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Durga Ghimire

www.nepalimahila.comFounding president of ABC Nepal
Vice president of the Women Force Group
Founding member of the National Group against Girls Trafficking
Vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Women in Politics (CASP)

Born in May 1948, Sunsari district


Durga Ghimire is a pioneer in the field of anti-human trafficking and social works in Nepal. She is a bold woman who always dared to fight for the rights of women and children.

Ghimire began her social career in student politics. She was a founding member of the Nepal Student Union (NSU), the student wing of the Nepali Congress, which was formed in 1970. While in student politics the country was under the party-less Panchayat system and she was arrested several times. At the time of her first arrest in 1970 she was a treasurer of the student union in Tribhuvan University (TU). Upon hearing of her daughter's arrest her mother had a heart attack.

In 1972, Ghimire was jailed for the third time while she held the post of president of the NSU at Mahendra Morang Campus. Her jail term was 13 months in total. She wrote of her experiences in jail and published a book entitled 'Jail ko Samjhana (Recalling Jail)' in 1994. The book, which was later translated into English ('Stay Alive: Women's memory in the prison in Nepal'), talks about the sufferings of women jailed for various reasons such as murder and theft.

Ghimire was the second women, after famous communist leader Sahana Pradhan, to become a political prisoner at that time. Having a jail record had a very negative impact on her life. Her parents were very worried about her marriage. In those days no one wanted to marry a woman who had been branded a 'political prisoner'. Women were not free to join politics and other manly activities, such as giving speeches amid mass, shouting slogans and others. But she was so courageous she dared sacrifice her life for political freedom rather than stay at home. She tried to console her parents by stating, "You have seven daughters, so sacrifice one child for your country."

Ghimire was unable to find a job due to her jail record, though she had already obtained her master's degree in 1970 in Economics from Tribhuvan University (TU). She was very upset and decided to study Law while working independently. She abandoned her home and came to Kathmandu, where she got a job in 1973 at the Centre for Economic Development and Administration (CEDA), TU's major policy research centre contributing for national development policies and strategies. She worked there for four years. While working at CEDA, she fell in love with litterateur Jagadish Ghimire. The two married in 1974 and lived in London from 1982 to 1984, where her husband worked as an assistant regional director at the International Parenthood Program. While in London she had the chance to work for BBC Nepali Service as a political commentator.

Ghimire's carrier as a social worker began in 1977. She became very sensitive about women issues while she was working with the Community Service Coordination Committee in Social Welfare Council in 1979. Police used to bring the rescued girls from India in the Council as there was no NGO in those days working for girls who were trafficked to brothels in India. She found a girl who was sold in India by her own father. Ghimire rehabilitated her at the Tulasi Mayor Women Ashram. Later she found many such cases. After returning from London, she determined to work for the trafficked women and established 'ABC Nepal' in 1987.

Ghimire remembered that, "During the Panchayat period it was very difficult to work for the issues that were not prioritized by the state." Therefore she decided to register her organization under the Department of Industry and work quietly for female victims. In the initial phase she tried to gain the public's confidence by executing social works related to society such as organizing health camps. She distributed Charkha, a spinning wheel to make thread from domestic animal fur, for economic empowerment of the Nagarkoti Dalits in Danchi of Kathmandu, and supported them to build a school.

In 1990 she was successful in registering her NGO at the District Administration Office (DAO). Before registration, she had organized a two-day workshop where she inaugurated the program through the hands of a trafficked girl. The event was extensively covered by the media as the program was not inaugurated by the Prime Minster, but by the trafficked girl. Registration of her organization in the DAO gave her the confidence and comfort to work for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and child marriages.

Ghimire recorded awareness-raising songs in her own voice to make people conscious about such issues. Many girls were not sent to school, so she tried to wake up the people with her songs to give their daughters education. She tried to bring about change through songs, non-formal education and other activities. But society was not as open-minded and liberal as today. Networks of brokers were also very strong, therefore it was very difficult to control trafficking.

On February 5, 1996, police raided a number of brothels in India's Bombay and detained 538 girls who had been working as prostitutes. Among them, 218 girls were from Nepal. Reports soon reached NGOs in Nepal through various media and also from Indian NGOs working for women and children. The girls were being held in remand homes and rehabilitation centers run by NGOs in India.

As soon as they received the reports, 17 Nepali NGOs working for the rights of women and children met the Prime Minister of Nepal and made him aware of the situation. They also demanded the government take the following actions, including that a national committee should be formed to investigate the situation of Nepali girls held in Bombay, bilateral talks should be carried out between the governments of India and Nepal in order to resolve the problem, and health examinations should be given to all rescued girls. They also demanded all girls who were willing to come back to their families should be brought back to Nepal and rehabilitated into their families and communities.

The PM responded positively and assured the NGO delegation the problem would be resolved within one week. However, the government took no action for one month. A reminder was then sent to the PM informing him of the situation in the remand homes. At the same time, the NGO delegation met the foreign minister, the health minister and the minister for Women and Social Welfare to demand immediate action to repatriate the minor Nepali girls who were in a very difficult situation.

News was reaching Nepal that some girls had died in the remand homes and about 30 girls had broken the window and run away. Still, there was no effort made by the government of Nepal to repatriate them. So a press conference was organized by the National Network against AIDS, a consortium of 37 Nepali NGOs working in the issues of HIV/AIDS, girl trafficking and women's rights.

www.nepalimahila.comThe media was informed of the deteriorating condition of the Nepali girls in Bombay. Despite very good coverage by the press there was no response from the government. The network then wrote to Nirju Mattu, project director of the CASP programme in Bombay, asking her to negotiate with the court for the Juvenile Welfare Board of Maharashtra in order to repatriate the rescued girls. The concerned authority was informed that seven Nepali NGOs working for women and children would be able to provide shelter and rehabilitation to the girls once they were back in Nepal.

After this request, the Court of Juvenile Welfare Board decided to send 124 Nepali girls back home. The Children AIDS Society of India made their travel arrangements and they returned to Nepal in two groups. The first group consisting of 96 girls and 4 children arrived on July 19, 1996, escorted by 11 Maharashtra police officers and NGO staff. The second group of 28 girls and 1 child arrived three days afterwards.

ABC Nepal provided shelter to 28 rescued girls, CWIN (Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center) 25 girls, Maiti Nepal 24 girls, Navajyoti 14 girls, Shanti Rehabilitation Centre 11 girls, Stri Shakti 10 girls and Women Rehabilitation Center 12 girls.

For five months the NGOs tried their best to negotiate with the government, but the government paid no attention. The NGO network had to rehabilitate every girl without the government's support. The government's reaction to the repatriation was not positive. There were reports published in leading newspapers in Kathmandu condemning the actions of the NGOs. Some government officials reacted by saying that the NGOs were trying to run a parallel government by bringing back the Nepali girls without the government's approval. Some comments were that Nepal was being made a dumping site for HIV+ patients from India, and that the NGOs were making money in this game. In their opinion the rescued girls were spreading HIV/AIDS in Nepal. They believed that it was the minor girls' fault they were infected with HIV and accused them of spreading the disease in Nepal.

Due to a strong network of brokers, Ghimire received many threats. She had to send her driver to leave her child to school. Some brokers even smashed her office windows in Dillibazar. Gradually the issue of anti-human trafficking became a concern for other NGOs as well as the government, which formed a national-level taskforce for anti-trafficking in 1996. Though society was against her and her activities, she was supported by her family and especially her husband Jagdish. He used to say that if a woman doesn't understand other women's problems then who would work for them. Ghimire said, "Now the girls who had been rescued from Bombay got a new life in Nepal. They are grateful to us because we raised their issues and met with their families. I am also satisfied with what we did."

Nineteen rescued women became 'Safa Tempo' drivers. Some women were given hotel management training. Due to Ghimire's efforts, she was awarded the Senior Social Worker Award, International Rotary Vocational Award and Reflection of Hope Award (this was received by Jagdish and Durga for their contribution to build a hospital and other social activities in Ramechhap district).

Looking back at what she has done as a social worker, Ghimire said, "Nepali women in middle class who have been working in this field have become able to debate on a national and international level. So I am very glad with my achievements."

Ghimire still aims for social transformation. Her colleagues during her student life, such as Ram Saran Mahat and Sher Bahadur Deuba, are now top leaders of the Nepali Congress; however Ghimire established her own identity in the field of social service. She said, "Such politicians have fame until they are in power, but after they lost power they are criticized. These days, people are fed up with those politicians. In that sense we are like 'evergreen', people always love us and our work."

She said leg-pulling culture is still prevalent in Nepali politics, and believes politics is a game of muscles, money and manipulation. If she had been involved in politics she could not have spoken freely about the issues on which she wanted to focus; therefore, she is happy remaining outside politics altogether.

Ghimire feels a drastic transformation has not yet been made in Nepali society. "There was culture of silence in the past, but these days women have started to raise their issues even at a local level, breaking old culture. "The level of consciousness on women's issues has increased a lot," she said. Now women have begun to unite through economically empowering programs, such as cooperatives.

Ghimire said, "Domestic violence and girl trafficking are deeply rooted in our society, which could not be uprooted by some two or three intervention programs. We need an intensified campaign against such activities. It should be raised by the male counterpart too for widespread effect."

Written by Kokila Khadka KC

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