International Woman's Day: Social Worker Shanti
International Woman's Day: Social Worker Shanti
By Kamala Sarup
I came to know that Shanti died yesterday night. The news made me sad. I am told that there had been no particular ailment. It is said that she lost her life because of her chronic high blood pressure. Sister Shanti was not a person to leave us so soon. She went away during the first half of her days of enjoying and being happy. May be, her fate didn't agree to make use of happiness that was her share.
I wasn't able to see the ups and downs of sister Shanti's life. When I came to know her, she was almost fully settled. But I have heard from my mother about her. Not only once but every other time whenever my mother had to give me examples of an ideal woman, she would refer to sister Shanti and what I have gathered from bits and pieces from my mother about her would make almost a whole picture of her life which goes on as follows:
When sister Shanti was fifteen or sixteen, she got married to the son of pundit Ram Krishna. She had hardly reached twenty when she had given birth to three sons. Pundit Ram Krishna was known all over the neighborhood for his greed and his son was stupid and dissolute. Sister Shanti was adjusting herself as a good homemaker, performing all the duties that her father-in-law and mother-in-law assigned to her and facing the troublesome silly husband.
In some fit of sentiment, her husband brought another wife home. Even then, sister Shanti bore all the pangs, but often the coming of her co-wife quarrels arose on trifling matters. As the new wife was the younger of the two, she naturally had a greater say with her husband and in the household affairs too.
One day in the pretext that the youngest son of sister Shanti had eaten a greater amount of food, there was a bitter quarrel between the two wives reaching the point of hitting each other. And finally, taking her three sons with her, sister Shanti had moved to this locality. There was neither the house to stay nor any means of getting food for the family. She had just one gold ring given to her by her parents and no other property or cash as such.
She began her new life renting a room on the ground floor of the house we were living paying cash she got by selling the ring. She started a vegetable stall on the square platform where shamans danced. The whole morning, she sold vegetables and in the afternoon, she washed the clothes of the neighboring people and in the evenings, she prepared lamp wicks on orders she got from people. It was by doing these common jobs thet she maintained the living of her three sons and herself. Sister Shanti started her busy schedule from very early in the morning and continued till midnight. Despite her hard labor, nobody in the neighborhood ever saw her face looking sad. She may look tired completely but she went on smiling.
Those who had been engaged in sister Shanti's kind of job from before her saw that her good behavior, trustworthiness and frank dealings pushed her well ahead of them. It was but natural that its effect on their bread earning was not to their liking. So they spread a rumor that she was immoral. And as a result, they organized together to malign her character and launched a conspiracy to try to drive her away from the locality. Indirectly, some men in the area were declared to be her secret lovers.
My Uncle believed the rumor. Some women came to my mother to fill her ears too, but my mother had a good inner sense of the reality of sister Shanti and the behavior of my Uncle, she took it just as a gossip and a cheap rumor. Some people had even designed not to let sister Shanti live in the home or in the whole locality, but my mother took a strong stand in favor of sister Shanti at that time.
A few neighbors got angry with her and yet she didn't evict sister Shanti from the house. It is a characteristic of our house that every activity, adventure and decision depends wholly on mother. But that doesn't mean that our family is a place where women alone are supreme. My Uncle is very simple and anyone can easily take advantage of him. Having fully understood this very reality about himself, my Uncle sided with mother. Although sister Shanti's character got somewhat tarnished, she didn't deter a bit from her struggle.
The sons were growing and she went on educating them despite wants. The room became narrower as the time passed and finally she was obliged to move out from our home. I don't know the reason, but all the three sons of sister Shanti came out quite talented. It was perhaps all the things like the sad plight of their mother from their childhood, the pitiable condition that they had gone through and the path shown to them by mother for a happy future for their progress that provided good directives to them. In the meantive, at the age of 25 or 26, the eldest son became an officer.
The other younger ones also followed the path of their elder brother. Sister Shanti was now an example in the whole locality - she who maintained her family with the money she received for household chores in the neighborhood, and who began the journey of her life by selling vegetables on the square center or who was hated and blamed baselessly. Time made a great change.
Never in her life would sister Shanti have thought that she would have her own house. But this unimaginable thing turned into reality. By the collective effort of her three sons, a house was constructed and thus began happy days for sister Shanti. Mother used to invite sister Shanti to any small social or family gathering and we too visited her house off and on.
In this process of making visits, I am told that one day sister Shanti had indirectly expressed her inner desire of joining her son with me in wedlock. That night my parents had a long conversation privately in a very subdued voice. But on the one hand, I had just begun to study in the college and on the other, in a cultural parlance sister Shanti didn't belong to a higher family so my parents rejected the idea altogether.
I too knew her son quite well. Both of us were on good speaking terms. I saw him mostly along the way to my college. Whether these encounters were just incidental or there was some hidden motive behind, he knew better than I. The times of going to his office and my college were almost the same and because of that we just happened to see each other. Whatever it may be he was seen along the way most of the time. When we came across each other, we naturally asked about the families and their condition.
After the day the marriage proposal of her son was rejected, the frequency of sister Shanti's visits to our family had decreased greatly and yet in our mutual relation the intimacy hadn't completely dissipated. Sister Shanti was older than my mother just by one or two years. As she was older than her my mother began to address her as elder sister. And this address of my mother was followed by everybody in the neighborhood and she became universally known as sister Shanti.
And now she became history from the present in our village in Nepal. I feel a kind of pain inside somewhere. I feel that I have lost a very close relative and so my heart is crying. Sister Shanti was now an example of how a woman can fight all alone in society struggling against all odds to give a definite future to her sons. She was now a story and nothing else. When I think of it, I am filled with pain all over.
My mother is changing her dress and I am also ready to go to sister Shanti's house along with her. There is no particular reason for my going there. Besides, I love my English and geography periods today in the college. Even then I am ready to go there. Why? I don't know it myself. On the one hand, it is a social duty to follow mother on her visits.
Sister Shanti is now dead and gone and no consolation from anybody nor anybody's going there is to affect it at all, but those who are still living do require the good will and fellow feeling of relatives, friends and neighbors. Therefore, I thought my presence would be appropriate there. To be close, you don't need a social relationship, after all your mind, feeling and desire are also qualities that show intimacy, don't they?
Nepali Journalist and Story Writer Kamala Sarup is an editor
of peacejournalism.com. She is specialising in in-depth
reporting and writing on Peace, Anti War, Women, Terrorism,
Democracy, and Development. Some of her publications are:
Women's Empowerment (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.