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Internally Displaced: Waiting For A Normal Life

Pushpa Basnet with a broken arm

At first glance, she looks just like you and me, like any other person leading a normal life. But on uncovering the layers of her life, one can discover the sorrows hidden deep within, the bitter experiences she doesn’t deserve, and being punished for crimes not committed. Pushpa Basnet (Sushmita) lost her right arm when she was hit during crossfire of the Maoists and the army in a battle at Malkharka, Okhaldhunga five years ago, while she was returning home after collecting fodder for her cattle. Considering her an ally of the Maoists, the army disregarded her, but after incessant request of villagers, and umpteenth convincing, she was flown to Kathmandu by the army in a helicopter. It took her one year to recuperate at Chhauni hospital.

Although she was discharged, her arm was still recovering with a steel shaft in it. After one year, the doctor insisted to amputate her arm. But she was not ready for it; she did not want to live with an arm gone.

“Although I do not look like a disabled, I cannot use my right arm to do anything. The doctor has said that if I use my arm for performing work, it will break off. I live with this day in and day out, but I have decided to move on and fight for what is mine,” shares the undaunted Pushpa, who has not let her handicap deter her. “It is the government’s responsibility to provide relief to people like me, who have been victimized because of conflict. It is unfair that the government is shying away from its responsibility and paying no heed to our concerns,” she adds.

Like Pushpa, there are many men and women, who have fallen prey to the decade long conflict, launched by the Maoists in 1996, with the aim of overthrowing the constitutional monarchy and establishing a socialist republic. The insurgency that started in mid-western regions of the country spread to 73 of the 75 districts. Threatened by an environment of increasing violence, harassment and intense political pressure from Maoists rebels and government security forces, people were forced to flee to the surrounding jungles or melted into the cities of Nepal, resulting in staggering number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

In March 2005, Global IDP Project of the Norwegian Refugee Council placed Nepal among the countries worst affected by displacement, alongside Sudan, Uganda, Iraq and Somalia. The assessment was based on the combination of indicators including type of displacement, number of IDPs, access to protection and assistance, security situations and government responses.

According to UN IDP Protection Group, 50,000-70,000 people remain internally displaced due to Maoist insurgency. Of them, 50 percent are reported to be women. Despite the overwhelming number of IDPs, humanitarian aid for them is grossly inadequate. In its quest to settle the displaced, the government introduced a return and reintegration package in October 2007 under the IDP Policy, but focused only on those IDPs who were willing to go back to their place of origin. No provisions/dispositions are set aside for those willing to integrate within their displacement area or to resettle elsewhere in Nepal. The state policy, therefore, is not in line with the reality in which more that 60 percent of the IDPs do not want to integrate, and to a lesser extent, resettle. (Distant from Durable Solutions: Conflict Induced Internal Displacement in Nepal, June 2009).

“There are many IDPs who did take the relief given by the government to return home, but finally opted to return to the place of displacement. It is likely that most IDPs chose urban homelessness over rural insecurity. Additionally, their decision to resettle in the place of displacement is coupled by livelihood problems, low social acceptance, and lack of economic opportunities in their place of origin,” shares Ms Geeta Gautam, Senior Officer at INSEC, a human rights organization in Nepal. “The issue of displaced people has not fallen under national priority,” she laments.

“Just providing relief is also not enough. It is government’s responsibility towards the restoration of their confiscated properties, skills development, and employment generation,” said Ms Gautam.

The problem of IDPs is much more severe and complicated that it may seem at the first stance. It is implausible that the issue of displacement has a lot of politics and corruption involved. When each IDP is facing the same dire conditions, IDPs with political connections can easily be registered, while a “normal” IDP has to struggle hard to get what is deserved. Additionally, there is ineffective coordination at the district levels. The Chief District Officers have put a deadline for the registration of IDPs, and IDPs that are not registered will not be entitled to receive aid from the return relief benefits package nor will be eligible for future resettlement and integration packages. This sounds absurd, because registration should not be subject to deadlines.

As the victims of war, both men and women suffer, but it certainly won’t be an exaggeration to say that the effect of conflict on women has been two-fold. The situation of women needs to be understood in the context of women’s status in Nepal, which is a conservative and patriarchal society, where women are still perceived as second class citizens by the judiciary and society at large. The impact of the displacement on women is enormous. They flee into uncertainty and often into danger, as they have to fend for themselves and support their dependants with few resources or belongings.

The displacement has altered the structure of families and households and has changed gender roles. Many adult and adolescent males are separated from the family as they had to stay behind to maintain land or migrate in search of work. Many were forced to serve, or are suspected to be serving as combatants and as a result are susceptible to go missing, be killed or become disabled in combat. The number of female headed households, as a result, has increased significantly. This has not only placed a very heavy burden on women as the sole supporters of their families, but has also made it difficult for them to fully discharge their responsibilities as a result of limited economic opportunities and discriminatory practices.

The problems that Internally Displaced Women (IDW) face are many. Their suffering ranges from psychological trauma to sexual abuse. The stress of displacement often increases the incidence of domestic violence, including spousal abuse and marital rape. Consecutively, large numbers of IDW suffer psychological and physical trauma.

With little or no education and meager skills, these already vulnerable women with limited opportunities have been forced to enter hostile environments in their desperation for work to support their families. Since majority of these women lack education, the business in these hostile environment provide needed income, but at a high price. Many displaced women, especially those who came to Kathmandu are working in cabin restaurants, dance bars, and massage parlors. At such places, they are at a high risk of suffering from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) including HIV/AIDS.

According to a research conducted by Raksha Nepal, most of the IDPs, especially women, are in risky jobs like cabin and dance restaurants, garment industries, and massage parlors in Kathmandu—forced into these jobs as a result of post-conflict economy. Poverty, homelessness, and lack of any other income–generating activity forced many IDW into this profession.

IDWs are no safer in the camps, where majority of the displaced people reside. In the camps, women face problems with regard to essential health services, water and sanitation services, and collection of firewood/fuel. The environment that surrounds the camps is notoriously dangerous and yet, everyday, women and girls venture out into this danger, risking rape, assault, abduction, theft, exploitation, or even murder in order to collect enough firewood to cook for their families (Beyond Firewood, 2006). In addition, forced recruitment of young women by Maoists along with sexual abuse in Maoist camps and sexual violence against women by the police has been reported in conflict affected areas (Association of Women Journalists, 2002).

Even if IDWs are working in places other than those mentioned, they face sexual harassment and gender-based violence, impeding their personal safety, and security. They are not paid according to the work they do, and are ultimately forced into prostitution by their employers.

Notwithstanding the fact that women and girls typically constitute a significant part of the internally displaced, their particular needs have tended to not sufficiently be taken into account. Before the IDP Policy was launched, pundits said that a proper IDP Policy would help in the process of integration and resettlement of the displaced, but ironically, even after two years of the launch of the IDP Policy, a large number of women are still seeking information on civil documentation, widow’s allowance, property restitution, children’s education and shelter.
The enforcement of Widows Property Rights remains problematic. The Procedural Directives of the National Policy relating to IDP makes specific reference to war widows deprived of their property and notes. One particularly vulnerable group of IDPs is widows of men killed in the conflict, who, together with their children are forced out of their homes by the family of their late husbands. It is state’s responsibility to provide such women with legal and any other assistance necessary to acquire and protect their property rights.

There have been efforts by several national organizations to rehabilitate the girls and women displaced by conflict. One such organization is Raksha Nepal , which is actively working for the empowerment of sexually abused women and for the rehabilitation of those women who have been forced into prostitution and sex trade in the backdrop of dance restaurants and massage parlors. The organization provides the victims with vocational trainings and counseling sessions to help them earn an alternative living. Most of these girls/women are the victims of conflict, who have been forced to flee from their homes.

Menuka Thapa, President of Raksha Nepal said “Internally Displaced Women face economic, social, psychological, and sexual problems during the displacement period. They are not remunerated against the work they do. Their social acceptance is low, especially for women who have lost their husbands.”

“When a woman enters prostitution, she kills a part of herself. Her self-esteem gets degraded, leading to psychological trauma. She is also outcaste from society. The society should, however, understand the background of the situation, rather than just blindly believing what they see,” opined Ms Thapa.

Her prime concern was the government’s tendency to remain indifferent towards the IDPs, and most specifically towards women. “This issue should not take the place of a backburner. Those who have not been reintegrated should be resettled.”

With all the problems faced by the IDWs, it is important to adopt a gender-sensitive approach to take into account the health and psychological needs of victims of sexual abuse and gender-based violence. Special attention should be paid to the health needs of displaced women including reproductive health care, parental delivery and postnatal care, prevention of reproductive tract infections, STDs and HIV/AIDS through counseling, health education and treatment of symptomatic infections.

Basic considerations could also bring about great changes. For instance, women could be consulted and involved directly in provision of supplies of blankets, clothing, heating and cooking fuel, basic water facilities, etc. Additionally, they could be involved in the decision-making process to ensure that housing design, location and construction are better suited to their needs. Camps should be designed and managed in ways that minimize the possibility of rape. If nothing else, simply providing seeds for growing vegetables and grasses within the camps could diminishing the need for women to venture out to collect fodder or firewood.

Pushpa Basnet said, “In 1996, both sides (the Maoists and the army) resorted to arms because of their political rivalry. The political rivalry is still there, but now, if people like me pick guns, it will not be because of political rivalry, but because of our unmet needs, our hungry bellies, and our desperation to lead a normal life.”

Now, it is up to the state to take some action or just wait for the unfolding of a next war.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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Comments

jap21's picture

Hi Khushbu

You made my heart weep for IDPs. This is such a crude reality. I pray that leaders all over the world will stop being deaf and blind to the suffering of women. This will only happen when we stop being radical and start a new way in politics.

Your voice has been a light in the dark for me, and I have come to appreciate your land through your words. I always say we need to know about other cultures, because we cannot love what we don't know. And I love your country now.This is the miracle of this community.

Thanks for being here. Please don't ever leave.

In loving friendship,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

Khushbu's picture

Thank you

Hi Jackie..

You are so right...Government and the Maoists (in the case of my country), are both blind to the needs of the IDPs, and particularly women. After working on this story, i feel more obliged to do something to bring a change. I have already talked to Ms Menuka Thapa of Raksha Nepal about being part of this movement. She has readily agree to let me in and work with her.

And am so glad that i could shed some light on my country, its history, and its culture. It is the beauty of this forum. I know more about Bolivia than i have ever know, through your writing. I have to tell you, you are an amazing writer. Your creativity is so apparent from your writing. I was awed by your featured article (sorry, i did not post a comment, stupid me!). You give the facts with so much creativity involved, that it becomes fun reading your stories...

None of us are eva going to leave this beautiful place, are we?

Lots of love
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

busayo's picture

Welldone Sis

Infact, it is like i am with the IDPs as i read your article, you have done a good job being the voice of these categories of people. I agree with Jackie that you have brought us nearer to your country and culture. I also want to pray that the world power would open their ears to the suffering of women all over the world.
Once again i want to say welldone.

Hugs
Busayo

Busayo Obisakin
Women inspiration Development center
Ile-Ife, Nigeria
busobisaki@yahoo.com
womeninspirationcenter@gmail.com

Khushbu's picture

Many Thanks Queen

Hi Busayo..

Thank you so much for the great words. It is a great thing to receive feedback from friends.

It is high time that government pay heed to the concerns of its citizens. It cant remain deaf and blind to the needs and issues related to both men and women. We all need to stand in solidarity to fight, and to bring the revolution of change.

BTW, how so how is our queen preparing for the Empowerment Institute Training. We are all soooo excited for you.

All the best dear!

XOXO
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

JaniceW's picture

Namaskar

Khushbu,
What an insightful and well-written piece of journalism. The issue of IDPs is a growing problem worldwide but in Nepal, you have some unique concerns such as the treatment of widows and their lack of rights. Notwithstanding the issues of family unit, identity and culture, the unresolved land and property issues, insecurity and a lack of assistance from the government only make integration to areas of displacement or resettlement that much more difficult.

It seems that both the government and the Maoists have failed to live up to their commitments to the displaced and the continuing instability in much of the country will continue to undermine the sustainability of the returns resulting in more violence and discrimination against the women displaced.

Bringing women into the dialogue would greatly advance any action plan or guidance of implementation of such, but I imagine that this is not something that will happen any time soon. Hopefully though, with strong voices such as your own, more and more will speak out for their rights and slowly, change will happen.

Thank you for this compelling and insightful article. Best wishes,
Janice

Khushbu's picture

Namaskar Janice

Dear Janice

How are you? Its been such a long time..We are missing you here! Thank you so much for appreciating. You have always provided me so much belief in myself, and i adore you for that...You are right, both the parties have stayed silent on the issue. While i was talking to Ms Geeta Gautam, she said that the country now has more important issues to handle like drafting of a new constitution, and electing ministers to run the country, but it is funny that the government plans to look over the macro issues before resolving the micro ones. She even said that organizations working for the IDPs are themselves focusing on other "important" matters. It is terrible that such an important issue is being ignored by the state. The issue of Refugees, however, have taken a lot of attention, primarily because of international involvement. I am not against the government's move to resettle these refugees to countries like UK, USA, Australia, etc. but I am against government disregarding its own citizens. Both the groups are equally vulnerable, and they should be given equal attention.

But, having said that, i am hopeful that change will come...and we will make it happen!

Thank you once again Janice!

Love
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

Dear Khus,

This morning I just see your post in pulsewire and open the link. I feel something about Pushpa, I don't know why?Immediately, I called to my cousin brother, Arjun Basnet in Kathmandu and knew that Puspha is my relatives. I was shocked like someone is giving me 450 volt electric shock. I didn't get chance to talk about her in details with my cousin because of my mobile credit and my cousin was wondering why I am asking him. I didn't even get chance to make him clarify. I told "I will write to you, my balance finish." I didn't hear about Pushpa from my parents neither from my relatives. I am not worried because she is my relatives but I am worried because government take IDP easily and there are huge numbers of IDP.

Thank you so much for bringing this out. It's a time to speak out of every ignorance and discrimiantion and forced the government to start solving this problem. keep writing.

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Khushbu's picture

I dont know what to say

Hi Sunita

I really dont know what to say. Should i be happy that i have kind of created a link between two people who are related to each other?or Should i be sad to know that the victim is your relative?I sympathize with Pushpa. She needs your support. At present, she is involved in training with Raksha Nepal, and making a life of her own.

Please let me know if you get a chance to talk to her.

Love
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

Nusrat Ara's picture

A good job. With conflicts in

A good job. With conflicts in so many regions of the world especially Asia Pacific, the number of internally displaced people is ever increasing. Nice work indeed

Love

Nusrat

Khushbu's picture

Thanks Nusrat

Hi Nusrat

Thank you so much for your feedback.

The problem of IDPs is indeed everywhere, just that the issues associated with them might be a little different. Some are displaced by conflict, while some by natural calamity. Nepal also has a large number of people displaced because of floods, which create a havoc every year. Even this time, there are thousands of people displaced because of the rains....the sad thing is the number increases every year, and nothing significant is done to improve their situation..

Thank you once again.

Love to you too
Khushbu

Khushbu Agrawal

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