People in the neighbourhood look with wonder when a woman donning a black coat and pants steps out of her house for office. She is none other than Bishnu Chaudhary who comes from a poor family and who was once a Kamalari.
Kamalari are the women and girls from the indigenous Tharu community who were made to work as domestic help at their landlord's house in the past. It was a kind of bonded labour system in practice in western Tarai districts of the country.
Under this evil social practice girls as young as 5 were sold by their own families to work as domestic servants in wealthier homes. The girls came from extremely poor families and sold out of financial desperation. The girls used to be usually aged around 8 or 9 when they are sent to work, though some are much younger. The Government of Nepal abolished the Kamalari system in July 2013.
People call Bishnu as 'wokil sahib', a honorific term used for lawyers and advocates. These days, Bishnu's daily life has changed.
Many former Kamalaris like Bishnu have pursued higher education after their liberation from slavery and went on to become lawyers and government employees. They have become successful in chasing their dream.
Bishnu from Satbariya of Lamahi municipality-8 in Dang district worked as a kamalari when she was seven years old. Her childhood dreams were all shattered when she was sent to work as a servant at another unfamiliar household.
But about the same time, a campaign was launched in Dang to abolish the kamalari system and rescue those girls working as kamalaris. A non-governmental organisaion called FNC rescued Bishnu and enrolled her in class 5 at the Rapti secondary School Uchanimbu.
"I hadn't even thought that I would go to school in my life. I got this opportunity, thanks to the FNC," said Bishnu. She recalled that she studied hard at shool and stood first in her class in the final exams. She was sometimes the first and sometimes the second girl in her class up to class 9. Then she passed the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination in the first division.
After completing her school level education, she joined higher secondary education and passed class 12, majoring in English. This was by no means a small achievement for a former kamalari for it opened the door to study Law in her higher studies.
She said, "I had a dream to become a lawyer when I was in grade 12. Now the dream has come true."
Aiming to fight for justice to the backward communities and classes after becoming a judge, Bishnu has passed Bachelor's level in English and Master's level in political science. With this, she has now become a legal prosecutor by passing LLB as well as lawyer's licensing test.
Also the central member of 'Freed Kamalari Development Forum', an organisation established for welfare of former kamalaris, Bishnu has started actively advocating for the rights of former kamalaris.
She shared that she has a dream to be a good judge in future and has a goal to devote herself for the justice in favour of backward communities and classes.
Similarly, Urmila Chaudhary of Manpur of Gadawa rural municipality is a former kamalari. Urmila, who worked as a kamalari in her early age, is student of LLB second year at Kathmandu School of Law to become lawyer. Not only Urmila, her two brothers and two sisters had also spent their lives working as kamaiya and kamalari.
She said that a slogan 'Daughter want education, not slavery' has become meaningful, adding that she got oppertunity to read after being freed from kamalari due to various organisation.
A life of Urmila, who spent her 11 years as a kamalari, has now been changed and has a desire to become a supporter of helpless after being a lawyer.
She had never thought that they would get a new life as well as to go to school after being freed from slavery.
Urmila expressed view, "I am pursing mu studies as I have passion and will power for the same. I did many struggles in my life. I am continuing my study to reach to the destination. "
On 27 June, 2013, the government declared the country free of Kamlari system. The government has also announced free education up to plus two for them. However, those former Kamlaris who cannot afford education beyond plus two without money have fallen into problem, said the Freed Kamlari Development Forum.
According to the Forum, 11 freed Kamlaris are pursuing master's degree, 171 bachelor's degree and 489 plus two. The total 1,274 former Kamlaris from five districts have been attending school (321 in Dang district, 54 in Banke, 370 in Bardiya, 367 in Kailali and 171 in Kanchanpur.
Those who feel that they cannot get to school due to various reasons have undergone various skills training, said the Forum central chairperson, Shanti Chaudhary.
Youth Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, has launched a campaign to end Kamlari system, said its coordinator Man Bahadur Chhetri. Under the campaign that focuses on Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts, freed Kamlaries have been provided education, he said.