’s outstanding performances and lovingly call him Ronaldo of India. Shiva Thapa was affectionately patted on his back by none other than PM Narendra Modi while seeing-off for the Olympic. One feels, Gorkhas have enough of the “lip services” from Indian leaders. Now what is most important is a “true pat” on the back of the ‘’whole Gorkhas’’ by fixing their identity crises. Well, Gorkhas came with the land, never like other invaders or infiltrators who have been posing serious threats to the NATION and sovereignty. Gorkhas are the stout walls of security and integrity for the country. It is time for the Indian government to pay back their dues with gratitude. They can’t bite the bullet all the time under the brutally “heartless administration” of West Bengal.  

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali