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A Flight to the Snows (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)

"Will the passengers please fasten their seat belts," said a soft voice over the intercom. And I slid one end of the belt into the heavy metallic slot, sat back, and peered through the window of the Royal Nepal jet.

The runway was clear and there was an Airbus 310, three Russian-made helicopters and a Dornier- aircraft near the control tower of the Tribhuvan Airport. Some people waved from the tower. It was one of those early-morning mountain flights that are run 'provided-the-weather-is-good' as they say in tourist-brochures.

My seat was right near the port wing and I could get a fairly good view of the engines coming noisily to life. The jet taxied lazily down the southern end of the runway, swerved around and sped towards the north gathering momentum till I could finally feel a hollow in my stomach. We were airborne.

It was a steep climb and the blue mountain front was looming close. You could even spot the trees growing on the mountainside. But in a moment we left it behind. I was thrilled at the picturesque panorama of Kathmandu Valley with its pretty brown terracotta houses and prominent pagodas, which receded beneath as the jet banked almost languidly in an easterly direction.

The first mountain that caught my eyes, was the conical snowbound Langtang Peak, which was gleaming in the early morning sunlight. By the time Dorje Lakpa loomed on my window, the aircraft had attained its ceiling height of 30,000 feet. Dorje Lakhpa in Tibetan means "thunderbolt hand". Nearby was another splendid peak, the 19,550 ft. Choba Bamare, reigning in splendid isolation. Choba Bamare rose in the distance and seemed to fizzle out towards the east.

I sat tight in my seat, oblivious of the 50-odd passengers in the aircraft's cabin, lost in a world of snowy fantasy,and marvelling at the thought that we were less than fourteen miles away from those Himalayan giants, and feeling snug inside the pressurised cabin. Over the monotonous whirr of the Yeti's engines, the captains voice boomed through the intercom: "Attention ladies and gentlemen, the big peak to your left is Gauri Shanker."

The 23,442 feet Gauri Shanker, which is part of the Rowaling Himal Chain, was bathed in a ghostly mantle of snow and dominated the scene. This was indeed the Mount Olympus of the Orient, I said to myself. Gauri Shanker, the legendary abode of the Hindu God Shiva and his consort Parvati.

The Melungstse massif appeared to be blanketed with snow and looked smooth and even: like a tent covered with snow, except that a depression existed between Melungtse and its sister peak Chobutse.

Chugmago, Pigferago and Numbur impressed me with their virgin and silvery summits--looking placid and serene.

My thoughts drifted to the agelessness of the Himalayas and their eternal silence.
However, my Himalayan reverie came to a momentary stop, when a tall and petite air-hostess came offering orange juice at a cruising height of 30,000 feet. It was a toast to the Himalayas.

From the 26,750 ft. Cho Oyo onwards, the Khumbu Range began to show their undisputed supremacy, since this range boasted of the mightiest of the mighty among mountains. As the jet flew past the 25,990 ft. Gyachungkang Peak, I was pleasantly surprised to find the steward come over to my window, point out small dotted structures against a rugged mountainside and say, "There's Namche Bazaar." I was amazed. Namche of the mountaineer's delight, and the home of the Sherpas. Namche, the village that has become a byword in mountaineering and trekking circles throughout the world--lay below us.

The jet lost height gracefully to give the passengers a closer view, and the snows looked hauntingly beautiful from the port side windows. The warm sunlight filtered through smack on my face. Its warmth was reassuring.

The 23,443 ft. Pumori Peak seemed to be soaring in the distance, and that was when I began to ogle at the familiar 25,850 ft. Nuptse peak. Then suddenly, like a revelation, I spotted the giant amongst them all: the grey, imposing triangular massif that was Mount Everest to the outside world, Sagarmatha to the Nepalese and Chomolungma--"the Goddess Mother of the Earth" to the Tibetans. There were flecks of snow to be seen along the ridge of the highest peak in the world. A trail of vapour was emanating from its limestone summit.

Far below the magnificent Ama Dablam peak struck me as trying to reach for the sky. But I had eyes only for the mysterious, grey and foreboding Everest massif. I recalled Mallory's words: "There was no complication for the eye. The highest of the world's mountains had to make but a single gesture of magnificence to be lord of all, vast in unchallenged and isolated supremacy.

The peaks Lhotse, Chamlang and Makalu continued to fascinate me. I felt thrilled to my marrow as the knowledge that we were flying over the highest mountains in the world sank into my head. I noticed that the Himalayas occurred as narrow ranges, prominently longitudinal and that the highest Himalayan chains below us were not massive elevations but narrow ridges.

Towards the north, as far as the eye could see, was the barren Tibetan Plateau: rightly dubbed the Roof of the World. I was astonished to note that beyond the Everest massif's central chain there were no Himalayan ranges. It was the limit--the last frontier. The bleak Tibetan Plateau seemed to blend with the horizon towards the north.

I could not help feeling nostalgic as the jet turned for the homeward flight. I peered at the blue Mahabharat Mountains below and the Siwalik Hills a little further south--and the extensive, fertile Terai, which blended with the azure sky. While the major 'snows' were still visible on the starboard , it was fascinating to see the hanging-valleys, aretes, cwms and magnificent glaciers directly beneath the port windows. It reminded me of a trip I had made to the Swiss alpine town of Grindelwald, where the tongue of the glacier licks almost the town. Occasionally, as the jetliner sped by, the mountain-tarns would catch the sun's rays on their crystalline surface, thereby imparting blinding flashes of reflected light.

It must have snowed the previous night, since the neighbouring hills, which were normally beyond the zone of perpetual snow, were also covered in varying degrees with fluffy blankets of virgin snow. One couldn't help being overwhelmed by the ecstatic and exotic beauty of these high snowbound wilderness areas that we were over-flying.

Continental music began to seep into the pressurised cabin and the lithe and beautifully swarthy air-hostess came down the aisle gracefully handing the passengers miniature khurkis (curved Gurkha knives) as souvenirs, with the usual compliment of sweets.

I could feel the captain easing off the throttles and saw the spoilers on the top surface of the port wind rising up slowly, in a row inducing a drag and causing the jet to slow as it touched town at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport.

*****

THE HEART OF THE WORLD (Satis Shroff)

Nepalese men and women work in the fields. They use the traditional bullocks and buffaloes that are seen in the villages of Southeast Asia.

They dig the fields manually. The women work beside the men, with babies strapped to their backs. Long wooden hoes are being used to dig and break the soil, whole families pitching in to do the job. And far out in the distance, the all-seeing-eyes of the compassionate Swayambhu observes the land from the towers on which his eyes are painted.

As you start for the temple, you're first greeted by two Tibetan lions, set in stone, amid wonderful wooded surroundings. Behind the lions you see three colossal statues of the Buddha, serene and daubed in flaming red and gold. All around you there are naked trees in poses of suspended animation.

The ground crackles as you step on the fallen brown and russet leaves. Shrill bird cries ring through the air. It is roosting time, you say to yourself. The trees are silhouetted against the evening sky and the shadows are lengthening. Your eyes discern the prayers carved in the granite slabs as you ascend the seemingly endless stairs.

A bearded tourist and a bevy of girls giggle nearby, talking in French and eating peanuts. They pass some peanuts to the swarm of monkeys who are a regular feature of Swayambhu. The Rhesus monkeys are creeping, jumping, fooling and fighting with each other.

"How happy they are", remarks a tourist with a laugh, as the monkeys climb the spire of the stupa. The overhanging eaves of the stupa, gilded with gold, are loosely chained together. The wind blowing from across the silvery Himalayas makes them rustle. You are dumbfounded by the majestic temple.

Three lamas go by: "Om mane padme hum" stirs in the air.

You take a cue from them and go about spinning the 211 copper prayer wheels that girdle the dome. Then you peer at the all-seeing-eyes painted on the four sides of the stupa and look where they look: at the myriad pale yellow, white, blue and crimson lights of the Kathmandu Valley below. You feel that you have indeed reached the top of the world.

It is chilly, and an icy gust of wind blows your hair. The clatter of the prayer-wheels is constant. The stony stairs are set at an extremely steep angle, but there are railings to help you up or down. A Tibetan, probably a Khampa from Eastern Tibet, mumbles his prayers as he comes down from the temple. He is wrapped in heavy mauve woollens. A shaggy Tibetan Apso, a tiny dog, like a Pekinese, with bells round his collar jingles past.

You go on. A few paces up, a monkey stealthily passes by as though he were a big-game hunter. You are again confronted by meditating Buddhas: the Dhyanibuddha Akshobya who rides an elephant and a lion, Ratnasambhava who rides a horse, Amitabha who rides the peacock and Amoghasiddhi who rides the heavenly bird garuda.

The going is hard but the ascent is redeemed because of the breathtaking beauty of the place. More Rhesus monkeys dart around you. One of them takes a joy ride along the railings like a kid, skids off and vanishes. You can't help laughing. You abruptly come across two statues of horses: short and stubby. You're weary but you press on and come across small elephant statues, with live monkeys playing pranks on their backs. The monkeys give you a quizzical stare. These are all part of the Buddhist pantheon. Now you begin to understand why the tourists call this temple complex also "the monkey temple". The monkeys are protected by law(as is the yeti)and have freedom there since over 2000 years. They live on the offerings brought by the Hindus and Buddhists, and peanuts and popcorn offered by the tourists.

Your climb is over. The sky is dark, blue, and is fast changing into Prussian blue, and Venus has already appeared, but you have eyes only for the gigantic white dome and stupa of the Self-Existent One. The stupa is of great sanctity for all Hindus and Buddhists. It is hemispherical and you are struck by its enormous size. The earliest inscription on Swayambhunath dates back to the year 1129, but the stupa is thought to be much older.

You make your way to a Buddhist monk and he tells you a legend about Swayambhu...

"Once upon a time the Nepal Valley was a great lake. It was on this spot, where you now stand that a lotus bloomed and became the heart of the world".

*****

THE HOLY COWS OF KATHMANDU (By Satis Shroff)


Kathmandu without its gay and colourful vegetable dealers and the holy cows, those constant characters, that have featured in almost all paintings, sketches, photographs and books on Nepal will soon be a thing of the past.

The ecological minded mayor of Kathmandu rounded up 88 stray cows and has auctioned them outside Kathmandu Valley. The auction yielded 64,460 rupees to the Kathmandu municipality. The holy cows of Kathmandu have been declared as public nuisances and obstruction to the traffic in the city.

Till recently, the cows of Kathmandu walked at a leisurely gait with that notable air of nonchalance which all Nepalese high-brow cows possess because they're revered and worshipped by the Hindus.

During my summer holidays I happened to be in Kathmandu seeping in the symphony of colour, noise and sights of Kathmandu, perched smack in the middle of Indrachowk.

The noise emitted by the haggling vendors and customers, the high pitched bells of the temples mingling with the honks of scooters, and the sound of bamboo flutes, and the occasional moo of a languidly straying cow who love the vegetable market. This was the sound that I had missed in Freiburg. The smell of burning sandalwood incense sticks, steaming momos, mangoes, gauvas and lotus, marigold and magnolias permeated the air. Add to this cacaphony the unruffled tourists and you get a picture of the pulsating life in this Himalayan bazaar.

In the meantime, another cow, this time a white one with pink ears but hopelessly bent horns, tried to go through a bevy of giggling saffron-wrapped college girls.

The flying vegetable market in Kathmandu is a shanty affair with make-shift transitory shops because the policeman keeps on telling them to park their vegetables elsewhere. Kathmandu has its supermarkets and discount-shops, but most of the Nepalese don’t want to miss the charms of Asal Tole, where there are no fixed priced and where one can haggle and chat with the vegetable vendors in Nepali and Newari.

A steel-blue Ford cruised by noiselessly like a ghost of a battleship. The indigenous push-cart dubbed gurkha-jeep rumbled by, pushed by brawny Tamang porters. Nearby, a small Japoo-child in his birthday suit prodded a big brown cow with a puny stick.

Right near where I was perched was a local Jyapoo (Newari farmer) selling yellow bananas. The bananas looked ripe and the Jyapoo looked prosperous. The good man was busy haggling with his customer: a fat, supercilious Rana lady, and that was when a cow appeared and started munching the bananas without as much as a moo.

Half a comb of bananas later, the Jyapoo finally saw the cool cow. What he did next was utterly remarkable. He performed what might be best described as a VTO. He took of from the ground like a British Harrier jet and then thundered at the calm cow. She galloped off like a horse. But that wasn't the end of it.

The frightened cow bolted like an unguided missile through the commuters, pedestrians and what-have-yous in the alleys of Kathmandu in its fright. A cyclist was knocked down and quite a number of Hindus and Buddhists got edgy because of the onrushing cow. Our Jyapoo was plainly perturbed and looked plain stupid, blinked uncertainly, ‘Kay garney? Upai chaina! What shall I do? There’s no way out of this mess!’

Cows are regarded as holy and worshipped as mother-cow by the Hindus and give milk, yoghurt, butter, holy urine and dung. According to a legend, a Nepalese king ordered cows to be set free in the streets of Kathmandu by families in mourning to share the pain of the death of a young prince. And since then children in Kathmandu Valley disguise themselves as grotesque cows and motley figures and dance to make the queen laugh. The queen in the legend is long dead but the cow-festival 'Gaijatra' remains.

As you walk the streets of Kathmandu, along Asan Tole, Indrachowk and Basantapur near the Freak Street, which was famous during the Hippie and Flower Power days of the seventies, and bears the name of Jhoche Tole, you see the old Newari women with golden pierced ears and children watching you with a curiosity from the artistically carved wooden windows. You cannot help feel being watched, because the doors of Kathmandu have the All-Seeing Eyes of the primordeal Buddha painted on them.

Below every house leading into the streets, you see shops selling almost everything: from textiles, electronic goods, pots and pans, and outsized gagros (copper vases for ritual ceremonies and festivals). The carpets are eye-catching despite that fact that the colourful ethnic dragons, snow lions and mandalas are disappearing to suit European living rooms in pastel-colours ordered per fax. There are souvenirs on display such as: curved Gurkha khukris, statues of temples, tantric Gods in ecstatic poses, gargoyles, thankas (icons), Buddhas and animals in bronze and messing. The entire temples and altars seem to be on-sale. The Gods seem to be moving out.

And out in the distance beyond the forest of Nagarjun: the silence of the Himalayas, revered and worshipped by the Hindus.

*****

(Child workers at Nagarkot (Nepal)
Foto: Satis Shroff

WOMEN’S WOES IN A HINDU KINGDOM (By Satis Shroff, Freiburg)

‘Due to the lack in clarity in Nepal’s Law, many Nepalese women have been victimised on the ground of spontaneous abortion, whether it was a simple miscarriage or abortion caused by the heavy manual labour on the part of the woman. The women of Nepal cannot defend themselves because of the lack of definition of abortion,’ says Singh B. Moktan, the director of PAM Nestling Home (PAM= Prisoners Assistance Mission).

What is needed is a mobilisation of women in Nepal, the USA, Europe and the world over in fighting this ancient, archaic practice of the Rule of Garbhabat. Despite the fact that democracy has dawned in Nepal and different political parties are allowed, and more and more Nepali women have professions, are politically active and take part in demonstrations, the male population still dominates Nepalese politics and the plight of women hasn’t changed much. The tourists in Kathmandu and along the trekking-trails, flock to Nepal to see the Himalayas and take pictures of its rural women and children for mellow home-slide-shows, amid relatives and neighbours.

The benefits of democracy and westernisation haven’t caught up with the majority of the Nepalese women as yet. According to a survey published by the United Mission to Nepal about the psycho-social situation of rural Nepali women belonging to five ethnic groups (Brahmins, Chettris, Sheras, Tamangs, Rais and Newars) the from Solukhumbu-district and Kathmandu Valley, 56.9% of the mothers live in miserable living quarters. 52.3% live in two-room apartments and 33% have no worldly possessions. The average age of marriage lies between 15 to 19 years, and 22.8% don’t have a son. 68.8% of the husbands are alcoholics, 41.7% of the mothers suffer from depression. Whether arranged marriages can be ideal or not can be judged from the fact that in 44.2% of the marriages there are problems, quarrels and inconsistency, 7.4% marriages are disrupted and 44.2% of the partnerships are wrecked.

The entire world knows how hard the average Nepalese woman works in the fields and in urban areas, and the price she has to pay is immense. Ethnic Nepalese women sell their own products in the local markets and provide for the family. In other cases, the men give their earnings to their wives and the latter have a feeling of sharing the income, but when it comes to deciding what to buy, it’s always the men who take over. The desires and plans of the women are just ignored. Nepal’s males control property and decide all financial transactions in the family, and the women are left with peanuts. The women cannot take credits from the banks because they never possess anything, and hence have no security. The women tend to be traditionally docile and dependent upon their husbands due to the fact that they’re cut-off from financial sources.

The Nepalese men spend the family-savings as they please, for drinks and eating out with their friends, and for their own chauvinistic needs. The women and children, on the other hand, have to do without basic items like clothes and school-fees. The majority of the illiterate and thus socially handicapped women think in the traditional Hindu way and leave the men to make decisions. Many women also fear that they might lose their positions as family-treasurers.

There are a lot of doctors for the rich people in Kathmandu but none for those in the rural, isolated and God-forsaken hamlets of Nepal, and those deprived, hungry souls eking out a miserable existence in the hovels and slums under the Bagmati and Bishnumati bridges. A land where children are jailed if a mother is sentenced for aborting a dead child, because there’s nobody to take care of them. The women in Nepal are handicapped from birth till death in their Himalayan environment--in their families, education, farms, offices and in every sphere of life. It’s a long and thorny path till the Nepalese women are accepted as persons, and not as properties that are malleable, and without wills of their own. The Nepalese women have to develop an awareness and self-esteem of their own worth, women’s rights, potential and the important roles they play in the economy of their families and the country in general.

According to a Unicef report, the children of Nepal have to start doing important work at an early age. They have to do baby-sitting, gather fire-wood, forage for feed for the domestic animals or drive them to the meadows. These chores take such a lot of time that the children don’t have time for school, especially daughters who have to help in the households at an early age. They have to work eight hours a day and the sons work just half of the time. Most Nepalese children work barefoot and wear inadequate clothing because they cannot afford it. Nevertheless, Nepalese children attract your attention with their attentive looks, open and curious faces and their spontaneous and cheerful laughter. 46 per cent of Nepal’s population are younger than 15 years. And although 45 per cent of the six to eight year olds go to school, only half of them do their primary school exams. Nepal has millions of children without school-education and without carefree childhood. Education can improve the survival chances of the children because there is a direct relationship between the literacy of women (4 per cent in Nepal) and infant mortality (child-death). In Nepal 134 out of 1000 children die in the first year of their birth.

It was only in 1950 that Nepal’s doors were opened to the outside world. Till then we lived in an age of political darkness. To the average Nepalese, going to Kathmandu was travelling to Nepal, because Kathmandu was Nepal. Later, the Panchayat government talked about a decentralised form of government but it was just a hoax. It was very much centralised, and still is, even after the democratic movement in 1990. Nepal would do well to adopt a federalised form of government with real decentralisation in different parts of the kingdom, but the ruling governments have no interest in such semi-autonomy structures. The decisions are made in Kathmandu as usual and the procedure has remained the same.

A lot of men and women lost their lives in their attempt to free themselves from the shackles of the Panchayat government and monarchy, and the result is that there’s no stability in Nepalese politics. There’s a change of government after short terms, with an alarming corruption and nepotism, and the NGOs in the aid-giving countries only shake their heads in disbelief, because their Nepali counterparts are shuffled and posted to remote places, depending on their political colour.

The fact that the Nepalese woman suffers in society is deeply rooted in the social system and the anachronistic and discriminatory, patriarchal, Hindu Civil Code (Muluki Ain) which was formulated under the reign of a king named Surendra Bikram in 1853. It was modified by King Mahendra (the father of the present King Gyanendra) in 1963. If a Nepalese woman gives birth to a still-born child she is charged with infanticide on the evidence of a denunciation, without so much as a gynacological examination, and sentenced by the rule of Garbhabat, which is the Nepalese word for: destruction of life. The Nepalese Civil Code was made in a dark age of Nepalese history during which another form of social and cultural values were prevalent. Though the winds of change have swept in the Nepalese kingdom, the Code still remains unchallenged as far as the poorer section of the Nepalese population is concerned.

Many women who miscarry hide the evidence by not going for medical treatment and this can lead to infertility or even death. The Nepalese Code assumes that every pregnancy that fails due to natural causes is the fault of the mother --in effect, a deliberate attempt to abort the pregnancy, and it’s horrible to see a woman hauled off to jail as a criminal on top of the personal tragedy of the loss of a child that may have been longed for. It is possible for influential Nepalese women to get away with abortion without much fuss in the male-dominated Nepalese society.

Hindu marriage ceremony

If a Nepalese couple wants to elope and marry fast and cheap, all they do is perform a minimum of ‘tika-talo’ ritual ceremony, and they don’t even have to be officially registered. The normal Hindu marriage is elaborate and arranged by the parents and is a family matter in which the caste plays a big role even today. The well-educated bridegrooms of Kathmandu Valley prefer to see a video of the bride-to-be in the case of arranged marriages to avoid the ‘cat-in-the-sack’ phenomenon. For the family of the bride it is a matter of prestige and the marriage is celebrated with much ado, and hundreds of guests are invited. This may have ruinous consequences for the family of the bride, because it means blowing up a lot of borrowed money in case the family isn’t wealthy. The dowry comprises both gifts and money and this is also an incentive for the bridegroom. The tradition is stronger than the legislation .

During the marriage ceremony the couple sit down cross-legged in front of the altar where scores of sacrificial objects are spread out on small cups made of banana leaves held together with tooth-pick sticks. The offerings consist of flowers, incense, water, oil-lamps, vermillion-powder, rice, sweets, fruit (depending on the season), coins, and even cloth.

Not all the stainless-steel thalis and Meissner porcelain are ritually pure in compari¬son to the hand-made natural taparas from banana and other smooth leaves for the Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pan¬theon. The priest who performs the marriage-ceremony is a Benaras-educated Sanskrit-reciting Brahmin. In civil-life he works for the Nepalese government, but since he is a Brahmin by birth, he is often invited to carry out all forms of pujas by the Hindu population of Kathmandu. The house-bahun is consulted, who calculates the time for the rituals to be performed by consulting his astrological calendar. An auspicious day for the wedding has to be found, for the human being is a microcosm of the rhythm of the universe.

A young daughter is treated as a holy person, even holier as the cows that you see in the streets of Nepal, Sikkim and other parts of India and a young daughter brings a lot of positive aspects or punya to her parents. Normally the parents of the bride wash the feet of both bride and groom. The foot-washing is accompanied by the recitations of vedic lore by the Bahun priest beckoned by the parents of the bride. After that follows the gift-of-the-virgin (kanyadan) ceremony.

The bride wears a scarlet seven meter long sari, an embroidered silk blouse, traditional juwellery and her hair is parted in the middle. She wears pearls on her ears decorated with gold. A number of sacrifices are made to the Gods and Goddesses by sprinkling their symbolic effigies with jamara and holy water. This is followed by the entire family chanting "Om jaya jagadisha hare" to the accompaniment of a small ritual drum (dama¬ru), the chiming of a bell and the blowing of a conch.

And then comes the actual swayamvara-ceremony with the sacrificial fire, which is made in the form of a quadrangle that encloses the ritual article: the sacred altar, with the fire in the centre.

Hindu Offerings

Various offerings are made to the dieties: Ganesh, Agni the God of Fire, the sky, wind, earth, water, and the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Sacrificial rituals have been an essential part of the vedic way of life. The sacrifice is simple but its meaning can be complex. This is followed by the sindur-potay ceremony. The bridegroom has to place vermillion (sindur) as a sign of marriage on the parting of the bride’s hair. A Hindu bride is expected to apply the sindur as long as her husband lives. After that the couple are obliged to walk around the sacrificial fire three times. In Hinduism, Agni (Latin: ignis) is not only the God of Fire and ritual but also the fire itself, and summons the power of the Sun God Surya to the sacrificial altar.

Divorce among Hindus

Even though Hindu marriages are elaborate, they can be annulled quicker than the marriages that end on the rocks of Reno. The divorce rate among the Nepalese is rising even though most marriages are arranged by the parents. It’s the male who files the divorce because he might have been forced to marry by his parents, and later when he has financial resources and is independent from his father, decides that his spouse is an unsuitable match. A couple is divorced when the man denies the relationship. And if the woman has the misfortune to be pregnant or has children, then she’s stigmatised and branded as immoral.

Article 11 of the Nepalese Constitution states that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of sex, but in Article 9 it states that the children of Nepalese male citizens are deemed to be citizens of Nepal by descent. The children of Nepalese female citizens with foreign fathers are considered foreigners, and have to reside in Nepal for fifteen years before they can be granted Nepalese citizenship. Nepalese males should examine their own attitudes towards girls and women in their immediate surroundings. Do our daughters and sons get the same attention, affection and the same status?

The death toll in the battle between the government forces and the Maoists shows that many Nepalese women fight in the front lines and die. The Maoists promise them equality, which is something rare in rural Nepal, where the women have been denied education and political rights for centuries. It is a national shame that the democratic political parties have done so little for the upliftment of the Nepalese women in the past. The bondage of the Hindu society with its purity and pollution thinking has also contributed greatly towards this imbalance in the Nepalese society.

Motherhood and Child-rearing

Marriage and rearing children shouldn’t be the sole aim of a woman’s life. In Germany, for instance, there’s an alarming high number of single mothers-with-kids. Living with a partner seems to have gone haywire and they prefer to live alone, cashing alimony cheques from the fathers of their children or living on hand-outs of the Social Department throughout Germany. The German law makes it possible. The Nepalese women have a tough time in their Hindu, patriarchal milieus, which hardly give them a chance to get up once they have fallen in the eyes of the pollution-purity professing Hindu society.

Despite the sweeping changes that have been introduced in Nepal’s Civil Code since 1975, most women are ignorant of their rights because of the high illiteracy, low self-esteem and lack of self-consciousness. The Nepalese society plays a pivotal role in victimising women who have divorced or have separated from their partners. Widows are not allowed to wear scarlet saris, no wedding necklaces and the vermilion powder called tika. They have to wear white as a sign of mourning . The social stigma attached to these unfortunate women reduces their chances in the marriage-market. Nepalese males prefer chaste, untouched females, almost girl-children, as their brides.

After the success of the people’s movement, the new constitution of Nepal was promulgated in November 1990 and broke new ground as far as women’s rights to equality and fair-play are concerned. The State has been given the authority to legislate specific laws for the protection of the special rights of women.

Nothing has changed since then in practice. Although provisions were made in the New Nepalese Constitution (1990) in favour of women, the elections showed that the major parties are not prepared to improve the status of women in Nepal. Women are still treated as second-grade citizens and even like servants, as can be seen in the laws relating to property rights, family rights and sexual rights. But Nepal has a major political problem to solve, for the country is involved in a tussle for power. King Gyanendra Shah wants to rule his Kingdom, the political parties now co-operate with the Maoists, and the picture that emerges through this unholy alliance is more bloodshed, for the Maoists haven’t laid down their weapons yet. The tussle for power goes on and can only mean more tightening of the belt and more tears for the widows and daughters of this kingdom under the shadow of the Himalayas. There is a growing need for tolerance and peace in this Himalayan state, for it is the poor people living below the poverty line who are the real sufferers after a decade of bloodshed.

The question is: Quo vadis Nepal? Towards communist communes or free-trade democracy? The Nepalese have to decide again.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- About the Author:
Satis Shroff is a writer based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) who also writes on ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Science in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and Manchester. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize for 1998.
Writing experience: Satis Shroff has written two language books on the Nepali language for DSE (Deutsche Stiftung für Entwicklungsdienst) & Horlemannverlag. He has written three feature articles in the Munich-based Nelles Verlag’s ‘Nepal’ on the Himalayan Kingdom’s Gurkhas, sacred mountains and Nepalese symbols and on Hinduism in ‘Nepal: Myths & Realities (Book Faith India) and his poem ‘Mental Molotovs’ was published in epd-Entwicklungsdienst (Frankfurt). He has written many articles in The Rising Nepal, The Christian Science Monitor, the Independent, the Fryburger, Swatantra Biswa (USIS publication, Himal Asia, 3Journal Freiburg, top ten rated poems in www.nepalforum.com. Please read more articles, book-reviews and poems in www.google.com & www.yahoo.com under search: satis shroff.

What others have said about the author:

„Die Schilderungen von Satis Shroff in ‘Through Nepalese Eyes’ sind faszinierend und geben uns die Möglichkeit, unsere Welt mit neuen Augen zu sehen.“ (Alice Grünfelder von Unionsverlag / Limmat Verlag, Zürich).

Since 1974 I have been living on and off in Nepal, writing articles and publishing books about Nepal-- this beautiful Himalayan country. Even before I knew Satis Shroff personally (later) I was deeply impressed by his articles, which helped me very much to deepen my knowledge about Nepal. Satis Shroff is one of the very few Nepalese writers being able to compare ecology, development and modernisation in the ‘Third’ and ‘First’ World. He is doing this with great enthusiasm, competence and intelligence, showing his great concern for the development of his own country. (Ludmilla Tüting, journalist and publisher, Berlin).

Due to his very pleasant personality and in-depth experience in both South Asian, as well as Western workstyles and living, Satis Shroff brings with him a cultural sensitivity that is refined. His writings have always reflected the positive attributes of optimism, tolerance, and a need to explain and to describe without looking down on either his subject or his reader. (Kanak Mani Dixit, Himal Southasia, Kathmandu.

Satis Shroff writes with intelligence, wit and grace. (Bruce Dobler, Senior Fulbright Professor in Creative Writing, University of Pittsburgh).


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