Ms. Charimaya Tamang is the epitome of courage, determination and bravery. Looking at her, no one can guess the horrors of her past. Trafficked at age sixteen and forced to become a sex worker, she has gone through the most bitter experiences that life can bring. However, she has battled those ghosts from her past to become the famous social activist that she is today.
Her life’s journey began about 37 years ago in a village in Sindhupalchowk. Coming from a modest background, she had a difficult childhood. Out of her nine siblings, five died in their early childhood leaving only four of them. In those days, people hardly sent their daughters to school. Yet, her family educated her due to which she faced social stigma. Consequently, she was only able to continue her studies up to grade five.
When she was sixteen, her father passed away, causing much grief in her life. Less than six months later, while she was out alone cutting grass in the forest, she was ambushed and drugged by four men (her hands were tied and she was forcefully made to consume a powdery substance). When she gained consciousness, she found herself in Gorakhpur with her appearance completely changed – she had makeup on, a new hairstyle and different clothes. They then handed her over to an anonymous woman called ‘aunty’, who made her board a train, where she passed out again. When she finally gained consciousness, she was already in Mumbai. Soon, she was taken to a brothel where she was locked up in a dingy room. She felt even more hopeless when her attempt to commit suicide failed. “Even death was not on my side” she says, “as the shawl that I had used to hang myself with tore apart and I fell to the ground. Although I was choking and my eyes were hurting so badly that I thought they would pop out, I didn’t die.” Defeated and exhausted, all she could do was pray to God to give her the strength to face what life was to bring her way.
On the fifth day of her ordeal, a customer was sent to her room. She fought back fiercely, attacking him with whatever she could find; from her bare hands to the high heeled shoes that the brothel owner had given her to wear. She was not going to give up that easily. The brothel owner and manager then beat her up severely as she refused to give in to their demands. However, the customer stopped them from doing so and said he would come back again having already paid them money.
On the sixth day, the brothel owner locked her up in a room with four local thugs to “teach her a lesson”. She was so intimidated by them that she felt every ounce of energy drain from her body. Although she tried to fight them off, her efforts were futile and she lost consciousness due to the trauma. When she came to her senses, she found herself covered in blood and with not even enough strength to get up. Following this, a doctor was brought to treat her who gave her an injection and some medicines. She was given 2 days of rest after which, she had no choice but to follow the orders of the brothel owner.
For twenty two months, she faced many hardships with physical and mental abuse. Everyday she wished she could escape from that living hell but there was nobody to help her. When she had almost given up all hope of living a normal life ever again, a tiny ray of sunshine seemed to emerge out of the darkness. The government of Maharashtra ordered police raids to be conducted in the brothels and all girls aged 18 and below were rescued. Out of a total of 500 girls, more than 200 were Nepalese. Freed at last, they were finally relieved to be going back home. However, once again they were faced with a dilemma as the government of Nepal was reluctant to bring them into the country as they were thought to be carriers of HIV AIDS and other STD’s. Finally, due to the support of various NGO’s, 148 girls were able to return to Nepal. (Out of 200, many of them died before they could return home.)
Once in Nepal, Charimaya was ostracized from society but she found a refuge in Nava Jyoti Center where she felt like she had been given a second life. Putting the nightmare of the past behind her, slowly but surely, life started returning to normalcy. Not only was she able to file a case against her traffickers (making her the first person in Nepal to do so), but she also won, leading the evil doers to get their due punishment. She eventually got married, had children and currently leads a normal life.
Having gone through the torment of being a victim of human trafficking, she decided to work to save others from meeting a similar fate. In the year 2000, Charimaya, along with 15 survivors founded an NGO named ‘Shakti Samuha’ which works towards raising awareness about trafficking as well as conducting repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation services. The US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report of 2007 hailed the organization as first in the world where survivors of human trafficking are now themselves working towards ending this evil practice. In 2011, the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, presented her with the Hero Acting to End Modern Day Slavery award in WashingtonDC. Furthermore, Shakti Samuha gained additional international recognition by winning the Ramon Magsaysay award in Manila, Philippines earlier this year.
Ms. Charimaya Tamang’s life and work is an inspiration to many. She has shown everyone what courage and determination can do even when life seems completely hopeless. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. All you have to do is keep looking ahead and moving towards the light.