Jul 28, 2018-In October of 2009, I went on a four-day school field trip to Bhairahawa and Lumbini. It was my first time outside the Valley and as our school bus passed along busy southern towns next to the highway, I noticed women in saris riding bicycles with their heads covered with dupattas. I remember a group of my fifteen-year-old classmates sniggering at the sight, but I was impressed by the women. Having grown up in Kathmandu during the late 90s and early 2000s, I was more accustomed to seeing roads where only men drove cars, a scant few women rode scooters, and almost no women rode bicycles or motorbikes. These Tarai women who rode their bicycles with a straight back and a solemn look moved me inexplicably. Perhaps, that was my first encounter with my feminist self.
Almost nine years after that sight, I was reintroduced to the scene in Yangesh’s Bhuiyan—an engaging and moving piece of literature. This time the lady on the bicycle had a name and a story. The story of Parbati Raji is a story of a lifetime of struggles, bravery, and heroism. Parbati Raji isn’t literate, but she is a feminist who asks bold questions about social justice and lives to fight the good fight.
I am aware of the tendency in our society to consider feminists to be women who are rebellious and disrespectful. As a feminist, I feel misunderstood when my character is interpreted in such a way. Just because I identify as a feminist does not mean I hate all men, disrespect religion, or believe that women are superior to men. Feminism is about equality of rights and resources and is not about hating and dominating men.
Consistent with the current misinterpretations of feminism is the caricaturish idea of what a feminist looks like. Most people imagine a feminist to be a woman who is well-educated, independent, belongs to an upper-middle class family, works for a nonprofit, and wears sunglasses and heels every time she steps out of the house. These women might very well be feminist, but it may also be true that these women who are driven around town in their chauffeur-driven cars go home to a father, a husband, or in-laws who “let her” study and work. Feminism isn’t a privilege of the celebrities and the elites or a superficial fad, at its core maybe it is the demand and an expression of the underlying equality and complementarity between men and women.
The nine stories that Yangesh shares with us in Bhuiyan paint an unconventional yet honest picture of feminists. The men and women he met in his journey don’t fit into a caricaturish ideal. These men and women are the most underprivileged citizens of Nepal. They have barely passed primary level of schooling, have lived in makeshift houses their entire lives, have no land to call their own, have no permanent jobs, and yet it is in these communities that women have become head of households and have advocated and fought for their rights as women and as disenfranchised people.
Source The Kathmandu Post