Witnessing their stories and voices curated in an audio visual exhibition is a unique experience for migrant women from Western Nepal, finds Smita Magar.
[Clockwise: 1. Returnee shares her experiences with panel 2. Participants in panel discussion 3. Kaushila Magar listens to her own story 4. Sangita Mahatara watches her son listen to her story in the audio and visual exhibition.]
Bardiya, December 23, 2016: ‘Our stories are immortalised in these records,’ Kaushila Magar commented after listening to her own recorded voice during the two-day audio and visual exhibition ‘So Far From Home’ at Town Hall, Nagar Bhawan of Gulariya, Bardiya.
She had left her village Taratal early in the morning in order to participate in the panel discussion and view the exhibition in Gulariya, two hours from her home. Soon after listening to her own story, she checked out her neighbour Pavitra Bika’s record and profile.
Pavitra was awed at being one of the 30 women whose experiences as migrant workers in different parts of India were in display. ‘Sarita (HRI researcher) had told me about the exhibition but I didn’t know it would be this grand!’ she exclaimed, ‘I can see my photo and also hear my own voice.’
Also excited about the exhibition was Sangita Mahatara, who participated in the panel discussion on the first day. On the second day she brought her son to see the exhibition. ‘I want him to see and hear my story,’ she said while her son smiled upon hearing his mother’s voice through speakers.
‘I hope our experiences and stories will help other migrant women to be careful, have respectable, dignified and secure lives as migrant workers,’ she added.
Bijaya Rai Shrestha, Executive Director of Pourakhi, impressed with the exhibition emphasized the importance of the audio-visual exhibition. ‘It is most probably the first time such an exhibition has happened,’ she stated, ‘It is a very important step in creating awareness among women who are planning to go abroad for employment.’
A press meet was held a day before in the presence of a dozen journalists and media personnel of Bardiya district to inform about the exhibition. In a program press release, pamphlets and posters of the program was handed while Prabin Poudel, Managing Director of Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya(MPP); Tika BK, President of Pourakhi Bardiya and advocate Rajkumar Tharu answered the queries of journalists.
On the first day of exhibition, a panel discussion was held on the issue of overseas employment, focusing on migrant women workers in the informal sector. With Tika BK, President of Pourakhi Bardiya as chair, the eminent panel comprised ofBishnu Bahadur Thapa, Chief District Officer (CDO) of Bardiya, Bijaya Rai Shrestha, Executive Director of Pourakhi, Tara Singh, representative from Department of Women and Children, Bardiya, and Bishnu Timilsina, District Chairperson of Association of Non- Governmental Organisations, Bardiya threw light on several aspects of migration.
The panel discussion dwelt upon how governments, NGOs and concerned authorities are trying to make overseas employment safe, secure and dignified for women migrant workers. It also focused on existing laws and policies in the country; the challenges in implementation and how government and NGOs collaborate to address the grievances of Nepali migrant workers. It was then followed by lively discussion among the panelists and participants, with the latter sharing their experiences and also expressing their concerns about legal and practical challenges.
The exhibition attracted nearly 400 people from different walks of life. Students, professors, migrant workers, returnees, officials, politicians, youth and housewives viewed the audio-visual exhibition. ‘It has tried to include every aspect of Nepali migrant women workers in the informal sector in India,’ Dr. Keshav Bashyal, Professor at Tribhuwan University said after viewing the exhibition. Expert researcher on the issue, he pointed out the challenges and uniqueness of migrant workers’ relationship with the involved states and appreciated the exhibition for its efforts to reflect them.
The exhibition was organised on the occasion of ‘International Migrants Day’ from 23-24 December 2016, by the HRI Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange with the local partner Pourakhi Bardiya. Logistics and technical aspects were looked after by Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya.
The project was implemented by The Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange in the context of DanChurchAid’s (DCA) Migrants’ Rights Programme in South and Southeast Asia, with implementation support from WOREC, POURAKHI, and Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) with funding support from DCA and Stichting Rotterdam. For more details visit www.migrantsvoices.org
Research and interviews were conducted by Sarita Ramamoorthy and Laxmi Murthy, who also took the photographs. Nivida Lamichhane translated the material from Nepali into English. The exhibition was curated by the Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange with the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, the panels were designed by Dibesh Man Maskey.
"Hri" - a sound or a vibration, the utterance of which awakens the empathy that is an inherent part of every sentient being. Regionalism must no longer remain a prisoner of platitude, since there is a consensus that geopolitical friction, poverty and pressing environmental issues as well as cultural and social dislocation must be addressed through the regional framework. There is a need to revive and energise discussions of regionalism on the platform of mainstream politics, public information and research, with a dynamic Southasian sensibility.