KATHMANDU, DEC 28 -
Sita Rai was only 15 when the bright lights of a city first beckoned her. A road had finally reached Leguwaghat of Dhankuta, a few kilometres from her village, Jarayatar. Having never left home, the Bhojpur girl wondered what it would be like to ride on a bus and visit faraway cities where the lights never go out, rich people drive around in fancy cars and the cinema always shows films. With a group of friends, an innocent Sita excitedly boarded a bus for Dharan.
Sita never got to Dharan. Instead, she found herself in Pokhara. With no means to get back home, she grudgingly took up a job in a restaurant. While there, a stranger befriended her. This man told Sita of a job in a foreign country where she could make a lot of money. The fact that Sita lacked a citizenship and a passport posed no problem to her new friend. He would do everything for her.
Sita Rai, now 16, became Bimala KC of Baglung. Sita would work as a housemaid in a foreign land and she would make millions without having to spend a penny of her own. Amazingly, the man made good on his promise. Fabricating false documents and flying Sita to Saudi Arabia via Delhi there were no charges at all.
However, Sita would soon discover that nothing comes free. Under the scorching Saudi Arabian sun, Sita found that she was unable to communicate. She spoke no English and could barely read and write. Her work consisted of backbreaking housework with little respite. “I was overworked and abused verbally and physically,” Sita recalls, avoiding glances and staring at the floor and into the distance.
She worked unpaid at her ‘masters’ for nine months. “When I pleaded with them to send me back home, they left me at a contract service centre, which found me another job,” Sita narrates. The next family she worked for were much more pleasant. They treated her kindly and she worked for them for three years. When she expressed a desire to finally go home for Tihar, the family even bought her gifts to take home: a pair of watches for her brothers, handkerchiefs, shirts and clothes.
Brimming with joy at returning home, Sita landed at the Tribhuvan International Airport on November 19. This was where her troubles would resurface. Stopped at immigration by an official who asked her name, Sita unwittingly gave her real name. Discovering the inconsistency between her name and the passport she was carrying, the official took her into custody. She spent the next day at the immigration office in Kalikasthan.
There, Sita was approached by another immigration official, Somnath Khanal, who presented her with another offer: the money she had brought over would be confiscated and she could go free. “He [Khanal] made me sign a blank piece of paper and told me I could go,” she says. “It is not for us, it is for the government,” Khanal told her.
Sita never saw her pay, the 8500 riyal (Rs 218,000), again. Taking advantage of the distraught and vulnerable Sita, a police constable, Parsuram Basnet, volunteered to buy her a bus ticket to her village. Despite misgivings, Sita accepted.
“He took me to the New Buspark but when we reached there he said that the bus had already left and I would have to take one the next day,” she says. Basnet put her up in a lodge by the buspark and left, saying he would return shortly. When he came back drunk and belligerent, he pounced on her and she screamed. With a hand over her mouth, Basnet threatened to kill her and dispose of her body. Then, he proceeded to rape her. A medical report says she is pregnant.
Sita doesn’t remember much of that night. The few riyals that Sita had hidden away in the nooks and crannies of her purse had disappeared overnight. So had the gifts she was taking for her family—the clothes, the watches, all vanished. “I have done so much for you. Do not forget me,” said Basnet before handing her Rs 1,000 for her busfare. “Come and see me again.” However, things, especially the matter of her rape, would have to stay between them. “If you talk to anyone about this, I will kill you,” he said simply.
Sita is currently living in Kathmandu with a relative, fighting a case against the government officials who robbed her and the policeman who raped her. Hers is a case where the perpetrators and the prosecutors are both the government, public servants and security forces supposed to be guardians of society but turned corrupt and drunk with power. Now that Sita’s case has received attention from the media, there is pressure on the government to take strict decisive measures, not just to compensate Sita but to punish the guilty.
Unless action is taken, there are chances of these incidents recurring and the tale of another Sita making headlines.
Posted on: 2012-12-28 08:24