Nepal has always inspired travellers and writers in search of adventure and spirituality.
But for the Nepalese, the country’s recent history carries more pain than romanticism.
Durga Devi Sharma would agree.
Her house is a shrine to the Hindu deities which she believes saved her life 10 years ago.
“Here are Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesh. There’s also Vishnu. These are the sources of my power,” Durga explained. “I cannot stay alone without the pictures of the Gods. They are my friends, and my life. They have given me a second birth. I was a dead person. Whatever I have become today is thanks to the mercy of God.”
Durga devi Sharma has been a police officer in Katmandu for 18 years. For her, Pashupatinath temple is not just a religious site. It was the scene of a tragedy that changed her family’s life, and her own, forever.
“He pointed his gun toward my chest like this. I had no weapon with me. I tried to keep the gun away with my hands, and I ducked, and used my feet. He took one step back, and he shot. But the shot went above me. Then they fired again. They hit my arm, and my chest. I stumbled a few paces and I fell down.”
It was in 2002, at the height of the civil war which pitted Maoist rebels of the People’s Liberation army against the Royal army, between 1996 and 2006.
The conflict led to the abolition of the monarchy and the installation of a democratic republic.
On a routine patrol during the conflict, Durga and several other police officers, including her husband, were just one target among many attacks by insurgents on security forces.
Shot at close range in the arms and lungs, she spent several months in hospital, hovering between life and death.
She was able to go back to her job in the police force. Quitting was out of the question even though the shooting had left her unable to do everything the job sometimes requires.
“I feel positive things came out of it. I should have died, and I’m alive. I went back on duty, and I am working despite everything. I was able to come to the people, and give them my strength. That is something to be proud of.”
Her husband was not so lucky. He was also wounded in the insurgents’ attack, and as a result he suffers from a more debilitating disability.
He had to retire and now lives with the couple’s daughters in their village. Durga has been living alone in Kathmandu for the last three years to work. Apart from her husband’s modest pension, she is now the breadwinner.
It is tough in a country where discrimination against women is commonplace, and a lot has yet to be done to ensure the country’s full social and economic development.
“After the conflict, certain things should have been taken care of – like social reforms, and security. But it hasn’t happened. Women, for instance, still feel very insecure,” Durga said.
Armed attacks, rapes, torture, and the killing of children and husbands — women paid dear in the war. The transition towards democracy still has not eased all of the tensions.
Many are waiting for the new authorities to recognise the violence inflicted on women, the losses they endured, and to put an end to discrimination affecting women in Nepal.
Durga remains optimistic. “The future of Nepal now lies in the hands of the people ruling it. If we have good leaders who understand the spirit and the hopes of the people, then we have a great future ahead.”