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Dalit Women and HIV/ AIDS in Nepal: Empowering Dalit Women is a Key to Mitigate HIV/ AIDSn PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Bishnu Maya Pariyar   
Monday, 12 October 2009 06:12
Article Index
Dalit Women and HIV/ AIDS in Nepal: Empowering Dalit Women is a Key to Mitigate HIV/ AIDSn
Caste System in Nepal & Dalit Population
Social, Political Economic and Cultural Condition of Dalit women
Gender discrimination and Dalit Women
Empowerment through Education
Dalit Issue: Is It Never ending Quest?
All Pages

Story of Kamala

It was a very rainy cold day. I was sitting on the porch talking to a friend. She told me Kamala had died not long after she was diagnosed with AIDS. I was very sad to hear about her painful death. Kamala was born to a very poor lower caste family, in isolated rural Nepal where there is no road or running water. Eight members of her family used to live in a small house without windows. Her parents served their whole lives working as tailors for high caste Brahmin families without compensation. They made clothes for 50-200 family members. In return, they would get one basket of corn per year.



Of course that income was not enough to feed six children. Kamala had to work very hard to support her siblings. As a result, she couldn't go to school for her own education. Also, when she was growing up, lower caste girls in particular were not sent to school because society didn’t value women like men (Acharya, 2005, Bennett, 2005). Being a girl from a lower caste family, she was humiliated and insulted in public places because she was “untouchable”. She couldn't fetch the water from the same public tap as higher caste people, nor could she go inside the Hindu temples.

One chilly day, she was gazing at her animals near a forest; she suddenly heard the voice of a man. She saw a high caste man approaching her. She was so surprised to see him. First she was a little afraid of him because the rape of Dalit girls by high caste men is very common. He told her not to be afraid and he was there to help and to support her for her whole life. He told Kamala that he would find her a good job in the big city and she would have good life and she would even be able to support her family. She didn't tell her parents and left home with the man hoping to make a better life for her family and herself. She had never before left her small village in her life and was exited to a big city where she could see buses, cars and other new things. He took her to Katmandu and they stayed in a hotel together. He sexually exploited her, then told her she would have to go to another city for work. He gave her something on the way to India to make her sleepy. They arrived in Bombay, where he took her to a brothel, left her and never came back. The owner of the brothel told her that she had been sold for three hundred dollars. She started to cry, and she couldn't escape from the house. For three years, she was a sex worker, serving three to seven men each day.

One day she felt very sick. Her owner found out that she was Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV) positive and kicked her out. She was lying on the cold street of Bombay without any proper clothes. One Nepali man found her and brought her to Katmandu. He dropped her at a police station. She told them everything about the man who sold her. Instead of helping her, the police verbally harassed her. They didn't even file her case. Even though those police had all the information, they didn't arrest the man who had kept her as a sex worker, because they took a bribe from him. If she had been from a high caste rich family, the police would have helped her, as they know high caste people have many contacts within the government. Since she was low caste, she simply did not matter to the police.

Finally, she went home. Her family couldn't support her because she had Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In addition, the people in the community forced her parents to remove her from the village thinking that she would spread AIDS in the whole community. So she came back to Katmandu and died.

This is not the only case of Dalit women suffering. There are thousands of Dalit women in situations like Kamala’s. But there are no proper reports on their plight.

Kamala’s story illustrates that death from AIDS can be the direct result of victimization through structural violence including poverty, gender and caste discrimination. Paul Farmer’s definition of structural violence “Structural violence is “A series of large- scale forces ranging from gender inequality and racism to poverty which structure unequal access to goods and services.” (Farmer, 1996:3). Because of these structural inequities, Kamala ultimately died from AIDS. The story also clearly shows Dalit women are suffering from a lack of education, as well as political, economical and social power in the community. Even after returning to Nepal from India, the Nepali police did not provide any support to her. Although she was suffering so much, her family and her community would not allow her to stay in her village because of the social norms. Most of the low caste women are powerless and the most vulnerable women. If she had been educated, rich and empowered, she would not have been a victim of structural violence, at least not to the same extent. It is for all these reasons that Dalit women are at higher risk of HIV and other infections.

My interest in studying issues regarding AIDS and Dalit women began from both personal and academic motivations. Growing up in rural Nepal, I have seen many Dalit women die each year from HIV/AIDS. My personal interest began with the horrific story of Kamala. I became concerned about how many Dalit women are in her situation.

This book focuses on three primary points. The first part is a literature review about women and how structural violence increases women’s susceptibility to HIV/AIDS. The second part is the condition of poor, rural Dalit females, and explains why they are at the highest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. In particular, I review the interconnections of multiple oppressions of class, caste, gender, and culture at all levels as main factors in the wide experiences of Dalit women’s suffering. I use Paul Farmer’s theory of structural violence to illustrate how oppression increases women’s risk of HIV/AIDS. The third main point draws from the first two points. I argue that Dalit women are at high risk of getting HIV/AIDS because of structural violence and that empowering Dalit women can be a significant means to combat and prevent HIV/ AIDS for the most vulnerable Dalit women.

Introduction

Nepal is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, with snowcapped Himalayas and breathtaking mountains. It is sandwiched between two powerful countries, India and China. However, Nepal is also one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Inequality, injustice and. Discrimination against caste and gender are the main obstacles of development (Asian Development Bank (ADB, 2005). Nepal ranked as one of the lowest performing economies in the world. According to this report, more than forty percent of the Nepali population lives below the national poverty line with per capita income at USD 240. Health conditions in Nepal are also among the poorest in the world (ibid).

Ethnic Composition of Nepal

According to the Department for International Development (DFID) 2005, the population of Nepal is estimated to be 22.3 million of which 11.56 million are male and 11.58 million are female. Geographically, the country is divided into three regions; Mountain, Hill and Terai (plain). It is estimated that approximately 85% of the population live in rural areas, many of which are completely inaccessible by road or air, while less than 15 per cent live in urban and semi-urban areas (CBS, 2001). According to the Census Record 2001, Nepal is populated by 103 castes and ethnic groups and they speak 108 languages and dialects (ADB, 2005). Table 1.1 shows that Nepal is ethnically diverse and dominated by high caste people such as Brahmins and Chhetrias. Even though the Dalits and other indigenous caste groups including Magar, Tharu, Tamang and Newar represent a significant proportion of the national population, they continue to remain at the bottom end of the social hierarchy.



 

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