Staying positive


At 65, Ishwori Bhandari is a happy-go-lucky woman. She has no family, no obligations, and lives alone. She recently went to India to attend the Kumbha Mela with a hundred other devotees from Nepal, and says god has given her a good life.

But ask her about her sorrows, and her eyes well up. “Don’t ask me about that, it hurts me deeply,” she says. “I must ignore it and look only to the positive so that I can live.”

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After her husband died 25 years ago, she fought a long legal battle for her husband’s share of ancestral property, but got only a small portion which she had to sell to pay the lawyers.

Bhandari’s long and hard life was made worse by the 2015 earthquake. Her third brother-in-law helped her get joint ownership for the house she was living in. The earthquake destroyed that house, and she wanted to build a new one. But her brother-in-law died, and his wife refused to sign over the legal rights. Without it, Bhandari could not get the housing grant from the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA).

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Bhandari is among tens of thousands of single women who have been disenfranchised by a patriarchal system that gives men the advantage in property ownership.

The earthquake made all this worse for single mothers and widows who needed land titles and house ownership certificates to get compensation. Single women like Ishwori Bhandari are particularly vulnerable because they cannot afford lawyers and have no family support.

Four years after the earthquake, Bhandari lives in a small tin shed she has constructed beside her destroyed house. “It is very difficult to get through the winter and now the rains will come,” she says.

Still, Bhandari calls herself fortunate to at least have a shed. She is much better off than the really poor earthquake survivors she has come across.

“I saw one woman who did not even have a hut, she was living in a cave and could not walk,” says Bhandari, who helped the woman by referring her to social workers. “She blessed me, and it is because of that blessing I am able to live an independent life despite the misfortunes.”

Bhandari suffered a heart attack after the strong aftershock on 12 May 2015 and is on expensive and lifelong medication. She had broken her left leg 20 years ago and walks with a limp because it swells from time to time.

She says: “I don’t want to be a burden on anyone. I want to live long and help others. I just wish my shed was warmer and did not leak.”

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