By Kishor Panthi, NEW JERSY: A village girl born in a poor family of Taklung village in Gorkha district, Nepal has come across several ups and downs in her life and finally she has now a distinct identity of her name: Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar. Dr. Pariyar is recognized not only by Nepalis but also by other Americans for her distinguished works in the field of women rights for the victims of domestic violence, rights of the Dalits – the former so-called untouchables and social justice and human rights in general.
At one point, she was not even able to afford education at an ordinary community school. She is now capable to dedicate her whole life only for the cause of the oppressed people. In her childhood, she was stigmatized for being a Dalit. She took an oath from there that she would move ahead in life and work for human rights. As a result, she started working in right’s sector from an early age.
Dr. Bishnu Maya’s family was big. She was the fifth of her parents’ 11 children. It was difficult for a poor family of 13 members to make the ends meet. But there was no dearth of love and affection among the family members. She received regular inspiration from her father to move ahead and work for social justice.
Nepal has legally abolished untouchability, defining this practice as a social crime. However, this bad custom still remains active in the society. When she was a 9-10 year old kid, Bishnu Maya would ask her parents why her friends insult and dominate her for being a Dalit. Her father’s answer would be: “This is an old tradition and system. You have to fight against this when you grow up and become an educated person.” She would then repeat her oath again and vow to fight the social malady. She spent much of her time in studies and would work hard to always stand first in her class. When she was in grade three, she was sent to maternal uncle’s house and she had to quit studies for some time. Later she returned home and continued her studies in pursuit of her dreams.
Until grade seven at the local Taklung school, she had to brave deprivation and poverty to an acute level because of her family’s very humble economic situation. Her parents sustained a great struggle to ensure she would go to school. She stood first in her class and received scholarship for being the most talented one. She enrolled in eighth grade at Manakamana School for her secondary level studies. Every day she had to walk four hours to school and four hours back to home. She passed the School Level Examination (Grade 10) from the same school.
It was fruitful for Bishnu Maya to study at Manakamana School. There she met a Peace Corps volunteer, Mr. John Brookman, who would help her receive scholarship to study in Kathmandu. She had also managed to get an offer of study at a locally famous Amar Jyoti Janata Secondary School at Luitel. But the school was far from her home, she was not able to afford renting a room and her family’s condition was still feeble. Therefore, she decided she would go to the capital city Kathmandu for her further studies.
Mr. Brookman sent money for her studies from the US but she did not get because of a middle man’s ill intention. “After that I was compelled to work in a restaurant,” she recalls. She was 15-16 year old at that time. She also worked in garment factory to manage expenses for her studies. One day she contacted Mr. Brookman, whose number she had written in a photo. She voice-messaged him and he called back. Mr. Brookman then sent money to her through another American fellow, Mr Pam Ross. Mr. Ross was the director of University of College Project and he was in Kathmandu. “My life took a turning point as I met Mr. Ross,” she says. “He provided me scholarship and work of a research assistant.”
During her work, she befriended an American student, who was working in the same project. Once his mother Mrs. Iva Kasel came to meet her son and she liked Bishnu Maya very much. She later arranged for Bishnu Maya’s further studies in the US “She came in my life as a god mother,” concedes Bishnu Maya.
In 1999, Bishnu Maya landed in America, the country of opportunities. She studied English for one semester and then the Pine Manor College, Massachusetts offered her a full scholarship. She was a topper in her college again, as she used to be in her school days. She further managed to win the Excellent Political Science Award at her college. Besides, she won four more awards including the President Cup award. Bishnu Maya completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Social and Political System in 2004. After studies, she worked for one year at an Out Patient Department as a domestic violence advocate. There she got an opportunity to learn more about women’s rights and various aspects of domestic violence.
Dr. Bishnu Maya in Social Sector
Dr. Bishnu Maya entered social sector at an early age. “I have closely observed discrimination against Dalits, untouchability practice and violence against women when I was 10. When we children would play together, my friends of other castes would enter our house but we Dalit children were not allowed to enter their house.”
When Bishnu Maya was working in a non-government organization, she felt the need of setting up an organization that would directly assist women and Dalits. Immediately after completing Bachelor’s Level studies in Padmya Kanya College, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, she set up an organization – Dalit Mahila Utthan Sangh (Empower Dalit Women of Nepal – EDWAN) in 1996. Mr. Pam Ross who earlier helped in studies, again helped her to open the organization by providing Rs 10,000. The EDWON has helped the needy population with more than Rs 60 millions. It has spent more than 100,000 US dollars only for the April 2015 earthquake victims, so far.
Collecting assistance selling shawls
On one Mother’s Day, Dr. Bishnu Maya gifted a Nepali shawl to her god mother Mrs. Iva. On the occasion, Mrs. Iva suggested her she could raise fund by selling similar shawls here in the US Mrs. Iva had knowledge about Bishnu Maya’s organization. Therefore, Bishnu Maya ordered more shawls from Nepal and sold here in the US Earlier the sale was from 3,000 to 6,000. Later she and her group sold more than 28,000 shawls. Later, donors approached her themselves. Her job itself involved travelling and she would visit various places, make presentations, teach at colleges and promote her cause. Media also started giving coverage to her.
At that time, articles about Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar and her work were frequently published by American magazines. Her organization also became visible in people’s eyes. The number of individuals helping or donating started going up. “We used to send 2-3 newsletters a year to various individuals, donors and potential donors. Donors started helping us on regular basis. We became able to donate 80-90 thousand dollars a year. This year we became able to collect more funds for the earthquake victims.”
In return to her service, Dr. Bishnu Maya does not receive a cent from her organization. When she has to make expenses on food or travel during organization’s work, she spends on her own. All people working in this organization are volunteers and do not get paid. However, it has some paid staffs in Nepal, where four staffs are full time and 14 are field staff.
EDWON ‘s mission
The major target of EDWON is to ascertain social, economic, political and educational uplift of Dalit women. “We form women groups, teach them how to read and write, provide each group with a seed money of 3,000 to 4,000 rupees. Each woman deposits 20 to 50 rupees every month as per her capacity. The seed money keeps on growing. Members can borrow from the fund as per requirement. They fix interest rate themselves. Nobody would trust them for loan before but now they own a (cooperative) bank themselves. Some of the women groups have savings as much as Rs 1.5 million now.”
Currently, there are 64 women groups in seven districts.EDWON also has micro-financing programs. It has directly reached to 5,000 women and indirectly to 10,000 women.
“Economic progress helps social progress. A family benefits the most with a program like ours,” adds Dr. Bishnu Maya.
Dr. Bishnu Maya received the United Nations Human Rights Award of 5,000 dollars in 2006. She was one of the six recipients of the award chosen from across the world. The same year Harvard University awarded her with the Bridge Builder Award for her works in rights sector. Likewise, the Pine Manor College where she studied before awarded her with an honorary doctorate (beyond the PhD) in 2013.
Many organizations of Nepali community have awarded Dr. Bishnu Maya with various awards and recognition. She has more than 40 awards for her work in the social justice sector.
Louisville City in Kentucky to observe Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar Day
The Louisville city in Kentucky has announced that it would celebrate September 27 every year as Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar Day in honor of Dr. Pariyar, who hailed from a downtrodden family, braved ups and downs and has come this far in life. The announcement is recognition to her works in Nepal and the U.S. for ensuring social justice for women.
Dr. Bishnu Maya active in U.S. as well
She has set up an organization “Women for Cause” so as to work for the rights and social justice of women in the U.S. “We have opened this organization targeting women of domestic violence. We work free of cost for the women whose economic condition is feeble,” Dr. Bishnu Maya says.
Dr. Bishnu Maya in the campaign against women violence
Dr. Bishnu Maya has been consistently working in various campaigns against women violence. She worked full time in Agent Taskforce against Domestic Violence and then worked with Neponset Help Center part time. At present, she is working with Care Point, the second biggest not-for-profit of New Jersey, as an outreach and educator on domestic violence.
Despite success unbound, Dr. Bishnu Maya’s affection for Nepal is still intact. In future, she has plans to go back to Nepal and work for Dalit women’s rights and violence against women.
“Until today, we have provided education to more than 13,000 children. We have our children even in colleges. At present, 97 of our children are studying at college level. Last year, 22 have graduated. We also have a sponsorship program. We establish connection of orphan children with American generous individuals for sponsorship. Now, their future is safe. We also have conducted training in agriculture, health, human rights and social justice, among other sectors.”
At present, Dr. Bishnu Maya and her team are working together the government of Nepal to yield big results in social justice sector.
“We are working with European Union in Gorkha, Chitwan and other districts. We have partnered with Jewish World Service to work for earthquake victims. The Jewish World has provided 50,000 dollars to EDWAN. With this money, we are building 45 houses, 18 bathrooms and 250 smokeless stoves. This program is for seven districts. Our main program is in Gorkha while we have programs in Baglung, Arghakhanchi, Sarlahi and Chitwan. Our programs in Jhapa and Ilam have phased out.”
“With our regular advocacies, the women who would cover their face and would not walk out of their house have started going to school and even hold a debate being board members of various organizations. Nothing is impossible once we start doing. What we need now is to move ahead with strong commitments for change,” stresses Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar.
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