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For the love of learning: A Dalit woman’s struggle to live her dream

 

Text: Lorina Sthapit  Photos: Kaushal Shrestha © IFADIn conservative societies of rural Nepal where families consider sons more valuable, daughters miss out on education. Girls are married off at a very young age, a fate that befalls many rural women, resulting in high illiteracy rates and inability to be self–reliant and independent. It poses even graver problems for women who belong to Dalit communities, a group regarded as untouchables and backward, and marginalized from mainstream development.

But this is the story of 23-year-old Tara Pariyar who despite being born to a family of poor Dalit farmers in Chilkhaya Village of Kalikot District, did not let her Dalit lineage define her life. Instead, defeating her forlorn fate, she took charge. 

Restricted yet ambitious, Tara always prioritized education and would skip house chores and long goat-herding hours to go to school. She would put up good arguments with her parents about the importance of education even as a child and always found time to do her homework in between tireless tasks.

When Tara was 15, her parents forced her to get married out of fear that given her rebellious nature she would go on to join the Maoist force. At the time, significant number of rural women were leaving their homes and joining the People’s War[1] waged by the Maoists who vouched for gender equality and end of patriarchy.

Tara, however, was intent on continuing her education even after marriage. In her pursuit, she convinced her husband of her wishes when her in-laws did not approve. Struggling through poverty and disapproval from family, she was able to complete up to high school. Last year, she also conducted adult literacy classes in her village under the government’s national literacy campaign[2]. In a country where Dalit women are among the most disadvantaged and have very low literacy rates (34.8%)[3], with even fewer achieving secondary and higher education (11.8%)[4], Tara is an example to everyone.

“I wanted to study more and become an officer,” Tara said with a strong sense of ambition. But the very next second, she sighed with disappointment, realizing her dream of becoming an officer was currently on halt. At 23, she is a mother of two, a five-year old son and a one-year old daughter, and is swamped with house and farm work. But her love and determination for learning has not faded. “I don’t have the time or the money to study now, but when my children start their schooling and when we have enough money, I wish to continue my studies.”

At present, their main source of income is what her husband earns as a day labourer –around 1 meager US dollar a day. “With the little money, we cannot afford my tuition,” said Tara, concealing the dilemma under her constant smile.

Few years back, observing high market demand for goats, Tara and her husband invested NPR 50,000 to buy goats. “It was a big struggle to get that loan,” Tara recalls their unavailing negotiations with banks that denied loans without collateral, and their painful pleas to the middlemen who charged unreasonable interest rates.

But unfortunately, given their lack of technical knowledge on building proper shed, identifying disease symptoms and preparing nutritious feed, they lost many of their goats to malnourishment, diseases and wild animals.

A crisis like that can push most over the edge. Tara and her husband, however, realizing that they could not afford wasting time in self-pity, used their adversity as a lesson for future. They joined Samaj Jagaran Bakhra Palan Krishi Samuha, a goat rearing agriculture group in their village to seek support and opportunities.

“Luckily the same year, our group received support to upscale goat farming into businesses,” Tara said looking at her children as if feeling a sense of security for them. The group was selected by IFAD-supported High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP) for the promotion of goat value chain. Through the project, the group received trainings and technical advice on proper livestock management, focusing on issues such as building improved sheds, preparing balanced diet, mineral blocks, tatno[5] and curing diseases. They also received medicines, sprayer tanks, ear-tags free of cost.

The advent of the project has brought new hopes and encouraged Tara’s family to take a second chance at goat farming. With the air of confidence the project has brought to their present lives, Tara and her husband are busy in their renewed endeavor to make up for their previous losses. They have taken another loan to buy 10 more goats and are using HVAP’s support to reduce risks and avoid previous mistakes. They have already built an improved goat shed with the first installment of funds from the project and are consulting HVAP experts for guidance.

“But more goats mean more work for me,” Tara, who herds the goats in the harsh hillsides carrying her toddler, laughed it off. But she continues to work in hope that one day she will have enough money to further her education.

“It is for this ‘greed’ that I am working very hard today,” she said showing her rugged hands.

 


[1]1996-2006 [2]The campaign aims to eradicate illiteracy in the country by the year 2015 [3]UNDP 2009 [4]Ibid 3 [5]a cross made of bamboo used for hanging grass & fodder for goats

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