Yearning for a child
37-year Yasodha Acharya came to Mumbai ten years ago. She, and her husband, were unable to have their own child and decided to move to Mumbai to seek medical treatment. After several failed attempts that posed a health-risk, she has stopped seeking treatment now. She used to work in NGOs prior to her marriage, and started working in Mumbai, too.
Acharya came to Mumbai to seek treatment that would enable her to have her own child. The first few years were agonizing as she had to terminate her pregnancy several times due to medical complications.
My home in Nepal is in Attaria. My maternal home is in Bardia. I entered the NGO sector when I was still unmarried, in Nepal. I worked in Nepal for seven years. First, I worked for five years for a project named HDFC in Surkhet. Then, in Mahendranagar, I worked for Nepal National Social Welfare Association in the rehabilitation sector for seven years. Then after getting married, we were not able to have children. We went to Kathmandu, leaving my work, to get treatment. I underwent treatment for eight months. However, despite the treatment, we were not able to have children. Then my husband said that we should go to Mumbai for treatment. Then we came to Mumbai. When the incident of King Birendra and the queen happened, we were here in Pimpripada (the place where this interview took place).
We came here for a month. We underwent treatment, but that also did not have any effect. Then my husband said that we do need a child, so he suggested that we leave our work and stay in Mumbai for one or two years, and after we have a baby we can return to Nepal. But then my father-in-law got ill back home, so I had to go back home. He never recovered completely, and was staying alone there; we were here. We could not take care of him. Then we brought him and the rest of the family here. There were six of us in the family, my father-in-law and mother-in-law, my brother-in-law and his wife, and two of us. In Mumbai, it’s hard to feed a family of six. I told my husband that I will work as well.
“We came here for a month. We underwent treatment, but that also did not have any effect. Then my husband said that we do need a child, so he suggested that we leave our work and stay in Mumbai for one or two years, and after we have a baby we can return to Nepal.”
The first time I came to Mumbai, it was a compulsion for me, because I couldn’t have a baby. I never thought that I would have to stay here for this long. I thought that I would get treated and I would return home. I believed that I must go back and work there, I should not stay here. But because of my problem, I have been here for ten years. I do go back every year to visit, but I haven’t been able to return to my country and live there.
My husband is also working here. He works in TV serials. He had first worked in ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata hai’, he then worked in ‘Fear Files’, and then he worked in ‘Maharana Pratap’. There’s a new show called ‘Karan…’ that’s starting from July. For that show, he is currently in Jammu Kashmir. I think he likes his job, he has to; he’s happy. I don’t usually go to the set, but sometimes I go casually. There are other Nepalis who also work in the serials and movies. They call me, and both of us go. That’s how it is.
“There are also different problems here. When I first came here, I did not feel like staying here because I could not understand Marathi.”
There are also different problems here. When I first came here, I did not feel like staying here because I could not understand Marathi. I understood Hindi a little. Even a month was very difficult for me. My husband was with me but it was still very difficult. I was very anxious to go back. The doctors told us to stay for a month. We then went back after a month. That one month was very difficult for me. The next time we came for the treatment, I could not go to work, and I had to stay at home. My sisters and friends were not here. We can’t meet your friends. And when you are abroad, when festivals like Dashain and Tihar come, you feel like you don’t have anyone. That’s how I used to feel, but now I’m used to it. Earlier, I did not travel on buses and trains on my own, and my husband used to take me everywhere. Later, once I started working I began travelling on my own—there was no problem.
Speaking of my experience in Mumbai, it was a very new experience seeing other Nepali women in different places, like kothi (brothel). We are doing fine, despite being in Mumbai, but our Nepali sisters are living in these kinds of places – I used to feel that way. Then I started working in a place called Turbhe (in Navi Mumbai) through Sathi Nepal, for experience. I asked them to assign me a red light area. So, I worked in the red light area there.
“Speaking of my experience in Mumbai, it was a very new experience seeing other Nepali women in different places, like kothi (brothel).”
There was an organization called Sathi Nepal that worked on issues related to HIV/AIDS. I gave an interview in the organization and I got a job. I worked there for three years. We had to give information regarding HIV/ AIDS to our Nepali brothers and sisters. Then during my treatment, I became pregnant and I left the job. But, I had a miscarriage after three months. Since then, I have had eight miscarriages—all while I was undergoing treatment. Then, I stayed home for four, five years, hoping that it would help me deliver a baby. But, I have been unsuccessful.
“When I was listening to their experiences I felt like no woman should come to Mumbai. If women are facing these circumstances in Mumbai, no woman should come to Mumbai—that was my conclusion.”
Then I started working at Emphasis, which also focused on HIV/ AIDS among Nepali migrants. I worked there for three years, after which, the organization shut down as funding ceased. Now I work in Udaan. It’s been around one year. So, I have ten years’ experience in Mumbai. Nepali brothers and sisters, despite having suffered numerous problems, are staying here. We have to come to Mumbai for treatment for different diseases. For example, cancer patients in Nepal have to come to Mumbai. For any major illness, we have to come to Mumbai. If someone cannot have a baby, she has to come to Mumbai. If they need to have an operation, they have to come to Mumbai. We get to meet half the people of Nepal in Mumbai.
Working in NGOs in Mumbai
Acharya has worked in NGOs for close to a decade now, with her work focusing on HIV & AIDS awareness. She worked for Sathi Nepal, EMPHASIS in the past, and now works with Udaan. It is through her work that she has met women from all parts of Nepal who live in Mumbai.
At Saathi Nepal, I worked near an industrial estate in Turbhe for eight months with sex workers, informing them about HIV, and getting them tested. Then I met them once every week, to sit with them and talk. I had the chance to know about their experiences, and understand how they came from Nepal, and ended up in red light areas in Mumbai. I was very keen to sit with them, and talk to them. Most of them have been victimized by Nepali men, having been promised good jobs. Some have come with their own relatives. They have come from remote areas of Nepal. I mostly came across women from Eastern region, from places like Dhading, Solukhumbu—mostly from the hilly regions. I was in contact with 1700 women.
When I was listening to their experiences I felt like no woman should come to Mumbai. If women are facing these circumstances in Mumbai, no woman should come to Mumbai—that was my conclusion. I used to ask them if they would return to Nepal. They would reply, “How do we go back to Nepal? Having worked in brothels, we would be looked upon with disgust. No one will accept us. The people in the village will label us as women from brothels. We won’t be able to stay there.” One of the sisters was taken out from a brothel and was provided a job outside. She was an HIV positive. She died after around five, seven years. So I met numerous HIV positive women working in brothels. There were also around seventeen orphaned children living in the brothels. Seeing those children, I was also worried about their future. What will the future of these children be like? There were seventeen orphans there; I didn’t have a child of my own. It was a difficult environment.
“And if someone faces any difficulty, for example, they don’t have the money to go home, or some have just gotten here and don’t have the money to buy ration. In such situations, the group lends money to other women.”
And later, I started working for an organization called Emphasis in the Goregaon area. There was an organization called Women Empowerment; there were also women who had come from that organization. Our concern was how to empower women and take them forward. Even women living here cannot express their problems, and work together. There are instances of Nepali women not knowing there are other Nepali women living here. They don’t talk to other women in the same community. If we tell them that there are other Nepali women living in the neighbourhood, their response would be, “Maybe, we don’t know that much. We don’t come out of our homes.” That was what the situation was like. Then we started to gather the women, and inform them about education and health. And we also made them aware of HIV. We made women’s groups. We provided vocational training to these women. Now, we have four women’s groups.
The organization isn’t there anymore, but the four groups are still there in Goregaon, and there is one more in Jogeshwari. There are five women’s groups. They collect hundred rupees each from the member every month as savings. Some of them now have savings of one lakh, some have fifty-thousand, and some eighty thousand, within the group. And if someone faces any difficulty, for example, they don’t have the money to go home, or some have just gotten here and don’t have the money to buy ration. In such situations, the group lends money to other women. And if there are women who cannot afford to send their children to school, we go to school and lobby for them, so their children can study without having to pay the tuition fee. We have been doing these things. The organization is not there anymore, but I have to engage myself within the community because the groups are still there.
If someone gets sick or needs to be taken to the hospital, or if someone has come from the village for an operation, they call me. “Yasodha didi, please come; we don’t know.” Then I take them to the hospital, whether it’s day or night. Numerous HIV patients have died here. Numerous people have died from accidents. We have conducted their cremation—as in funerals. Before, I never used to attend funerals. A teacher of mine had died when I was very young. We had gone to attend his funeral. Back then, the men were harsh to us for attending the funeral, as we were women. But to break that tradition I make sure I attend every funeral that I am informed about. If someone has died from HIV, in their funeral, I tell everyone who attend the funeral about HIV. Because there are some who think that the smoke from the burning pyre of an HIV infected body is contagious. There are such beliefs. There are people who say their bodies should not be burned, and their bodies should not be touched. To dispel those beliefs I try to inform these people.
“There are women who work in brothels; I do not know of other women who indulge in such activities. It’s mostly men. They take the diseases from the brothels, and they infect the women and children in their homes.”
Besides these things, in the political field, there are people who are telling me to stand from our area. They say, “We have been giving votes, but we don’t have anyone of our own representing us, and that’s why there hasn’t been anything done for our community.” So, I also work in that capacity. But that is motivated by my desire to work for the society. Besides this, most of us who come here tend to indulge in alcohol consumption. They also tend to visit brothels and other ‘hot points’ – the men. There are women who work in brothels; I do not know of other women who indulge in such activities. It’s mostly men. They take the diseases from the brothels, and they infect the women and children in their homes.
There are many problems. But just because there are problems, we can’t solve them all. We can only watch. Sometimes, they ask you what they should do. But as we don’t have any solution, all we can do is watch. Some issues are taken forward. Before, most of the sisters were disheartened, and worry about when they would get to go back home? Now, there is a way for everyone to get together and live in one community. Living abroad with one person’s earning for a family of seven or eight, coupled with children’s education, rent and other expenses, it is difficult. It is difficult in a foreign country. There have been cases of physical abuse on women working in households, and cases of sexual harassment on buses while coming from villages. We have come across many such cases. We have conducted meetings with women who work in households. I used to organize monthly meetings and talk to them. They used to share their experiences. Women get abused by men if they come on their own from their villages. They say that they have been through numerous such incidents. Madams from Women Empowerment (referring to the women who worked with Women Empowerment) had come. They had recorded these conversations and taken the recordings with them.
“It feels like as if the whole of Nepal has been destroyed, because a lot has been destroyed, people have lost their parents, their children, their spouses. Homes can be rebuilt but we can never overcome the loss of people.”
The devastating earthquake of 25th April 2015 shook the whole world. The Nepali migrant communities have, all, tried to do their bit and help the victims. It was no different in Mumbai.
The most sad thing for us, despite of living in India, has been the recent earthquake that hit Nepal. It really saddens us. It feels like as if the whole of Nepal has been destroyed, because a lot has been destroyed, people have lost their parents, their children, their spouses. Homes can be rebuilt but we can never overcome the loss of people. Two-month-olds have fallen victim to the earthquake, and so have eighty-year-olds, as have pregnant women. Able people have to now live as disabled. It is a very sad thing. Children are vulnerable. They have lost their parents. Now, for their livelihood and education, the responsibility is on the government. There is also the suffering of women who have lost their husbands. We have been very sad after seeing all this.
We did not have any meeting here (in this neighbourhood), but a big function was held after the earthquake and we all had participated. We shared our thoughts there and initiated efforts to send out relief materials. There is an organization that looks after the Nepali communities here—Samyukta Nepali Mahasangh Prabhasi, and other thirty, thirty-five similar organizations. These organizations got together and held meetings to collect and send out relief materials. They are sending relief material as per their capacity.
“Those who live and work alone – they don’t disclose it. They say they are with their parents, or say that they are studying in colleges. But we see when we are going around.”
Single women in Mumbai
Of all the Nepalis I met in Mumbai, there wasn’t any woman who was single and living on her. All the women I met had come to Mumbai with their husbands or brother or some other man from the family. The idea of a Nepali woman, who lives and works alone, seems to be associated with her working as a sex worker or doing ‘galat kaam’ (wrong work). Acharya says that she has come across a few single women, not many.
There aren’t many single women, who are not with their parents or any other family member, but are living on their own in a rented place; maybe a few. They are mostly in areas like Thane, Mulund, Churchgate, Mumbai Central, rather than in these neighborhoods. Some of them work in beer bars, near Andheri. Not in these areas (where she lives). Here, there are mostly families. There aren’t such women in this area. If someone is staying in the building area, renting a room with a few others, we don’t know.
Those who live and work alone – they don’t disclose it. They say they are with their parents, or say that they are studying in colleges. But we see when we are going around. I know of some women from Darjeeling. They’ve rented a room and share it. They work at night, day and all night long. They go to Churchgate, Mumbai Central, Thane—wherever they are called. They stay in contact. Some work permanently, and some are casual. There are women who work in beauty parlours as well. There are women who work in massage centers. They work for two, four months. They receive orders for massage from the buildings.
There are those who have come to study in colleges. There are few who are working in the big companies. There are some who are here with good jobs. Most of the women who work in companies are from around Darjeeling, Jhapa. You can’t find that many from the Eastern parts (of Nepal). If there are, they are either working in brothels or have gone abroad to work. There aren’t many who have come to work in Mumbai—outside of the brothels. We don’t come across them in the streets that often.
Mumbai … a decade on
The desire to have her own child is what drew Acharya to Mumbai. She came to Mumbai to seek treatment that would allow her to have her own biological child. After several failed attempts, she has stopped trying as it is a health-risk, now.
Now, I am happy about being here. It’s okay. But when we came here we were sad, and our main issue, that we haven’t been able to have a child, is still there. I have stopped seeking treatment now. After eight miscarriages, how many more times do we try? It could be risky for me as well. My husband also said, “I do not need a child, and we should stop the treatment. We have tried it eight times. The baby dies in the uterus. We have to take the baby out and cure the uterus.”
“I have stopped seeking treatment now. After eight miscarriages, how many more times do we try? It could be risky for me as well.”
My husband says, “We have had eight operations. We do not need a baby. If you need a baby we’ll bring one. I’ll be fine with bringing a baby as well. We could adopt a baby.” So, we’ve stopped the treatment. Here, we don’t have our own house, we are renting a place. We need a lot of property to be able to adopt. We need a lot of money in the bank. We have to show bank balance. Whatever we have, it’s in the village. We don’t have it here. We earn, but we either invest in our own village or spend it here. We have thought of adopting a child, if we do come across someone we like. I have also told my husband to marry again, as I am not able to provide him with a child—I won’t stop him. But he says, “It’s alright. I won’t marry. We will adopt a child.”
“I want to adopt a child from Nepal. I haven’t gone to understand the procedures. I don’t know much about the orphanages there.”
I want to adopt a child from Nepal. I haven’t gone to understand the procedures. I don’t know much about the orphanages there. I didn’t think it would be necessary because I was hoping we would have our own child. So, I didn’t enquire what the processes are, I don’t know. If I do find a good baby, I am planning to adopt. I want to adopt someone from the village, not from here. I haven’t been to that many orphanages here, because I want to adopt a child from our village. There have been many struggles in my life. After getting married, I needed to run the house properly, and teach my brother-in-law and sister-in-law properly. Our main occupation at home is farming. There wasn’t anyone working in an office, I was the only one.
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