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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
have said about the author:
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,
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).