Kalpana* is 20 years old and lives in Kathmandu. “I didn’t tell any of this to my dad because I was shy. There was no question of telling mom, as she didn’t speak to me. I used to feel that I would have to fight alone, kill or be killed if needed.”
“There are five daughters in our family, I am the third child.
Our economic situation has always been poor. Our grandmother used to send us to school when she was alive. I somehow studied till the 3rd grade in a government school. I also got a scholarship there.
I did not get much of my mother’s love. My sister got hit by a motorbike while walking in the road, my exams were coming up at the time. When we told mom she told me I should not go to school, as my sister was unable to. Then she asked me to get a job in a hotel washing dishes, as that was something I could do. I cried a lot when I didn’t get to study, but they still didn’t send me to school. Then they sent me to a hotel. I don’t know what my salary was. My mom used to come and take the money.
At the hotel, they didn’t treat me badly in the beginning. But as time passed, the sahuni (female owner of a business) started to ask me to serve food. I was still a kid, maybe 10 years old, and I didn’t know any better about what happens when people touch you, about what guys say. They used to try to hold my hand, hug me, touch me here and there. I didn’t go home much; I used to live and sleep there. I used to call sahuni ‘aunty’.
I worked for about six or seven years. During this time many people used to offer to buy me clothes, take me to movies or buy me a cell phone if I went with them, but I never went with them. They used to touch me though. When I would go to complain to sahuni she used to dismiss it saying it was no big deal and nothing would happen, and it was not like I would get pregnant.
Initially I just had to collect the dishes and serve them. Later my hands and body started aching, I could never sit down, customers used to pinch my waist when I went to serve the food, they tried to touch me. I had to wake up at five am and wash dishes and prepare chapatti and begin cooking at seven. It was not until 3pm that I got to eat. People would arrive around 4pm to drink (alcohol). I had to serve the customers alcohol and meat. Many of them asked me to go with them. They would say to keep it a secret from sahuni and that they would come and pick me up at such and such a time, take me to a club and then a guesthouse and drop me off early in the morning.
The owner used to touch me. I don’t remember how old I was, but aunty had gone out and I was in the kitchen, and he came in and held me from behind. I turned and asked him what he was doing. He said nothing would happen, as it was not like he slept with me. I told aunty what he did, but he denied it and we quarrelled. Then they started to mistreat me. They added to my workload. They used to make me wash even the clean dishes, send me late to sleep, ask me to go with guests, make me stand for a long time. If I sat down, they used to shout at me and they used to swear at me in front of others. They used to tease me about my body as it changed during adolescence. I didn’t tell any of this to my dad because I was shy. There was no question of telling mom, as she didn’t speak to me. I used to feel that I would have to fight alone, kill or be killed if needed. But I used to confide in my friend. She used to tell me that since we were not educated, even if we didn’t sleep with them, we had to let them touch us. But I never liked that, and I eventually left the job as I decided I would sustain myself somehow, but I would not let guys touch me.
I went to an NGO from there. They asked what I wanted to do, the only thing I knew about was working in a hotel, so I said that. They told me to ask my family for support. When I did ask, they told me to do as I wanted and kicked me out of the house.
Later ma’am provided me with a small pushcart, and I started a business. The same thing happened to me again. I was alone and could not retaliate, even when I yelled at them, they used to tell me that I was so-and-so type of girl and they used to cuss at me. I tolerated that.
Perhaps because my business was on the roadside, people thought they could touch me, so I looked for a cheap shutter (a room/space in houses for shops). But it was riskier for me, because guys would come in while I was trying to close it for the day, and some of them would refuse to leave. Some drunk people used to come and do as they want. I used to sleep there. People knew that I slept there. They used to come in the evening and ask me to open up and say they would pay me to do things, and that no one would know. Some even used to say it was no big deal and that I should let them stay as they would marry me. Some used to threaten me, saying they would spread rumours about what I do there and make things difficult for me. They used to blackmail me. Many people would try to touch me and would threaten me. Even cops used to come. I got more scared. If the police are like that, then they won’t look after me if anything happens to me. They might say I am a certain type of girl and that this is how my life is, so I can’t blame others. I told ma’am that it was getting more difficult for me, so I didn’t want to continue. Meanwhile, I fell ill. My friend came to take me.
My dad called me back home after the lockdown started. He had always loved me as a kid. He said he would take care of me even if mom would not, so I went. I didn’t know what to do after the lockdown. People said there were packing jobs at Jamal and asked me if I wanted to join. I asked if there were boys there as I was afraid. I thought that they could do anything to me if I am alone at a garment factory. When I saw that just girls were there mostly, I decided to work there, I am working there at present.
We used to live in Bhaktapur. I remember, one time, when I was really sick, my mom didn’t look after me. She used to give food to my sisters but not to me. One day when my sister was cooking, the room caught on fire. My mom took my sisters outside, but she didn’t take me. My grandmother loved me. If I was hungry, she used to look to see if there was anything to eat and she would give it to me. She used to keep me with her. I used to help her with chores, and she used to ask if I wanted to study. I did, but my mom would not send me to school. My grandmother yelled at my mom saying she could not even send one daughter to school. My grandmother gave the money to my mom, but my mom did not pay the fee, she used to keep all the money. We used to get a government scholarship every two-three month and mom used to take that money too. It was not that costly at school. Just textbooks and pens, that’s all.
My mom opened a shop. A lot of drivers used to come to the shop and my elder sisters used to go out with them, they used to travel around with them and bring dresses back. I did not want to speak to guys or go out with them. I used to tell dad about it. He used to tell me not to do what my sisters did.
My eldest sister doesn’t speak to me anymore. The only one that speaks to me at home is my dad. I don’t know why my family is distant from me. My mom asked me for money. She takes money from my dad and everyone, but she does not provide for our needs. It’s fine that she takes our money, as she looked after us and raised us, but not if she does not say what she does with the money.
I am staying at home right now and working in the garment factory. If you can produce lots of pieces, you can get 300-400, sometimes you get nothing. You never know your salary. They gave us 5,000 during the time of Dashain, I gave that to my mom for household expenses.
My plan ahead is to go abroad after I learn tailoring. I feel brave. The happiest I have ever been is when I went to school. It was fun. I did not have the option to avoid working in the hotel. Only when I grew old enough and could argue with my mom, then I left the job.”
*All names have been changed