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In a Dark Kitchen, a Taboo is Broken: Three Courageous Women Change the Rules in Nepal PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Tracy Ware and Eva Kasell   
Friday, 03 January 2014 22:34

Special: 4 photos: Gorkha/Boston: There were no trumpets of course—just three women in a small dark room that reeks of smoke: Kanchi, a day-laborer Dalit woman, Indira, the Brahmin mistress, and Gita, an EDWON activist, also a Dalit woman. The stage manager was Gita, who had hoped for just such an occasion to set events in motion—the breaking of a taboo!

Cooking on a smoke-free chulo greatly benefits women’s health. Empower Dalit Women of Nepal (EDWON) has been helping make such chulos for Nepalese rural women. Photos courtesy:

First a little context: On December 13th, 2011 Avenues Television, a Nepali News Station, reported the following: Manir Sunar, a 30 year-old Dalit man from Jibutha Village in Western Nepal was beaten to death by two Brahmin men after he accidentally touched their restaurant stove while lighting a cigarette.

Indira is a rather enlightened Brahmin woman because in 2012 she joined a savings and loan group run by Dalit women. She shares tea with her Dalit friends in the group and lets them touch her. This means Indira is already a social pioneer.

Breaking the taboo: Indira being touched by her Dalit friends. Photos courtesy:

Kanchi has done menial jobs for Indira for 12 years: fieldwork, cutting animal fodder and collecting firewood, all out-door work. Because she is Dalit, she has never entered Mistress Indira’s house; according to tradition, this would desecrate the house. Kanchi is “unclean” and “belongs outside with the animals.” Kanchi and Indira know these unwritten rules and have never challenged them.

Gita Pariyar, a Dalit woman, making smoke-free stove in Taklung, Gorkha, 2011. Photo:

Being a Dalit, Gita has been steeped in this culture, too. But because she possesses pride as a Dalit as well as insight, she saw a taboo-breaking opportunity in chulo promotion, in addition to a host of other benefits. Chulos are smoke-free adobe stoves that greatly benefit women’ s health and the environment. Gita became an expert chulo builder and started offering her services free to Brahmins.

Gita Pariyar is an ADWAN board member and an Dalit activist. Photos courtesy:

With is little corner shrine and statuette, Indira’s kitchen is obviously a special place. By Hindu tradition, the hearth is sacred and the kitchen the most ‘off-limits’ space for Dalits. However, Gita is in the kitchen now by invitation--to build Indira's new chulo. She is on her knees, stacking sundried bricks, when she eyes Kanchi working outside. Gita calls for her to bring in more bricks and mud. Kanchi piles bricks in a basket, and comes to the edge of the doorway. Her eyes say -- Cannot do it – it is not allowed! But Gita insists, reassures her, motions. Kanchi takes two steps into the forbidden kitchen, when Indira suddenly appears -- Kanchi freezes, eyes darting from Gita to Indira. In a firm voice looking straight at Indira, Gita says: “I asked her to help me -- you don’t mind her here, do you?” Indira hesitates for just a moment-- and says: (the trumpets sound here) – “-- No, no -- it’s fine, let her come in!”

Indira was neither cruel nor unreasonable when she never invited Kanchi inside -- even when it was raining. Maybe she was scared herself, or it just never occurred to her. However, at this point EDWON’s empowerment approach and Gita’s clever action had changed Indira’s perceptions. And to their credit, all three women had the courage to shake off tradition and reinvent the rules. Things will never be the same for Kanchi nor Indira -- in Indira’s kitchen!

Chulos greatly benefit women’s health, workload and the environment all at once. They are inexpensive and built from local materials. EDWON has sponsored 200 of them thanks to a generous donor. Now Gita has demonstrated another powerful advantage of chulos: as tools of social change.
Help us build more chulos next year!

-As told by Gita Pariyar, October 2013, recounted by Tracy Ware and Eva Kasell

Note: Since 2003, Empower Dalit Women of Nepal (EDWON) has been assisting rural Dalit women to become agents of change. EDWON enables Dalit women, repressed by caste and gender, to claim their human rights, gain economic empowerment and live in dignity.

Dollars for Change

$10: Can send a child to school for an entire year through EDWON's Blue Shirt Program
$50: Can bring vital human rights knowledge to five women.
$100: Can fund one woman for a year in EDWON's REAL Change (Rights, Education, Action, Livelihood) program.
$500: Is enough to prepare an EDWON Jumpstart class of young children for school success.
$1000: Can fund a Women's Health Workshop benefitting 150 women
$2500: Covers a year of EDWON's REAL Change Program for 25 women and their children.

EDWON is a U.S.-based 501(c)3 organization that is closely affiliated with ADWAN (Association of Dalit Women’s Advancement of Nepal). ADWAN, founded in 1998, is an independent, non-governmental organization registered in Nepal. EDWON raises funds exclusively for ADWAN, which leads and carries out the programs. Founder Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar is a member of both EDWON’s and ADWAN’s boards.

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--अमेरिकि नेपाली संस्था "एड्वन" (EDWON) को सहयोगमा महिला सशक्तिकरण, अधिकार र स्वालम्वन अभियान

-कतै चुलो छुँदा दलितको ज्यान गयो, कतै चुलो बनाउन दलितलाई निम्तो !

--A Happy Valentine's Day for Sunita !

-नेपाल दलित महिला उत्थान संघ (ADWAN) को १३ औं वार्षिक साधारण सभाद्वारा पाँच बुँदे काठमाडौं

घोषणा पत्र जारी

-अमेरिकि जनताको सहयोगमा गोर्खा जिल्लाको ताक्लुङ गाबिसलाई नमूना गाउँ बनाउने तयारी
बिष्णुमाया परियार र उनको संस्था EDWON USA द्वारा महिला शसक्तिकरणको लागि ३ करोड ७५ लाख

रुपैयाँ संकलन


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