Ill-fitting in Nepali society


Buying a bouquet for a friend’s wedding the other day, I got really involved in the process of choosing the flowers, arranging the blooms and packaging them up. So much so, I was bent over and stooping about the little flower shop to find the right coloured ribbons, paper and paraphernalia.

That’s when my husband noticed my clothes.

Light coloured, because I dressed to cope with the stifling summer heat of the valley, traces of my undies showed through when I leaned down to scrutinise some ribbons. He noticed. And according to him, others noticed too.

Should I feel ashamed that they did? Should I wear the burden of having males stare at my bottom when I happen to bend over, or stare at me when I walk? It’s not often I’m scrounging about a small shop exposing my bum to the world. When I walk, the pants don’t pull tight enough to look ‘indecent’ or ‘vulgar’.

In a country where exposed bellies under the drapes of saris are normative, or push-up bustiers and sexy, diaphanous tailoring are to be seen at any given wedding or celebratory event across the city, why am I made to feel like I’ve committed a great sin by wearing my kind of fuss-free, breezy fashion that happens to be in a light colour and fabric? Why should my girlfriends feel intimidated by people staring at them when they wear skirts or shorts cut above the knees?

It is no wonder to me that the abuse of women and girls in Nepal, and in the rest of the subcontinent, is prevalent.

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If women are yoked with the responsibility of presenting ourselves in ways that do not offend the male or conservative gaze, where would the blame lie should such offence be taken, I would ask. Also, should we start examining the dynamics of treating women and girls in ways that are harmful to their well-being, in the name of tradition and religion and along class and caste strata?

Generally speaking, like other South Asians, many Nepalis are quick to judge and bred to not question the status quo. In a situation like mine, with a Nepali husband who by so many measures is modern in his mindset, I am constantly surprised at the sudden yanking of traditional mores at my ankles.

It’s not like me to be too affected by it. I’ll shake it off, like I’m doing now, but I’m irritated. I’ll voice my disharmonising opinions, and I’ll keep wearing what I want to, and doing what I need to, as long as I’m not hurting anyone to the best of my discretion. I’m a woman who knows herself and knows her self-worth as a human being.

However, there are many women brought up in this country who don’t have the mindset that I do, perhaps fortunately for them, so that the harmony of life as they know it is maintained. I understand that unquestioning acceptance is often exercised in this culture I’ve chosen to be immersed in. But I do think it’s healthy to question culture when it is domineeringly patriarchal, as it still is in this part of the world.

I question that in order to live harmoniously a woman has to give up her rights to be comfortable in her own skin, in how she chooses to look. She gives up her humanity, her security, her sexuality, her sensuality, her intelligence, her curiosity, just to please men and matriarchs, just to fit into a culture that validates only certain aspects of her entire nature.

Abuse of women in this culture will remain prevalent until the men and women of power speak up and act out against it, and until the downtrodden powerless learn to voice their dukha beyond the strains of sad folk songs. I am not of your culture, but I’m affected by it. This is my voice.

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