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11/25/2006

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The Kathmandu Post

4 EXPRESSION

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Stop monkeying around, please!

Nepal's endangered Kumaris By DR DEEPAK SHIMKHADA do not usually become involved in matters that occur twelve thousand miles away. My rationale is that I can do very little from my location in a distant country. But when I read Surendra Phuyal's article ("Nepal 'goddess' inquiry ordered," BBC News, November 6, 2006), I felt compelled to respond. The article reports that the petition to the court was filed last year by a human rights group on the grounds of exploitation and psychological damage suffered by the girls selected as Kumaris. I am surprised that the court saw sufficient merit in the petition to order full investigation of the complaint. Chunda Bajracharya, a researcher on Newari culture, told the BBC that the tradition has not affected

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Kumaris' individual rights. In fact, it has elevated their status in society as "someone divine, someone who's above the rest." It is true that the girls selected to be Kumaris are separated from their families and are required to live in the Kumari House until they complete their term. That the young girls who would otherwise be in school playing with their friends are now suddenly plucked out of the household and kept in a controlled environment may beg issues for discussion. However, we have to weigh other benefits accorded to the young girls such as special care, veneration, security, and home schooling, which they otherwise would not likely receive on their own. Let us not forget also that the parents are often allowed to live with the Kumari at her residence to avoid any emotional problems that she may suffer. Although she may have no freedom to go out to play or do chores like any normal girls of her age, she is sufficiently kept entertained in her residence by her caretakers. The human rights group charges that the Kumaris have been exploited. But exactly how and by whom they failed to explain. Such terms as "exploitation" and "psychological damage" are loaded with ambiguities. Has the group really researched the situation of the Kumaris? Have they interviewed the Kumaris to see how they feel about this issue? What is the actual percentage of them that do not get married after they leave the Kumari House? What is their mental health while they try to lead a normal life? If there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that they indeed suffer emotional damage due to social discrimination and cultural victimization, then we need to find ways to rehabilitate them by providing vocational training, jobs and a retirement package so that they may be brought into the mainstream of society. Asking to do away with the Kumari tradition is not the answer. This only shows the insensitivity of the human rights group to a tradition serving society for hundreds of years. Doesn't the group have better things to do than to go after an age-old tradition that has elevated young girls to the level of "living goddesses"? I am sure that the Kumaris feel empowered and special, even if only for a few years. If the Kumaris do not feel that they have been exploited, isn't the human rights group acting as Big Brother/Sister? Is this really such a significant social problem of Nepal that it requires court intervention? Why is the government involved in religious matters? Shouldn't there be a separation of church and state (in Nepal's case, separation of temple and state)? Nepal has many social problems. To name a few examples: Girls are being sold into prostitution every day. In some parts of the country, girls who are barely thirteen years old are being married to much older men. These girls tend to become pregnant at a young age, exposing them to birth complications and even death. Most girls are not given the opportunity to get an education. Instead of attending school, many underage girls are forced to work. These are not practices essential to Nepali religious tradition. Abolishing Kumari tradition is not going to solve these more

serious problems. This tradition should be left alone, and attention should be focused on issues that really matter. I can name a few customs practiced by most Hindu women that have been around for hundreds of years. For example, even today some traditional Nepali women observe ritual pollution during menstruation. Will the human rights group find this to be a form of discrimination against women? Some individuals observe vrata (fasting) during Ekadasis and other religious holidays. Will the human rights group find it a form of physical punishment or torture? Is observing Kriya (funeral rite) for thirteen days in seclusion, while removing salt, dairy products, and meat from one's diet, another form of punishment? Is shaving the son's head when one of his parents dies like branding an animal? If the human rights folks had their way, they would certainly outlaw these practices as well. Must we do away with all these cultural customs that constitute Hinduism? Ritual is part of culture, and it is the ritual that distinguishes one culture from another. Without rituals and customs, what distinguishes us as being a

Let us not forget also that the parents are often allowed to live with the Kumari at her residence to avoid any emotional problems that she may suffer. Although she may have no freedom to go out to play or do chores like any normal girls of her age, she is sufficiently kept entertained in her residence by her caretakers.

By ERA SHRESTHA hy do we always use analogy between us humans and animals and compare one with the other? Comparing ourselves with the animals is like questioning the laws of nature for we are entirely different from them in all regards. I always use a menagerie of animals to describe things I find particularly distasteful. If someone is very frisky, I call him a monkey or if someone is rather slow, I call him snail. Likewise, if I saw someone sly, he became a fox and then it would be a donkey if "I am with a stupid". If someone was hard to catch, I would call him fish. A roadside Romeo a wolf; or a clingy person a leech! These are just some examples and if we mull it over, more would fly out from our mouth. Not only I but there are many who use such analogy in our day-to-day conversations. But one fine day I realized that we are degrading ourselves for abusing the animals, of misunderstanding, misinterpreting and misusing their names to abuse other animals. To my horror, I called many of my acquaintances pigs, dogs, foxes, donkeys and monkeys to name a few. With the revelation, I found out that by comparing homosapiens to animals, I was degrading the animals, those wonderful creatures of the mighty creator and Mother Nature. I never thought that by comparing human beings to animals, I was being unfair to such beautiful creations that are equally alive as I was. I came to the conclusion that this is one trait that separates men from the noble beasts. I do not know any other species in the universe other than human beings who would stoop as low as to use the names of other creatures to flay each other. Have we ever thought that by calling a slow person a snail, we are downsizing the snail's ability? The nature has instilled in the snail to be slow and walk

its own pace and it is not the snail's fault. The slow and graceful pace of snail surpasses every other creature's attempt to look as beautiful as a snail while moving.

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I have still not seen a 'pig' that is insensitive to its 'sow'. I wonder if any pig has ever oppressed its mate or ill-treated someone it really likes. Why slander its name by associating it with male chauvinists? The word 'bitch' is thoughtlessly used to malign a woman's character, without realizing how loyal, grateful or faithful a bitch can be. It is hard to hear the slandering the dog receives from human, yet immediately, the same dog, which is 'all the time at his master's service', is the most loyal friend a human being has ever been bestowed with. I have still not seen a 'pig' that is insensitive to its 'sow'. I wonder if any

pig has ever oppressed its mate or illtreated someone it really likes. Why slander its name by associating it with male chauvinists? It would rather be better to call a pig 'man-headed' than call a man 'pig-headed' for being stubborn as he can be. Now, it seems to me that the society is punitive and carries a burden of negativity regarding the creatures and much of our judgment seems to stem from the way we are conditioned by the old generation of our society. I am totally against such classification and object them because everything in the society is run by conditioned thinking. Do we need such negative analogies and simile to teach and pass it to our posterity? It may take more than just a generation or two to change such bias towards animals and I hope that positive thinking towards the animals will soon prove to be infectious. Firstly, we have to forget what we have learnt so far. We grow with a large quantity of accumulated learning and attitudes that have been offered or forced upon us ever since we were children. We retain these learning in our subconscious for the most part of our adulthood. And children are dominated by the attitude and values that are passed on to them by parents, adults and teachers. In reality, children love animals and very few are afraid of them, touch them and play with them and would never think of vilifying them. Unfortunately, thanks to our conditioned minds, they become what we want them to be and not what they really are. So, it is the duty of us adults to inculcate respect for animals in our children and the generations to come. Animals must remain as such and their names should not be maligned or misused in any from, especially not to abuse a human being or criticize one's character. And then their might be a day when we might be able to tell our children, "Did you know, once upon a time, humans used animal as pawns in their petty blame games?

Eliminating child labor By SALIK SHAH was on my way back home after watching the most funniest drama in my short-spanning adventurous life. It was a true Bangladeshi flavour, and my friend couldn't stop laughing recalling those funny songs and shadows. We were talking about the drama all our way until he insisted that we eat something at a small restaurant near Pipalbot, Dillibazar. After we filled our tummy, my friend asked the owner of the restaurant, "What happened, Sauji? Have you not hired any ketas yet?" Then, the two started conversing about a lot of things. I asked how he knew that the owner sought for any ketas. "Look there," he showed me the small advertisement that read loud and clear something like"Boys needed to work here‌"

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Nepali or a Hindu or a Buddhist? When we lose all of our traditions, what do we have left? I recommend that the human rights group look into other problems. For example, many affluent Nepali families send their children at a very young age to boarding schools where they live in strict discipline for several years separated from their parents. This separation can lead to many social problems later in their lives not to mention the "psychological problems." The children who attend convent schools are subjected to proselytization. Many have confided in me their traumatic experience at a convent school. They were constantly coerced to convert. Why doesn't the human rights group defend these children's rights to practice their religion and stop being "psychologically" traumatized by authorities of another faith? We should distinguish between social practices which harm or deny people basic human rights and religious practices which enrich our cultural traditions. By doing away with harmless, age-old customs, I personally believe that we are wiping out our culture, our history and our identity as Nepalis. Cultural identity is more important than political identity. As we move toward assuring essential human rights for all, we should preserve those customs that make us who we are. I would hope that the court will not entertain the petition, let alone rule on it. Such petitions should be viewed as frivolous and hence thrown out of court. (The writer is a professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, California, USA)

ters and bus parks. Some 55,000 children under 18-years work as domestic servants in the country. Of them 22,000 are estimated to be working in the Kathmandu valley alone. There are about 4000 rag pickers who 'eke out a living' by collecting rags, plastics, metal and glass bottles from dumpsites, street corners and riverbanks. These children are prone to severe illness, drug addiction and HIV/AIDS infection. Similarly, "an estimated 17000 Nepalese children born into the Kamaiya system of bonded labor are employed at farms, hotels, small tea establishments, brick kilns, stone quarries, the carpet industry and domestic service. Half of these children still work under slave-like conditions, even though the practise of bonded labor was banned in July 2000 by the government off Nepal." It also said that an estimated 12,000 young girls below 18-years are “removed from their families, homes and work-

According to IPECL, about 42,000 children transport goods and construction materials on rugged crosscountry trails, while another 3,900 carry goods in many urban market centers and bus parks. By ketas or boys, the owner surely meant minors and not others. I was shocked to see such an advertisement. It is illegal to hire minors, but the courage of this owner should be praised! For he dared to seek such boys so openly, and I think he had no fear or knowledge of any laws existing in the country which forbids child labor. According to International Labor organization's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPECL) data that I accessed through the internet, about 42,000 children transport goods and construction materials on rugged cross-country trails, while another 3,900 carry goods in many urban market cen-

places through force, coercion or deception, and involuntarily transported into urban centers and across the Indian border.� There they are forced into labor, most often in the sex industry. As many as 150,000 to 200,000 Nepalese girls are now exploited in Indian brothels. Nepal lack not laws but the necessary political will and effective implementation of the already formulated laws for children's welfare and rehabilitation. In 1959, the government prohibited the employment of child labor in hazardous circumstances. Nepal has even ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Labor Organization's

Minimum Age Employment Convention (ILO Convention No 138). Besides, Nepal has adopted the Labor Act 1991 and Children's Act 1992 on the basis of these conventions, and has clearly declared that employing children under the age of 14 is illegal. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990 also clearly states that human-trafficking, slavery and serfdom or forced labor in any form is prohibited and punishable by law. The by-laws of the Children's Act 1992 have also provided special rights to the children to be protected from harm and exploitation, including child labor exploitation. But everybody knows that Nepalese leaders and rebels are busy with their political dogmas and dictums. Our students' leaders are devoting all zeal to chase their utopian 'republic'. Many organizations working for children and child rights have urged the need of strong networking among educated people at all social and cultural levels to stop child labor. Indeed, such a challenging job needs community level efforts and effective implementation of the existing laws. In many cases, the responsibility solely lies in the 'effective implementation' of the existing laws in favor of children in Nepal. However, the main reason for the appalling state of child labor in our country is due to the more than a decade old Maoists insurgency, the rampant infrastructure destruction and economic downfall. Now, even if the country and the political forces would like to do something to benefit such children, peace must prevail. Sadly, the state of child rights is closely linked with the political situation of the country. The efforts of various organizations and individuals would bring radical improvements in the current situation only if there is sustainable peace and economic progress in the country. The Maoists who are joining hands with the SPA to rule the state must keep in mind that the most challenging of their duties would concern the children. Until now, the Maoists are ignorant about the future of so many children whom they have been exploiting to meet their own self-interests. If they are to be rehabilitated in the society, what kind of jobs or skill do Maoists plan to offer them in the coming days? Let us remember - 'A child employed is a future destroyed'.

Eliminating child labor-November 26, 2006  

By DR DEEPAK SHIMKHADA By ERA SHRESTHA By SALIK SHAH The Kathmandu Post (The writer is a professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna...

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