Nepali Widows Face Constant Hardships
By Sunny Shrestha
Global Press Journal
Yesterday, Sushila Basnet, 31, was busy cleaning her rented room on the fourth floor of a building in the Ason bazaar, one of the most densely populated areas of Kathmandu. The walls in her room are dirty and the paint is peeling.
Basnet is a beautiful, young Nepali woman, with a dark complexion and long black hair. She moved to Kathmandu from Dolakha, a village about 150 kilometers away, after her husband died in 2005. Like many widows in Nepal, Basnet, whose name has been changed for her protection, faced discrimination and cultural hardship following the death of her husband.
Basnet’s story is typical. She was forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 26. Her parents feared that because she hadn’t found a husband by that age she would remain single throughout her life. So they married her to a 46-year-old man in 2002. The marriage was less than ideal. Her husband had heart disease and four children from a previous marriage. Although second marriages are not common in Nepal, he agreed to marry Basnet because the children’s mother had died in 2001.
“My husband’s oldest daughter was almost my age,” Basnet says. The other three children were of 12, 15 and 18.
Basnet says she was not aware of her husband’s medical problems before they wed. He passed away just two years after they were married. After his death, Basnet says both families blamed her for his death and began to treat her poorly. “I was called inauspicious, and people blamed me for my husband’s death,” she says. Her stepchildren and other family members teased and tormented her.
In Nepal, widows are often discriminated against, blamed for their husband’s deaths, and shunned from community activities. Basnet says the treatment she received soon escalated from teasing. She was not allowed to participate in community gatherings or festivities. During Teej, a Hindu festival where women fast and pray to Lord Shiva for the long life of their husbands, her family forced her to confine herself to her own room. They didn’t want her to touch anything for puja, a process of offering to God. “When they told me not to touch anyone and anything in the house, I felt like as if I was suffering from some transferable disease,” Basnet says.
After 15 months she says she could not stand the discrimination anymore, so she went to her childhood home in Dolakha, a central district. She was searching for shelter and reprieve from the cultural torment of widowhood, but there she still could not find relief.
“My sister-in-laws always taunted me. They told me I was a burden to the family,” Basnet says. Soon after she arrived, her family tried to force her to return to her husband’s village. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Basnet recalls, “My mother herself told me that the reason for my widowhood was the sins of my past life.”
So Basnet decided to come to Kathmandu to live alone and escape the ill treatment of her relatives and community. She told her mother and sisters that she was going back to her husband’s home, but instead she fled to Kathmandu. After selling all of her jewelry and valuable possessions, she was able to find shelter in the capital city.