For an illiterate woman from a destitute family of former bonded labourers, Chun Kumari Chaudhari could not have been more removed from the power centres of Nepali politics.
She comes from a family of kamaiya in western Nepal, who till 20 years ago used to be bonded to landlords through a hereditary system of indentured labour. Chun Kumari spent her childhood working in her landlord’s house as a semi-slave kamlari, and at 15 was married off. She never went to school, and in her husband’s home she was too weighed down with household chores to learn to read and write.
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But earlier this month, at the age of 43, Chun Kumari got word that she had passed her SEE high school examination with a GPA of 2.25. She now plans to juggle her law-making duties at the provincial legislature by enrolling in political science at college.
“There is a lot of work still left to do in our country,” says Chun Kumari, “nothing can stop me now.”
It is this extraordinary confidence and unfailing grit that has brought Chun Kumari so far. She started out as a member of a local community forest user group in Kailali, and rose up the ranks to become a member of the Far-Western Provincial Assembly. She then educated herself, and is determined to fight socio-economic disparity and societal oppression.
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“Because of my poverty and society’s restrictions on females, I never got to go to school,” she recalls. “Later on, I was often humiliated because of my illiteracy.”