Subject: News: NPL: Nepal Digest - Nov 4, 1998
Date: Tue Feb 02 1999 - 13:35:27 EST
Edited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network
## author : email@example.com
## date : 15.11.98
The Nepal Digest Wednesday Nov 4, 1998: Kartik 19 2055BS:
Year7 Volume80 Issue1
Forwarded by: Ashutosh Tiwari <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: The Nepal Digest <email@example.com>
My sister next?
The Melamchi river flows placidly through
Sindhupalchowk district north of Kathmandu
(above). Many girls from areas like this in Nepal are
sex workers in Bombay, 2500 km away.
OCTOBER 1998 <VOL 11 No 10> by Naresh Newar
Sindhupalchowk district, barely 20 km northeast of
Kathmandu Valley as the crow flies, shares with Rasuwa
District, to its west, the notoriety of being the
pre-eminent exporter of girls to the brothels of India.
Like so much other information on girl trafficking out of
Nepal, the history of this export is apocryphal, there
having been little in the way of serious research by
Some of the Sindhupalchowk locals say that the sex trade
originated in the supply of Tamang and Sherpa girls of this
region to the feudal Rana court of Kathmandu. Apparently,
it was just a step away from serving as bhitrini
(concubines) and susaaray (maid servants) to the "cages" of
the Kamathipura red light district of Bombay. The antiquity
of trafficking may be murky, but there is no doubt that
there is profit in selling sex. That much is obvious from
even a cursory look at some of the households of
Sindhupalchowk s villages such as Ichowk, Mahankal, and
There is a trafficking network which today continues to
supply young women of Sindhupalchowk to Indian cities, and
the fact that the locals are fully engaged in this supply
is evident from the names of some of the largest brothel
owners in Bombay: Lata Sherpa, Mala Tamang, Kabita Sherpa,
Anita Sherpa and Maya (Tamang) Chauhan all names which
indicate to a fair degree the origin of the women in
Sindhupalchowk. Vinod Gupta and Sanjay Chonkar, social
activists in Bombay, say that in addition to these top
five, there are many other small-time Nepali gharwalis
(madams) engaged in running a fair number of the hundreds
of bordellos of Bombay. According to them, altogether
25,000 Nepali women work in the brothels of the three key
red light areas of Kamathipura, Pilla House and Falkland
Unlike other equally poor hill districts of Nepal,
Sindhupalchowk has concentrated on this particular export
trade. It has helped that powerful gharwalis from this
region rule the roost at the Bombay end. Over time, it has
also become an accepted social custom, albeit a secretive
"The family members of the victims equally share in the
crime," explains Krishna Chhetri, a school teacher at
Ichowk, which has many of what are known as "family
traffickers". "Prostitutes who return home after several
years in the trade encourage their neighbours to send their
daughters to Bombay. With their ostentatious display of
wealth, it is easy to convince the parents to part with
their daughters," adds Chhetri.
Ichowk is popularly known as Sano Bambai (Little Bombay).
From across the Melamchi river valley, in the afternoon
sun, Ichowk s tin-roofs reflect a prosperity that is said
to come from earnings of its women in Bombay. Until
recently, when they became more common in the hills of
Nepal, these tin roofs were proof of cash income (required
to buy the corrugated sheets) and an indication of Ichowk s
source of wealth, compared to poorer villages which had to
make do with thatch. There was, apparently, a direct link
between a daughter in Bombay and a tin roof above one s
head in Sindhupalchowk.
Starting from the roadhead at the bazaar of Melamchi Pul,
it takes over five hours hard hill-walking to reach the
closely-knit settlement of Ichowk. Indeed, the tin roofs
are all there, with but a handful of thatch. However, the
rest of the village is in bad shape: there is no
electricity, running water or a health care centre. The
fields are poorly irrigated, and the maize and potatoes
they produce are hardly enough to last the year.
Unlike the tourist region of Helambu up-valley along the
Melamchi, the locals of Ichowk are openly hostile towards
strangers. This is, obviously, the result of the unwanted
attention it has received over the last few years from
Kathmandu-based activist groups, suddenly woken up to the
scourge of trafficking. When this writer arrived at Ichowk
one June afternoon this year and started chatting with an
elderly Tamang woman on her veranda a middle-aged man
arrived to grill me with questions, while another man came
with a register book and insisted that I write down my name
and purpose of visit. There was no unpleasantness, but the
incident showed the deep suspicion that Ichowk villagers
have of outsiders.
Later, when the Tamang woman s husband arrived he explained
that his two daughters had gone with his neighbour to the
"Thulo Sahar" big city, the term for Bombay. Shyam Karki,
school teacher in the village, said that the old man often
travelled to Bombay to collect money from his daughters.
"There are many parents like him involved in sending their
children to work in the Bombay brothels."
"Up to 200 families in this village have sold their
daughters, mostly between 12-15 years old. At least 15
girls have left the village with well-known pimps in front
of my very eyes. Obviously, the whole community knows where
their girls are headed," says Karki. Everyone knows what is
going on and what "Bambai" signifies, from the elderly to
the very young. "But they pretend as if they do not know,"
says Karki. "Some families feel the need to show concern,
and they make noises in the village, even file a report
with the police. But they wait some days before doing so,
to ensure that the coast is clear."
Sashi Tamang, a 14 year-old girl rescued from Kamathipura
and now living at the Kathmandu shelter home of Maiti
Nepal, an NGO providing assistance to women, confirms
parental involvement in trafficking. She even says that the
girls leaving the village know precisely where they are
going to end up. In the brothel to which she was sold by
her own neighbour, Sashi remembers meeting at least 50
Nepali girls, a majority of them from Sindhupalchowk. "Most
of them had come willingly. Even their own fathers had
reached some of them here. But they never knew anything
about all the suffering they would face in Bombay,"
In Krishna Chhetri s village of Palchowk (which provides
the second half of the district s name) stands the
100-year-old temple of Shri Jai Bageshwari Devi, much
revered by the Bombay veterans of Sindhupalchowk as well as
the neighbouring Nuwakot district. Travelling from far
afield, richly adorned women, escorted by their families,
arrive here on Saturdays to perform the elaborate Hindu
rite of Panchawoli. Lavish spending is in order, and up to
NPR 10,000 (USD 150) is paid per buffalo sacrifice. Holy
offerings are made to Bageshwari Devi, up to NPR 15,000,
says Chhetri. All this conspicuous spending has the locals
wide-eyed it is "Bambai" that makes it possible.
The Bhageshwari mandir also serves as a place where sex
workers and traffickers alike come to expiate their sins .
This is evident from the large sums that have been
contributed for the restoration and upkeep of the temple.
The names of contributors prominently displayed on the
walls, unlike in other temples of Nepal, are primarily
those of women.
What is strange but perhaps natural is that the very young
girls of Sindhupalchowk who have suffered at the hands of
their brothel managers emerge over time as mirror images of
their tormentors. These prematurely aged women, clearly,
think nothing of entrapping more and ever more young girls
from Sindhupalchowk into the maze of Bombay s sex trade.
The very women who have been trafficked by their parents,
or by middle-men (and -women), are more than willing, in
the role of brothel managers and gharwalis, to encourage
the export of more young women from Sindhupalchowk to
Kamathipura and Falkland Road.
Mahendra Trivedi, an ayurvedic practitioner in Bombay and
one of the first persons to begin a counselling service for
Nepali prostitutes, says he has given up trying to change
the attitude of the gharwalis. At one time, Trivedi helped
start the Sanyukta Nepali Satya Sodhak Pidit Mahila Sangh,
an organisation of prostitutes and brothel keepers
promoting the welfare of Nepali sex workers and their
"The movement was begun to help Nepali sex workers unite
against the corrupt police, local goondas and wicked
clients. It was also meant to solve problems of illiteracy
and disease, and to help those who wanted to leave
prostitution," recalls Trivedi. According to him, however,
now the organisation has become a base to expand the market
for Nepali prostitutes in Bombay. "The Sangh is now doing
more harm than good," says Trivedi.
The membership of the Sangh is down today to just 3000 from
the 12,000 during the late 1980s. Until a decade ago, about
80 to 90 gharwalis used to attend meetings every Saturday,
discussing matters of concern to the Nepali sex workers.
This does not happen any more, and the main Tamang and
Sherpa gharwalis in the executive committee of the
organisation actually own more brothels today than ever
before. "The gharwalis kept on expanding brothels on the
pretext of providing more rooms to their girls," recalls
Trivedi. The Bombay bazaar for Nepali girls is getting
larger, and back in Sindhupalchowk, the supply is assured
into the future.
N. Newar is a Kathmandu-based journalist with special
interest in human rights issues.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2a22 : Sun Nov 21 1999 - 20:09:33 EST