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“Insallah.”

Sunday, July 16th, 2017
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Devendra Bhattarai in Kantipur Koseli, 15 July

Pic: Angad Dhakal

Pic: Angad Dhakal

Dolma Sherpa wipes tears from her lashes and recounts how she landed up in a Kuwait jail for 10 years. A lot has changed in that time. Like, she cannot speak in her Sherpa mother tongue very well anymore, or that the Nepali she learnt now has been Hindi-fied. She has picked up Arabic instead, and ends her sentences with “Insallah.”

Dolma was born in Chumchet of northern Gorkha, seven days walk from the nearest road. Remoteness and poverty prevented her from learning to read and write. At 15 she moved to Kathmandu in search of work and met Ang Tenzi Sherpa of Sindhupalchok, and got married. Her in-laws convinced her to go to the Gulf to work, so she left her two-year-old baby with relatives with a dream to earn enough to send him to a proper school. She was supposed to go to Oman, but recruiters took her across the border to Delhi, and then to Kuwait. The fatigue and trauma of ten years is evident in her voice: “All I remember is going far away in a big plane.”

She did not know the language, had no skills, and she had no experience of an alien land. She first worked night-and-day for a Kuwaiti family, but the employer returned her to the agency after five months. She was then placed in with another family where there was a Filipina maid named Mayleen who had also left her baby behind. It helped that Mayleen spoke Arabic, and she trained Dolma in the housework and practiced Arabic. “We became close, we even shared a comb,” she recalls.

One night while her employers were away on holiday, Mayleen and Dolma were going up to their room when someone put a gloved hand on her mouth, and three others dragged Mayleen to her room. Dolma remembers struggling, but the man was too strong. Mayleen was shouting “Help, help” from her room for about half-an-hour. “Then they pushed me to the other room, and forced me to touch Mayleen’s face and neck, by then she was quiet and her eyes were staring out,” she remembers, sobbing. All the men were wearing gloves and were pretending to be police. They tied her hands and pushed her into the boot of their car and drove off, and threw her out by the side of a road near a canal.

Shouting for help, she walked for a long time before finding herself among people who all just stared at her. Among them was a Nepali woman who spoke to her and told her employer in Urdu what had happened. He was a Pakistani named Sagir Ahmed and took Dolma to a nearby police station the next morning. Before leaving, he gave her his card and told her to contact him if she needed any help.

Police started investigating her, took her from one station to the next. For a year, she had to go to the court frequently, where a Hindi interpreter never adequately translated Dolma’s statements. On the day of the verdict, the police asked her to finger print a document. It was the order for her execution.

Not knowing who to turn to she called the Pakistani who had rescued her, and told him that they had sentenced her to death for a crime she did not commit. He introduced her to Mitra Sinjali, a Nepali who helped Nepali workers who got into trouble. Dolma found out only later that Nepalis around the world had started a ‘Save Dolma’ campaign. Jailmates told her she was all over Facebook and YouTube.

“It is like they say, when there is no one, there is always someone up there who helps. I couldn’t reach anyone, but Nepalis all over the world reached out to me. When I found that out, I shed tears of happiness for many days,” says Dolma.

Dolma kept her hopes up all those years with memories of her mother in Chumchet whom she hadn’t seen in 22 years, and her son. Film-maker Kesang Tseten (who made the documentary ‘Saving Dolma’) sent her an album of photos of her family. She found solace in news of Govinda Mainali, who was falsely accused of murder and spent 15 years in a Japanese jail, and was finally released after being declared innocent.

The Embassy in Riyadh didn’t do much else to help, and staff would hang up on her when she called. Other nationalities got a stipend, but not Dolma and other Nepalis. They had to wash clothes of Kuwaiti prisoners to be able afford their own soap. It was Mitra Sinjali who kept her spirits up, and she found out her death sentence had been commuted only three years after the decision. She found out her life sentence had been reduced to ten years only two years later. And she found out three months ago that she would be sent back to Nepal.

Dolma returned to Kathmandu on 1 July. She says: “I will now go through any hardship to raise my son, I know what hardship means. I have endured suffering.” Dolma is thankful to her Pakistani benefactor Sagir Ahmed, Mitra Sinjali, Kesang Tseten, her fellow jailmates in Kuwait, and the thousands of Nepalis around the world who helped her.

Her advice to other Nepali sisters: “Try not to go abroad, especially avoid Kuwait. Even if you don’t have enough to eat, stay in Nepal. If you have to go, make sure you learn the language and a few skills. Only take the official route. There is no place like your motherland.”

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6 Responses to ““Insallah.””

  1. anonymous on Says:

    She is traumatized and should not have to worry about money at all.

    Let her paint, do yoga and rest from this terrible ordeal.

  2. Sue Chamberlain on Says:

    An all to common tragedy – so pleased to hear that you are safe and back home with your family….

  3. Gorraakh Balbang on Says:

    Weak government and esplly weak ambassador, our government should close all the embassy in gulf and esplly Indian embassy in Nepal… Useless to kept them and waste public tax money

  4. Shree Guddunath on Says:

    If the Nepali embassy staff did not help Dolma and don’t care about our brothers and sisters who may be in trouble, then what exactly do they do there? What is their duty if it is not to serve the Nepali diaspora? I’m glad Dolma is back in Nepal now. Government needs to give her financial support so that she can rebuild her life.

  5. Rinkumar Chettri on Says:

    This is a rare case there are number of such stories like “Dolma Sherpa” Behind all these cases who are responsible only #MAN POWERS COMPANIES # They are directly/indirectly looters; Cheaters; Exploiters both Genuine + Fake.Also in association with people in powers; position (they have their own “Gangster”) Feel sorry; but what is the solution to this? The students; Youths both genders should come out and root out these social disorder/diseases to save future Dolma Sherpa.

  6. Sam Sam on Says:

    But here is what you will not see: you will not see Nepali’s crying foul about this. You will not see Nepalis crying foul against similar plights of other Nepalis. Just like they do not against the political leaders that could give a rats ass about all this. BUT…some woman in India calls Nepali “dish washers” and their blood boils. Let’s all admit it, all this happens because we are all cowards to stand up for ourselves.

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