Demanding political and education rights for women

Leading a delegation to Padma Shumsher’s home

After attending four meetings organized by the Praja Panchayat, it was evident that women’s political participation was abysmal. Faced with this hard reality, one day, twenty one of us decided it’s time to demand for reform from no one else but Prime Minister Shree Teen Padma Shumsher himself.

We wanted voting rights for women, and the provision for women and girls to pursue an education.

At the time, Prime Minister Padma Shumsher would reside at his personal residence in Bishalnagar. Finding our way, we arrived at his residence, only to be denied an audience.

“Why are you here?” the guards asked.

“We are here to talk to the Shree Teen Maharaja”, I replied on behalf of the delegation.

After much persuasion, we were finally let inside his palace. Inside the palace, I ran into my great-grandfather-in-law Badakazi Ratnaman. He was shocked to see me, and asked me my reasons for being there.

After making so many efforts to reach the palace, returning home due to the fear of my great-grandfather-in-law was out of the question.

“I am here to meet the Shree Teen Maharaja. We want to ask for our rights”, I informed Badakazi Ratnaman.

Badakazi was looking for a response, when at the same time Hajuriya General (Chief of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard) intervened:

“You are the daughter-in-law of a prominent family. What are you trying to prove leading this delegation of women? Who has incited you to perform such a task? Don’t do this; don’t tarnish your family’s reputation. Go back home”, he said.

“Everyone here is a respectable woman – they are here for their rights, and we are not going to return until we are granted an audience with Padma Shumsher”, I replied defiantly.

An audience with Padma Shumsher

After much deliberation, we were finally granted a meeting with Padma Shumsher.

“Why are you all here?” Padma Shumsher asked us.

“The local level elections are supposed to happen soon. We are here to ask for our voting rights Sarkar”, I replied.

“Who told you the local level elections are going to happen soon?” Padma Shumsher asked.

“We heard from the people”, I replied.

“Is there anything else?” Padma Shumsher asked.

“Yes Sarkar, there should be provisions for women to go to school too”, I added.

“And who will attend this school?” Padma Shumsher asked.

“There will be students”, this time we replied in unison. The delegation also suggested that the school’s name be under the maharaja’s name, “In this way, women will be able to get an education, and your name will forever be cemented in Nepal’s history”, we had said.

“I will ensure voting rights are granted to women. I also like the idea of opening a school. I will keep that under consideration. Okay, you all can leave now”, Padma Shumsher responded.

Padma Kanya School is established

I don’t know if it was due to our demands, or if Padma Shumsher underwent an epiphany, nevertheless in a few days after the meeting Padma Kanya School was established in Dillibazar, Kathmandu. Padma Shumsher donated his own land and building for the purpose.

Our joys were boundless – it was our first victory.

In context to the voting rights, although Padma Shumsher had assured us in writing that women would be allowed to vote, the proposed municipality elections never happened. Padma Shumsher’s proclamations to reform Nepal put him in a difficult situation with his family members, and in March, 1948 Padma Shumsher left for India, resigning from his post in April, 1948.

Years later, after the end of the Rana regime, I had gotten an opportunity to meet Padma Shumsher in Calcutta.

“I had given you your rights to vote and education”, he told me when we met.

“Yes, you gave us the right to vote, but you were unsuccessful in your proclamation to organize the elections. This way we did not get to exercise them”, I had replied to him.

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