News: NPL: Nepal Digest - Nov 4, 1998

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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 :
## date : 15.11.98
The Nepal Digest Wednesday Nov 4, 1998: Kartik 19 2055BS:
Year7 Volume80 Issue1

Forwarded by: Ashutosh Tiwari <>
To: The Nepal Digest <>

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
 dispassionate scholars.

 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.

 Tin roofs

 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,"
 explains Sashi.

 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.


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