by Kamala Sarup

“Your sister insulted our family,” my mother told me. “Not only in this life, but I won’t see her face in the next seven lives either. If you try to meet her, you won’t find me alive and you will allegedly be responsible for my death,” she whispered. I could see the tear drops falling down from her feeble eyes.

Chandra, my sister, 28 years old, was working in Katmandu, and her boyfriend wanted to marry her. He was in the process of finalizing the marriage. But then, my sister decided to runaway to her boyfriend that lives in Jhapa district (next to Katmandu), and her true love.

Her boyfriend Anam has a completely different story and background. He comes from a lower caste. In Nepali culture, being in an inter caste marriage for a woman is socially unacceptable. Women cannot express their feelings of love and their views on marriage. Inter-caste love and marriage in Nepal is illegal.

In towns and cities, daughters are not allowed to marry on their own terms. In our village, when a girl turns sixteen, the parents rush to get them married. Don’t parents understand that some town girls might prefer to enjoy a different life – pursuing an interesting job and earning an income?

“I treated your sister equal to a son. Perhaps if I had kept her in control, she would not send me to an early grave. What pain one feels being forced to the graveyard before death – I am suffering in that way. Suffering a living death.” My mother’s predicament with her daughter was profoundly serious.

“Have you forgotten how she helped in our neighbor’s daughter’s marriage ceremony? What you are saying now seems senseless. What is her mistake? She was young and she chose a young boy to marry. It is a very simple matter. It averted the problem of arranging a marriage ceremony for her. I have not complained for what she did but I am worried whether she chose the right person or not.” I spoke with emotion, and in a single breath.

My sister is known for her community work in the village. The women and children of our village have great respect and affection for her. A thousand times I have heard them express their gratitude toward my sister, saying what a kind woman she is.

My sister was still young then. She fled without notice and the situation was beyond comprehension. My heart ached. I wept for the situation of my family, not allowing my mother to see my tears.

“It is God who has sent us to this earth. He is responsible in guiding us. He is the supreme Lord who feeds us.” I was astonished to hear these words from my sister last Wednesday.

“I am really fond of children,” she continued, “I wish to find a job in a primary school. According to Hari sir, there is vacancy at Nilakantha School. May I go and make an inquiry? Please advise me, should I go? I do not intend on lingering around the kitchen.” I liked the strength and will of my sister.

My sister is still young enough to get married. She has been known to receive the marriage proposals of fifteen young men in a day.

“How are you? Hasn’t your daughter made you look bad? You were proud of your daughter. Now the entire village is laughing at her actions,” Tirthamaya Sunuwar, a neighbor and aunt by relation, seemed to be pouring salt on my mother’s bleeding wound.

I was sitting at the dining table. My aunt spoke the above words outside in the yard where a mat was kept for sitting. “Was it not just in the last year that you spoke to the villagers and in condemnation of the daughter of Tallaghare Sarkini, the lower caste woman of a neighboring home? Now here you are. Your daughter has made everyone laugh in the village.”

“Aunt, mother! You are also the mother of three daughters. The future will prove the present. Being a mother of daughters, it is not good to sing the song of what has already happened. I had just informed you about Sarkini’s daughter, I didn’t sing the song of the matter or judge her. It is shameful to speak in such a judgmental way,” I spoke in an aggressive fashion. I quickly wiped away tears to hide them from my aunt.

“Come out to speak. You don’t even have the etiquette to speak with a guest. I didn’t come to eat your rice. I, being a fair lady, have come to share the pain!” My aunt thundered from outside. I went to the kitchen and hurriedly prepared tea and a breakfast of maize.

Due to societal and family pressures, girls truly understand what their parents expect of them. I don’t believe, however, in the overall success of a woman who is forced into a marriage arranged by her family.

“I must add that most of the weddings in our culture are this way and the success rate is not really all that bad because of the overall family support, and the high values that society then reserves for us,” my sister said to me.

A friend added, “regarding the wedding issue, parents have their rights to pressure their daughters into arranged marriages for their happiness. After all, parents always wish the best for their children and unconditional happiness.”

I know our arranged weddings are mandated by our culture, but I believe, however, that the bride and groom must share a compatibility in terms of the future, career, belief, values and lifestyle – which are equally important, and make an even greater impact in life. Therefore, it should be a woman’s choice as to the kind of person she wants to have for a husband and share her life with.

Journalist and Story Writer Kamala Sarup is specialising in in-depth reporting and writing on Peace, Anti War, Women, Terrorism, Democracy, and Development. Some of her publications are: Empowerment in South Asia, Nepal (Booklet). Prevention of trafficking in women through media,(Book) Efforts to Prevent Trafficking in for Media Activism (Media research). Two Stories collections. Her interests include international conflict resolution, cross-cultural communication, philosophy, feminism, political, socio-economic and literature. Her current plans are to move on to humanitarian work in conflict areas in the near future. She also is experienced in organizational and community development.A meeting of jury members held on 21 March in Geneva attributed Kamala Sarup, with an Honurable Mention of International Award for Women”s Issues.