“I am a child and a women’s rights activist”: Kiran Kumari Thakur paves the way for Nepal

Across the world, nurturing a community leader requires a conducive social environment and an extensive support network. In the region of Terai, the southern plains of Nepal, it is unheard of for a woman to take the stand.

But the story is something different in Kiran Kumari Thakur’s case: a social activist and elected Deputy Mayor for the Gaur Municipality in the Rautahat District.

Kiran was born in Motihari, India in a middle-class family. Being aware of the importance of girls’ education, her father sent her to school for formal education. In her community, she is one among the few privileged girls to have attended school. Following the completion of her secondary school education, she was married to a Nepali in 1991 which abruptly halted her opportunity to access further education. After marriage, Kiran’s daily routine took a complete U-turn rendering her into service for her spouse’s family and attending to routine household chores. Her father-in-law was a strict traditionalist, meaning Kiran was confined to her home and had to observe pardah (a practice in which women are required to conceal their faces with the traditional pallu), restricting her mobility and communication.

Fortunately, her spouse a Ph.D. scholar, championed her cause and with his encouragement, she joined college, despite her father-in-law’s objection and successfully completed her university degree.

Kiran started contributing to her society as a children and women’s right activist. She regularly visited diverse communities to raise awareness on issues of early child marriage, domestic violence, untouchability and the importance of children’s education. She actively supported the Safe-House run with support from the Ministry of Women and Children in Gaur. This is a safe space for women and children who had suffered domestic violence, trafficking and exploitation to receive shelter and support.

“People used to accuse me saying ‘Kiran has crossed the societal boundary, she is corrupting our daughters!’ Nonetheless, I kept on visiting communities and continued my mission… to make people aware of bad societal practices and the problems they create in our communities,” said Kiran.

Kiran was persistent and strived to reach those who were suffering neglect, living in isolation due to age old societal norms which denied women and lower caste groups equal status in society.

“The Jhaggad (a caste group treated as untouchable) community were so poor, living in spaces without proper sanitation. I was so touched seeing the Jhaggad kids. I rallied the support from different agencies and started a livelihood intervention programme to support children to access formal education. Now, I see a remarkable change in their life. I can feel the happiness of those Jhaggad children and families. They have improved their financial and living standards, many of them now have bank accounts and savings,” said Kiran.

Kiran believed that in order to instil significant change in society, she needed to aim her efforts higher. She set her sights on politics, and her tireless efforts for her community led to her election as the people’s representative as deputy mayor for her municipal area.

As Kiran reflected on her journey, she explained: “It was difficult for me to come into politics in this deep-rooted patriarchal society. But I didn’t give up! With the support from my family and people, I was elected as Deputy Mayor. People of my constituency come to my office and I listen to them. I’m very happy that I’m able to address their problems now, using the resources I have at my disposal.”

Kiran’s efforts have led to the construction of the Human Service Centre in the Rautahat district, a service to provide shelter to those in need such as children, women and the senior citizens. “I will always keep serving society and I will remain a children and women’s right activist at heart” she added.