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Ma Ra Mero Katha: Me and My Story – Indira Ranamagar
Indira Ranamagar is the Founder of Prisoner’s Assistance Nepal that looks after the children of prisoners/ inmates. Her continued work through the organisation has led to the opening of four children’s homes, two schools and various other social projects aimed at helping prisoners and their children. She was one of three finalist nominees for the 2014 World’s Children’s Prize, and in October 2014 was awarded the World’s Children’s Honorary Award by Queen Silvia of Sweden. She is also Asia 21 Leaders, Ashoka Fellow, Recipient of the Nava Devi Shakti Award and BBC’s 100 Women List 2017 of influential and inspirational women from around the world.
“You do not need to be a Prime Minister or a celebrity to change the world”, says Indira. At a program held by Bihani Social Venture, Indira shared her inspiring story. Excerpts:
From Jhapa to Kathmandu: A journey that began 27 years back
From being born in humble beginnings with limited access to education and opportunities, I always dreamt of making a mark for myself as an individual. I educated myself by writing with a stick on the ground and listening to my brothers’ study till I was finally given the opportunity to study at the local school. I have taken every obstacle or discrimination I underwent as a girl child or woman as an opportunity to make the lives of others better, which is how my journey from Jhapa began.
The turning point in my life came, when I reached Kathmandu and met Parijat or Bishnu Kumari Waiba, Nepalese writer most known for her publication Shiris Ko Phool (The Blue Mimosa). I was a teacher in her sister’s school and she would watch me teaching the children. She initiated me into the world of children and inmates behind bars.
When I first came to Kathmandu, to survive, I was involved in various fields ranging from accounting, ironing and button-work but I realised that teaching was my passion and I wanted to contribute to children in prisons. Under Parijat’s guidance, every Saturday I would visit prisons in Nakkhu, Dhulikhel or Dillibazar and on Sundays, I used to report everything to her, learning along the way. It has now been 27 years working in this field and I still clearly remember the first day I learned that the children inside the prisons were not wanted by anyone and no orphanage would take care of them thinking that they were the children of criminals. It was heart breaking and made me more driven to do something for them.
I started to meet the children of prison inmates regularly and slowly built a relationship with them by educating them inside the prisons. I used to buy newspapers and books from money I saved by giving tuitions. I also started to approach orphanages to take the children in so that they could lead a life beyond bars. There was a lot of censorship and rules we had to abide by while working with the prisoners and we had to spend from our own pockets. All the hard work and difficulties mean nothing to me when I now see them educated and independent; some even have a Master’s degree.
Since I was active and always vocal about issues, Parijat also introduced me to the then UNICEF Director through whom I was able to undergo trainings, attend advocacy programmes, and gain an understanding of human rights. I, strongly, feel that no children should be behind bars and with this vision I established Prisoner’s Assistance Nepal in 2000.
Mistakes and Challenges: Part and parcel of the journey
How do you define mistakes? People think of it as breaking social barriers, social customs or rules of government. I work emotionally without any planning. I cannot close my eyes and stop helping a child or prisoner in need for the sake of barriers because if I do, I will suffer more. And this sometimes creates problems for me. I take on more than my capacity. It might be considered a professional mistake but emotionally my heart is in the right place.
Sometimes, I feel that maybe I have made a mistake by leaving home without caring about society or my family. But then I look at it as my life being completely dedicated to prisoners and their children. If you want to bring social change, you have to be able to give the issue you are fighting for the topmost priority; it comes before your personal needs and wants.
Only I know the mistakes and challenges I have overcome to create the beauty that lies within me. I even wrote a poem on it:Though I am beautiful but I am ugly, I am untruthful, I am ungrateful, I am a disgrace only for this society.
Not everyone can take the steps I did and when I reflect back on my life, the mistakes, the challenges, the accomplishments – I am happy and content with all of it.
The Road Ahead
While I was in Germany, a famous economist and board member of WFP came to meet me after a six hour drive and asked, “Do you know why I came all the way to meet you, Indira?” I said I didn’t know. She then told me, “I was amazed by your speech at UN Geneva. So I came to meet the future Prime Minister of Nepal”. And I said, “Don’t you know I am already the Prime Minister. I deal with the most vulnerable people in Nepal solving their problems. That makes me the Prime Minister of those people but I am not the one holding the chair.”
I feel proud of myself because I am doing and contributing what I can. I do not need to have a chair or be in power to change the society, country and people. I am indeed changing people’s lives every day caring for small babies, providing education and creating an environment for them to believe in themselves by setting an example and inspiring the world through my own small efforts.
I will continue to live and work for prison inmates and their children. No child deserves to be imprisoned. Every child deserves an environment where they can grow freely and fulfill their dreams.
Ma Ra Mero Katha is an initiative of Bihani Social Venture and the first edition in the series started with Indira Ranamagar’s Journey on 24 November 2017.
Bihani is a social venture born out of the need to create a positive outlook to life and living meaningfully with focus on individuals above fifty years of age (but not restricted to it) who want to re- engage, re – explore and re – live a new beginning or create a rewarding second half of their lives.
About PA Nepal: PA Nepal is a grass root organisation that aims to provide care to prisoners and their dependent children. It was founded in 2000 by Indira Ranamagar, who first began working with prisoners in 1990 along with human rights activist, Parijat. The mission is to empower and support prisoners and their children, through community appropriate homes, accessible schools, welfare frameworks and social advocacy. Learn more at: http://panepal.org