Regaining My Right to Live With Dignity
Regaining My Right to Live With Dignity
March 20, 2012, was a day like any other spring day. The day was bright and sunny; the trees were sprouting new green leaves; the flowers were in full bloom; and the birds were singing sweet melodies with joyous hearts. I, however, could not find solace in the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the flowers or the melodies of the birds.
My name is Patali B.K. I belong to a poor and “untouchable” caste. I am originally from Pithauli village of Nawalparasi district in Nepal, but after floods washed away our house and farmland there eight years ago, my family invested what little savings we had on a small plot of land and hut in Dibyapur village, also in Nawalparasi district. The produce from our vegetable patch and the daily wages we earned as agricultural laborers barely sustained us until the cruel fates brought us more trouble; my husband died. Our economic condition worsened after the death of the main bread winner of our family and our neighbors started to treat me horribly. They accused me of being a witch and of trying to harm them with black spells. People pointed accusing fingers in my direction and showered me with expletives, scolding and beatings whenever anyone in the village fell ill or had a mishap or poor luck. Eventually, I was forced to flee my home with one of my son and his family. With no other livelihood option at home, my son migrated to India to earn money.
On this day in March, I woke up from a troubled sleep, as I had every other day in the past year, and had just completed my daily chores when I heard from my neighbor about a gathering in the village by the Kudauli Bufferzone Community Forest User Group (BZCFUG). Curiosity and the little hope that remained in me got the better of me, and I decided to go to the gathering. There I found that Draupadi Gurau from CARE’s Hariyo Ban Program and staff from the Women’s Skill Development Center were facilitating a participatory well being ranking of the member households of the BZCFUG. Draupadi informed the group that, following national guidelines, each Community Forest User Group (CFUG) must allocate 35 percent of their annual income to the livelihood improvement of its poorest members, giving special preference to women and marginalized people. She then informed the group that the CFUGs must ensure that the concerns of such people regarding the use of forest products are heard and addressed. Moreover, she said that the executive committees could only make decisions on forest resource utilization and major forest management activities after a discussion is had and decision is reached in the general assembly. Furthermore, all such decisions must be pro-poor and pro-women. She warned, however, that not all executive committees and members of CFUGs would voluntarily conform to these guidelines and that the poor and marginalized people like us must, thus unite and compel them to conform.
In order to help empower us, CARE was supporting a community learning and action center where 25 women from the poorest and marginalized households, as determined by the participatory well being ranking, would participate in weekly awareness and discussion meetings on how to ensure our rights and good governance in the CFUG to improve our livelihoods, adapt to climate change by sustainable use of forest resources while at the same time conserving the forests and biodiversity.
Listening to Draupadi’s words, my hope for justice resurfaced and tears welled up in my eyes. I tried to wipe them away discreetly with the end of my sari, but I was caught in the act by Draupadi. When she inquired about the reason for my tears, I could not help myself from telling her all my woes and the injustices I had suffered over the years.
My concerns were discussed in the very first meeting of the community learning and action center and a committee was formed to handle my case. The committee met and discussed with the community and local leaders how to ensure justice and a safe return home for me. During the meeting, the main perpetrators were brought forth and made aware of the legal repercussions they could bear due to their atrocities on me. They begged for mercy, promised never to repeat their wrongdoings and welcomed me back to my village. The other villagers accepted their fault too and promised never to let such incidents happen again. They also promised to help me resettle in my former home.
I have been back in my village for more than a year now, and the community treats me as an equal with respect. I do not have to live in fear any more, as I have the law on my side and the support of community learning and action center members. I am grateful to Draupadi, members of the Kudauli BZCFUG and community learning and action center, and to the staff of CARE’s Hariyo Ban Program for their support. Thank you CARE for allowing me another chance to live my live with dignity and without fear.