Fighting against all odds

Sanjeev Satgainya


Time is the supreme healer, the greatest pedagogue. Those who keep pace with time not only succeed but also stand out as an example of inspiration for others by achieving more than planned for and contributing to society. Lily Thapa has not only kept pace with time, but left her imprint on every passing moment. In the last decade she struggled against all odds to take a stand and lead other women, teaching the importance of independence and defying some religious-cum-culturally-induced problems that widows have to face. Thapa heads the Women for Human Rights, Single Women Group — a group of widows (Thapa prefers the term “single women”).

Born the eldest in a family with two sisters and two brothers she did her SLC around 30 years ago when she was just 13. “My parents always maintained that whether a girl or a boy, education is must for everyone. In that regard, I consider myself fortunate because I didn’t have to face any discrimination,” she says. “But there were some — I wanted to pursue science and was not allowed to as my parents never wanted me to be away from them. Maybe because I was a girl,” she confides.

There was nothing extraordinary in her life till 10 years ago. “I got married at an early age — when I was 18, and by the time I was 19 I had a son. It was only after 10 years of marriage that I completed my Master’s and by that time I had three sons,” she says. Everything was fine and life was running smoothly. “My husband was a medical doctor in the army and I was a complete housewife, moving around with my husband wherever my husband was stationed and taking care of my children.”

But fate had something else in store. Disaster struck without warning. Her husband was in the Gulf on a peacekeeping mission. It was in 1992 that she lost her husband during the war. “I was shocked, stunned and in no position to think further. The sudden demise left me stranded at a place from where there was no escape. I had three children to bring up. I was doing nothing. It was so difficult and though it seems selfish, the truth cannot be denied — I did feel the pain of losing my husband but more than that I was worried what would happen to my children?”

Life took a complete U-turn. But Thapa didn’t lose hope and confidence. “I was educated enough to independently take care of my children but the way society looked at a woman without a husband shocked me. I could not participate in ceremonies, especially religious ones, nor could I wear what I wanted. There were restrictions everywhere,” she says. The normal ritual is that a widow should not see their parents for one year. “But my parents, especially my mother broke the religious-cum-cultural taboo. She took me to her home within 45 days and I stayed with my family.”

Life carried on somehow. One fateful day, Thapa met a young girl from Godavari, a very young widow who was leading a life more difficult than Thapa had ever realised. “When I saw her and talked to her, I realised how hard life is for single women in this country. It haunted me and I started meeting other single women and tried to understand how they lived and what their woes were.”

Thus emerged the concept of an organisation for single women. Today the organisation stands strong and teaches, trains and empowers women to cope up with life’s ups and downs. “Initially, it was just a platform and we used to meet once in a while and only shared our experiences. It was only later in 1994, when a lot of women like us came under this umbrella that we thought of establishing the organisation.”

Presently Women for Human Rights, Single Women Group has expanded to a national level. The woes of women who have lost their husbands in conflict are even more terrible than the others. “We have started skill-oriented training for them to live their life on their own.”

The demise of her husband — a caretaker, breadwinner and everything in the context of Nepali society brought her life to a standstill. But her inner strength, self-confidence and must-do attitude paved the way through the painful ordeal. “Today I feel satisfied and content with what I am doing. I feel proud that at least I took the initial step to break the ice, to work for women who lost their husbands and felt cut-off from society.”