Kathmandu Girls

JEMIMA DIKI SHERPA

There are things that happen when you are an upper-middle class girl from Kathmandu.

There is the autumn sun, which takes the chill off the morning and raises a haze of moisture from the prickly grass. There are carpets and blankets and mattresses spread out to air and dry. You lie down on one, your back warming gently, your stomach pressed against musty foam and cotton. It is Dasain, the sky blue dotted with warring kites, and he emerges from the house you are visiting. He is older, but in your eleven-year-old eyes you do not know how much; maybe five years, maybe eight, maybe more. He too lies belly-down, plucking at the spikes of grass, the outside of his elbow bumping yours. He sits up abruptly, his thigh pushing into your side. He takes off his thin jacket and shifts so that his head is resting against the small of your back, his lean body perpendicular to yours, his torso and his jeans on the even green grass. The sun is too warm now, and so is the nape of his neck on the curve of your waist, and you are afraid to move. He shifts slightly, and you feel his fingers creeping up underneath your shirt, caressing the curve of your still-forming breast, and gliding up to the crook of your underarm. “There’s not even any hair,” he says, amusement in his voice as his hand explores. You have frozen, and his head against your back feels like the heaviest thing in the world. There is a clank at the metal gate, and suddenly he is gone.

There is the neighbourhood shopfront where a glass window has gone up inside the blue shutter, advertising internet, phone calling and cheap DVDs in streaky enamel paint. It is late spring and the pre-monsoon clouds hang heavy over a city that wishes for nothing more than rain. The shop, elevated three feet above the street by uneven concrete steps, has become the local hangout for bored young men. Every day they sit on these steps, all blue jeans and cheap motorcycles, laughing and swearing. You pass, your fourteen-year-old body straining against you thirteen-and-a-half year old clothes, and they suddenly fall silent, and you can feel their eyes as your shoulders hunch forward, face down and your steps quicken. “Kyaaa cha yaar!” the witty one yells, and they laugh, maybe three of them today, maybe ten, and you wish you could live somewhere, anywhere that you didn’t have to walk past this.

There is the awful afternoon where you get off a tempo at Sundhara, seventeen years old and still in your uniform, shapeless pants and pin striped shirt. You hand the too-young conductor a fistful of change, notes worn cloth-soft and coins that leave a metallic tang on your fingertips, and you step down into the chaos. Earlier purple-grey clouds have poured fat raindrops on the streets, and mud squelches beneath your shoes as you join the mass of humanity making its way past Dharahara. It is nearly evening, and you move as part of the crowd, step for step, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, a river of faces. Sensibly, you cradle your bag, clasping it tight against your side. Then there is the touch among the many touches, the push amidst the jostling from all sides, the slow, deliberate movement of body against your body. You turn, and the man smiles strangely, his eyes fixed on your face in a look of triumph. His dark blue pants are unzipped, and for the longest seconds you glimpse the angry flesh of his cock straining in his hand and the line he drew with it along your ass moments earlier burns like a brand.

Then there are the things you hear.

There is the whispered confidence of a barely-teen friend about a crowded night car ride where her father’s friend suggests she sit on his lap, and holds her there as his hand surreptitiously strokes along her thigh. Later there are other whispers, about another girl who is abruptly married young, so very young, to a man she does not know. ‘Kastari ruyo, bichari,’ say the select few invited.

There is the childish afternoon at the city zoo where between the monkey enclosure and the cramped pacing leopard, a woman in a green kurtha lets out a shriek and claws at a man, screaming as other people try to drag her off. “This is him, this is the one!” she yells, and you grasp your brother’s hand. “Why is she angry?” he asks, trusting you to know, so you reply, “I think he stole something from her.” But you know that’s not quite right, and the words ijjat lutyo bury themselves in your mind until, suddenly, when you’re older, you understand.

There is the man who you call uncle, splashing hot water into peg after peg of whiskey, his deep cigarette laugh infectious. With impeccable comic timing he sketches travelling the Nepal from before the Nepal we know; and he says, “and then we’d chase those girls into the jungle, and have some fun! Nai nai bhanthyo, of course, but hamro jasto hoina, tyeta arkai cha…” and you realise what he means, and the laugh dies on your lips.

Then there are the things you feel.

There’s the group of male friends, joking over coffee, and you take it as an honour when they start talking like you’re just one of the guys, until you listen to what they’re saying and who they’re saying it about, and you feel the flash of shame as you sit, quiet. There’s the lump rising in your throat as you’re rattling home along quiet streets and your taxi driver brakes and another man jumps in the front seat, and they laugh at the note of panic in your voice and assure you it’s fine, they’re friends, just giving him a ride bahini, of course we’re still going east. There’s the moment when the boy you’re stealing kisses with pulls you closer and you pull back and say stop, please, and for an instant he won’t, and you realise just how much stronger he is than you; then he groans and lets you go, and relief comes and you hate yourself for doubting he is one of the good ones.

And then, every day, there is what you know as an upper-middle class Kathmandu girl.

You know that your privileges are your shield, your educated voice, your parent’s names, the walls and dogs that guard you, the quality of the clothing you wear and the company you keep. You know that these are the things that have saved you countless times from the ‘bad’ being the ‘or worse’, because these give you an imperfect measure of protection by making you a difficult and unpredictable target, the kind of girl who could cause a fuss and someone would take notice.

And you know, always, always, that you have just been lucky; that these men that surround the many unlucky women in the newspapers and the far-too-many others whose stories never make the pages, these are the same men that surround you too.

90 Responses to “Kathmandu Girls”

  1. This is one honest testimony I have read in a while. Uff, I cried.

  2. This is very good. You must send it for publication.

  3. Wow, great piece.

  4. wow, this is just too powerful. your words really hit. as a middle class girl from Kathmandu myself, this was like reliving all those years. thanks you.

  5. Really sad and very real. Thank you fro writing this.

  6. I can relate to all of that , word by word!

  7. Good article. 🙂

    I got a Question!

    How are these instances related to only upper middle class girls, isn’t it a general case? or are u relating it a female doning ultrawestern closet which basically triggers every male senses of attraction, moreover lewd persp. of some specific males?

    ..out of conceit with.., no offence thou. 😉

    • Thank you for reading and the question.

      The piece is based on my own experiences, so I thought it was important to point out that in Nepal women who have the relative privileges I do are protected in many ways from the worst kinds of harassment and abuse (or at least the kind that comes from strangers – it is important to remember that a huge amount of sexual abuse is actually from partners or family members)… this is why i say it makes us “the kind of girl who could cause a fuss and someone would take notice.”

      Many of women who don’t have this advantage are violated horribly and the men who do so can be almost certain that they will get away with it.

  8. really good one…no words….!!!!!…

  9. Reblogged this on PJ's Blog and commented:
    I think women can relate to this

  10. fantastic expression. vivid description. one could just experience the feelings. soo sad but so true. when will we have a fair society???…..

    • hello nilima….i read the article n i m so upset after reading this….i feel that, it all depends on mind set n more or less upbringing of an individual….’god’ i can’t even imagine that people can be so insensitive…..our society is degrading day by day…ppl with good thoughts should come together n raise voice against this evil..

  11. These are silent screams that one hears only too often. Screams that make you uncomfortable but rarely move you more than make you squeamish. A poignant reminder of the accepted vices of our men. A reminder of the insidious ‘norms’ that are conveniently wrapped under the pretense of preserving a society, values, culture. People today are more fearful of ink than of blood, hopefully this account will lend to shaping minds, changing views, and acceptance that just because she is not your sister or your mother, she is a sexual object for your gratification.

  12. Reblogged this on Travel.Pedal. Play Music.Laugh and have a little fun along the way 🙂 and commented:
    enjoyed every bit of it…wonderfully written.

  13. So many sad–and important–aspects here. What gives men their sense of entitlement? Why aren’t women able to defend themselves? Why/are all/some men sexual aggressors? Why/are all/some women sexual objects? Are men really that powerful? Are women really that weak?

  14. Words are powerful when are true. Excellent work, keep up the good work.

  15. I just had to comment A very honest piece

  16. Really good one! Gives a clear picture of a girls feeling.

  17. Although there are bits of technical mistakes, the story telling is good and relatable. Thanks for the read 🙂

    • Thank you for reading! The biggest downside of blogging is you have to edit your work yourself – it’s not easy to see mistakes after reading something so many times. Would you mind pointing out the technical mistakes so I can keep them in mind for the future?

  18. really good one.. no words

  19. I am not a kathmandu girl but I also have my own story;those so called uncles and relatives are still around me pretending to worry about me.I am silent coj I know there are no one else to hurt me except those so-called elders and relatives.Everyone can hear their good words for me,everyone can see how much they really care and worry for me.But i can just see their thirsty eyes;the eyes of a hungry fox.I am also a girl and I have my own story

    • Sugan, your story made my heart ache. Thank you for telling it here, and I wish you all the strength and good fortune in the world. – JD

  20. This is so powerful. I cried.
    I feel so bad that I’m in uk and girls back home suffer so much. I feel guilty.
    Those shitheads should be Hanged.

    • Thank you for reading. First, as long as you treat those around you with respect and encourage others to do the same, don’t feel guilty!

      But I can’t agree with you about hanging; violence is never the best response to violence.

      Unfortunately, these problems are universal, not just in Kathmandu/Nepal. Here are some statistics about violence against girls and women in the UK: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Statistics2.php

  21. upper middle class girl rey.
    goes in tempo
    LOL

  22. 🙂 great piece ….

  23. Excellently written. Sad state of affairs of women not only in Kathmandu but in many urban centers around the world. Articles such as yours will bring the spotlight on the globally ignored and less talked about “crime” and hopefully governments, NGOs and civi society will take action to ensure that culprits are meted appropriate punishment. Bravo

  24. a long time after, a really good read from a fellow Nepali… Kudos…
    The way you closed it, that’s perfect… And that actually gives answer to why the victim girls are from remote areas and poor family!

  25. Wonderful article which should be published – Just came back from Delhi and when one of my colleagues suggested I take a three-wheeler from the Metro to the house I was staying in, I decided NOT to. I do want to PROTECT myself from the “eyes” of “these” men, that almost “rape” you when they even look. Of course it cost a fortune for 3 days’ ride in a cab, but all worth it.

  26. I don’t normally comment on blogs, but after reading this absolutely beautiful and magnificient piece, I just couldn’t help myself! And all I can say right now is WOW! I love how much raw honesty this piece entails; the description is SO well done, it’s like I was there, in every single scene that the author was describing. Thank you so much for writing this extremely important piece using such vivid prose.

    Sexual abuse can start at any age and the sad reality is that most young girls don’t realize it until much later.

  27. Very well written, I felt the tension and anger in my stomach, I think most women feel this way…

  28. I hardly comment on blogs but this is one of the best pieces I have read! Your words are strong and what you are expressing is something I feel and what many other women feel.. and it reminds me of those wild faces who took pleasure by staring at me, touching me… Your words are powerful, you should write more often! Excellent…

  29. Right on!
    EVERY FAMILY AND EVERY PERSON bears responsibility for preventing violence against women and girls.

    Join us! Rise!

    1. Learn the choreography from our video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=re7X5z9rKVk&feature=player_detailpage&list=PLCglqviNnYjWfEscxmwqVgSqiHJ8U_vqk
    and

    2. Join us on February 14th at Patan Durbar Sq with a joyful, powerful, peaceful protest of the acceptance of violence against women by society and by institutions.

    Send a clear signal that NONE OF THIS IS ACCEPTABLE.

  30. Kasto Ramro ra powerful

  31. The best piece I’ve read from a Nepali writer in a long time. I don’t know you, Jemima, but wow, nothing is more tragically beautiful than the truth put in simple and vivid words. As a foreigner living in Ktm, I inevitably, too, fall into the ‘upper-class girl’ category, and my experiences have been exactly the same on tempos, in the neighborhood, and in interacting with Nepalis. What I really appreciate is that you acknowledge that privilege makes us people to ‘worry’ about, but that there are many more who are not given that privilege. Please, keep writing; you have a strong talent for it!

  32. great piece. you have a way with words that is really artfully beautiful. a very enticing read.

  33. The charm of the plot and its depth of realities have completely overshadowed a number of technical errors. Its beautifully written indeed!!!

    • Thank you for reading Sushil! Unfortunately as a blogger you have to be your own editor/publisher too and sometimes things slip past – do you mind pointing out where the technical errors are so I can keep them in mind for the future?

  34. lovely, thank you.

  35. Amazingly well written Jemima. You have an innate talent to describe images with your words. My stomach tightened up reading your words and it made me think of the countless numbers of young girls and boys that have been sexually assaulted in Nepal. This is something Nepalis don’t seem to speak about, hopefully your writing will bring the issue to the forefront. Please keep at it, write more.

  36. Brilliantly disturbing. Keep writing. Till no-one can claim not to know. You have a brilliant voice – use it!

  37. Awesome!!! Powerful, Insightful and Honest. Thank you for that.:-)

  38. Great work! Your article represents voice of every girls in our country!

  39. […] world in her essay, Moving Around, while Jemima Sherpa narrates the fate of the second sex in Kathmandu Girls. These two eloquently written articles are definitely worth a […]

  40. i wasn’t planning to read the whole article because i don’t enjoy reading so much, but after i read the first paragraph, i couldn’t stop. You write very well and I am sure everyone can relate to your article.

  41. This is a very serious piece. You should use it for campaigns – use these pieces in monologues. May be think about using it during the one billion rising campaign next week. This is powerful. and you write so well, capturing the fear and the frustration we have faced throughout our lives.

  42. this is awesome. it’s what every Nepali girl experiences. it’s just wow!!!

  43. Relatable, and very well written.

  44. A BIG thank you to everyone who read, commented on and shared this piece. It’s been amazing (but for obvious reasons also heartbreaking and infuriating) hearing from all the Kathmandu girls and others who say they can relate. Hopefully in the Year of the Water Snake we’ll create a better environment for young women in Kathmandu and everywhere. The two simplest ways to play a part in making this happen: 1. If you harass or abuse women, stop. 2. If you enable or tolerate someone who harasses or abuses women, stop that too. Peace, and Happy Losar! – Jemima Diki

  45. Beautiful and delicate piece of work..

  46. I am just blown away by this article

  47. Few weeks ago, me and my aunt were returning home from grocery shopping and it was around 6:30 p.m i guess when a guy (that bloody bastard) on a bike from behind squeezed my ass and just passed by us.
    I was tormented by this incidence and my aunt yelled at him.
    After this incident i have never set foot outside home at evening.
    I know some of my sister’s friends or cousin and even my aunt who experienced the same thing.
    I don’t know what they achieve by doing such a shameful act.

  48. Do we girls look like someone who is inviting for such act?
    I am just so angrrrrrryy right now.
    and the fact that we can’t do anything about it or we are helpless.
    arghh it kills me

    • shruti i really feel sorry….but the hell u witnessed there,this is happening almost every where..problem is in our society n mindset of few people….we talk about something but we forget when it comes to us…with time our society is getting so insensitive…it seems people are use to of it…we must protest n protest very strongly..i was thinking it is coz of illeteracy but common sense is nothing to do with literacy….i think, it is mainly upbringing of people,their sorrunding n GENE lies in his DNA(trait carrying thing in our body)…what u think regarding this?

  49. Thankyou for writing such amazing truth..It should be read by everyone

  50. […] To read a great piece written by a young Nepali blogger about sexual harassment in public spaces in Kathmandu, please click here. […]

  51. good one..

  52. Very well written Jemima. Bravo!

  53. Hi there…I frankly don’t know who you are and I stumbled on this post entirely by accident. I don’t normally comment much but could not help wonder why your title reads as upper middle class. Is upper middle class a) by caste b) your fathers bank balance c) your great great grandfathers name and position or d) and an unlikely one, your individual name that you made for yourself as a woman of substance.
    Your concern for women and their safety is highly justified but the class issue that you creep into this may not be deliberate but it is not a very pleasant one. When you bring class it almost sounds as if because one is upper class ones experience should be different. I grew up in the same Kathmandu and a lower middle class girl at that. If I can relate to your post then surely it isn’t all about class. I hope you don’t mean that middle class girls like us who don’t have fancy houses cars or even breed of dogs like you should expect any less. To be honest upper middle class girls at least when I was growing up were much safer. They had cars unlike us mortals who had to walk to school college or sathi kaha jana. Unlike your fancy hangouts in D’marg ours would be some old tea house by the school college selling samosa and chops and trust me one is more lusted at leeched at there than at the fancy places simply because the people who frequent such areas are far less educated and more inclined to tease because for them its what happens around them all the time. I will bet you to my last penny that walking in ‘upper middle class’ places will get you less teasing than the other places. Now, if you say that you frequent the lower middle class places then the question arises as to why you would actually go to a place like that. Of course men who prey at women do so devoid of class, but women and their safety is higher when they are upper class as you call it.
    Your focus on class , at least for me, is frankly more disturbing than the cause you claim to espouse because a society has many wrongs and violence against women,class based prejudices and caste are all just as evil as each other because they feed off each other.
    I hope I am wrong about your inherent intention because as a woman from Kathmandu I stand in solidarity with their issues.
    Good luck with more writing in the future.

    • Thank you Nirja. Bringing up class was very deliberate, and the reasons why it is relevant are are pretty much exactly the same ones you outline – please see the last three paragraphs.

  54. Hey there! (and again 😉 thanks for the reply but I am still unsettled by it.

    How can ones privilege be one’s shield? Are you saying that just because you carry a Hermes a guy wont leech at you than the girl who carries one of those fake LV bags whose V has long been ripped off but she doesn’t really know what it means??? Or the one who does not know that Chloe is pronounced the way it is and not like Chanel but that pronunciation is in Gucci???
    What I said was that at least when I was a young girl in KTM, the UMC girls were relatively safer because the chances of them being teased on the road, being hit by a water balloon when going to school, tuition or even being stalked by a crazy guy was much higher for girls like us. That doesn’t mean that the UMC girls have it safer overall. Not at all.
    You’re saying that being upper middle class does make you safer but for the deep reason you point out in the last 3 paras its a lucky escape every time? So that inside your fancy walls you’re just as insecure? WOW! What a revelation! I can’t help but wonder, is this just exclusive to ‘upper middle class girls’ in Kathmandu or is it everywhere? Do you girls have a secret club? If you are a UMC girl and you go out with a guy with a very fancy double barrelled name, almost Royal than upper (because let’s face it, when one is an UMC, why hang out with the lower classes huh?) and he doesn’t respect women, isn’t he just as bad? How does the class issue come into the calculation?
    If ones rich fathers friend can hit on one, the same thing can happen to me…..lest you forget, the lower middle class girl. And even if I were to buy your class argument for the sake of debate, doesn’t a woman walking on the street have the same right to safety, dignity and respect as a woman whizzing past in a shiny SUV with her grossly underpaid driver whose yearly salary is half of what your bag is worth?????????
    Which brings me back to why bring class into it AT ALL? What does class give you in terms of safety that the underclasses doesn’t? Doesn’t the underclass have the same dignity??? How is dignity and safety a class privilege?
    How is your surname, your bank balance, your designer clothes, your house and your dogs and the guards your advantage when we are subject to exactly the same suffering coming from the same gender?
    So to conclude, an upper middle class girl knows nothing different or new than a middle class, lower middle class girl or any class of girl for that matter. Now of course those girls may not voice it out like you do so articulately, but trust me…..THEY KNOW!

  55. My interpretation of upper middle class was that she has a house with big compounds a guard dog and her parents house to shelter her from whatever chaos she heard or came across. You write about what you know, and she wrote maybe from her experiences, or what she’s heard from the circle around her. If you want to give us another perspective, please do so. You seem to have taken this the wrong way, and you shouldn’t be agitated with her by addressing this problem from her point of view.

  56. Beautiful. Keep all the small mistakes and technical errors, they only make your account more personal and help transcribe raw emotion.

    • Thanks! And if there are errors, please don’t hesitate to point them out so I can keep them in mind for the future – editing/proofreading your own work is a maddening process!

  57. sad and powerful,thank you for sharing

  58. wow thats deep 🙂
    i could write an essay about being a “maachikney bideshi” in Nepal, i had many thoughts about it and a lot of good and bad experiences, but im not able to put them into words the same way you are.

    ‘Maybe ill post it here if i ever get it done.

    good luck with everything

  59. Words fail me.

    I guess accounts from people you used to know hit that much harder. What’s crazy to me is that I’ve been oblivious to this while I was in Nepal: I never thought you or anyone I knew had been victimized like this. It makes my blood boil. While I’ve always been fairly oblivious, in this case, it’s more that just me: the victims are usually portrayed as the instigators and there is no real protocol/platform to use to tell your story.

  60. Evocative, plot well built anguish well put. Overall, well weaved.

  61. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t
    show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyhow, just wanted to say superb blog!

  62. Another incredibly moving and powerful piece. God you are a talented writter please keep it up.
    I am speechless at the way you write on difficult subjects, you have the courage to tackle them with grace, intelligence and incredible insight.
    looking at the comments they do move everybody.
    So so painfully beautiful, and packed of strength that goes straight through the heart and will stay with me for a long time.
    Thank you

  63. I agree that it is a really nice article and a reality. But can I ask a question, why did you title this article “Kathmandu Girls”and not “Kathmandu boys’. I am asking this because when I first saw the title I thought it was about the girls doing something wrong and or how girls of Kathmandu behave in modern days.
    When we read the article we can see that the problem here is boys. I think the article is very strong and should raise the vioce on why our boys and men around us are doings these things not just on what is happing to girls, It is called victim blaming . We can leave out boys out of the issue. May be this talk can make my point more clear.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue
    I hope you understand what I mean . 🙂

  64. Reblogged this on Crossing generations..!! and commented:
    This is how my surrounding is… this is where we live..

  65. You speak for all of us!!

  66. This is beautiful JEMIMA DIKI SHERPA ji loved it greatly written

  67. refering to shruti’s post… shruti i really feel sorry….but the hell u witnessed there,this is happening almost every where.. problem is in our society n mindset of few people….we talk about something but we forget when it comes to us…with time our society is getting so insensitive…it seems people are use to of it…we must protest n protest very strongly..i was thinking it is coz of illeteracy but common sense is nothing to do with literacy….i think, it is mainly upbringing of people,their sorrunding n GENE lies in his DNA(trait carrying thing in our body)…

  68. I am reall thankful to the owner of this website who has shared this
    impressive piece of writing at at this place.

  69. Thank you so much for writing this. It was assigned to read for a university class in Portland Oregon USA. YOur beautiful way of writing and describing these casual events was very powerful to me. It brought up so much emotion… anger, and sorrow… I too have experienced these things and I will soon become a mother to a baby girl. When I found out it was a girl not a boy I was overwhelmed by the fear of sexism and abuse in this world that I will need to prepare and protect her from… Thank you again for raising your voice.

  70. Thank you so much for writing this. It was assigned to read for a university class in Portland Oregon USA. Your beautiful way of writing and describing these casual events was very powerful to me. It brought up so much emotion… anger, and sorrow… I too have experienced these things and I will soon become a mother to a baby girl. When I found out it was a girl not a boy I was overwhelmed by the fear of sexism and abuse in this world that I will need to prepare and protect her from…
    Thank you again for raising your voice.

  71. What a beautifully written, poetic almost, account of the subtle and not-so-subtle traumatic abuse women experience and the entitlement some men expect…
    And just yesterday, I read an article for my Himalayan class at Portland State University, in Uttar Pradesh a girl was gang raped and immolated and the perpetrators are being protected by the police…such horrible abuse…I foolishly thought better of Indian men…sad, sad, sad…

  72. a beautiful piece of writing…. unspoken words of many girls in Kathmandu…. I really look forward to meet you in class today at #C4N14

  73. […] is something we all Women related about the #OccupyBaluwatar Campaign. This morning I went through https://whathasgood.com/2013/02/04/kathmandu-girls/ by Jemima Sherpa which was about sexual harassment that girls in Kathmandu face from stranger and […]

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