Firebrand activist

Oct 5, 2014-

Women’s education in current Nepali society is the norm, not an exception. But it was not always so. Even about 70 years ago, the mere thought of educating girls was inconceivable in Nepali society. When Sahana Pradhan, whose 13-day death rite took place on Saturday, returned to Nepal from Burma in 1944, her education stopped instantly. Her brothers, on the other hand, were immediately enrolled in Durbar High School.

About two years later, she came in contact with political activists who were fighting to end the oligarchic Rana rule. They asked her if she was ready to fight for the country. And yes, she was ready leave her home if need be. But all Sahana, along with her elder sister Sadhana—another Communist leader—wanted was assurance that they could continue their education. Once they were assured of this, the sisters joined the protests and were arrested. About 15 days later, they were granted an audience with Padma Shumsher, where Sahana asserted that girls should be able to gain an education too. When the Rana Prime Minister said that he would think about it, she boldly asked, “We need to know, by when?” The answer was, “Within a fortnight”. And surprisingly, within two weeks, a primary school for women started at Durbar High School in 1947. It was called the Padma Kanya School and is currently located in Dillibazar.

What followed was one milestone after another for women in Nepal. The Pradhan sisters became the first common women to clear their exams and the SLC in 1947. That same year, the Nepal Women’s Association was formed with the aim to promote women’s participation in politics. The Pradhan sisters were founding members. Sahana went on to become a prominent leader and played a role in uniting fringe Left parties before the 1990 movement. In 1991 and 1994, she was elected Member of Parliament from the CPN-UML with an overwhelming majority. She also went on to become Foreign Minister in 2007. But her political journey was no cakewalk. In her biography, Smritika Aankhijhyalbata, Sahana illustrates the difficulties women face in politics, particularly after marriage. Even though she was wed to Communist stalwart Pushpa Lal Shrestha, Sahana had to fight her battles as a married political activist and mother to two children on her own. When the monarchy was abolished in 2007, Sahana was cautious of celebrating its gains for women, as autocratic and patriarchal tendencies continued in households as well as political parties.   

Sahana passed away at the age of 88 while she was undergoing treatment for a brain haemorrhage. What followed were words of praise from all male major political party leaders. The best tribute to Pradhan, however, would be for these leaders to make their parties more inclusive, including at least 33 percent women in decision-making positions. This requires much more than just lip service to women’s rights. Furthermore, ensuring that women have the right to provide citizenship to their children would also go a long way in treating them as equal citizens. This is what Sahana fought for all her life.

Published: 06-10-2014 09:38

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