KATHMANDU, Sept 21: For the willing of heart, greying hair is no barrier to learning. This is especially true of the spouses of some senior Maoist leaders, who now have the time and resources to begin their formal education.
At the forefront of this learning effort is Sushma Baidya, 55, wife of senior Maoist Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya. She is a grade six student at Chetana Women’s School of Gangabu, Kathmandu.
“I also have to attend to household chores. Otherwise I would have done better in school,” says Sushma.
She has been diligent enough to reach grade six in three years and is currently preparing for her final exams.
Sushma can now read newspapers and doesn’t even hesitate to offer her suggestions to senior party leaders. She requested Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal the other day to reconcile with her husband, who leads the hard-line camp.
“I also know a little English. I saw his name on my husband’s ringing cell phone. He asked for my advice when he heard my voice and I asked him to seek reconciliation,” says a jovial Sushma.
Born to a comparatively well-off family at Maidan, Arghakhanchi district, her father Khubi Ram Acharya, a Maoist and currently a member of the Maoist Advisory Board, got her admitted to school.
Sending daughters to school was then a social taboo, and her father soon yielded to the stereotyping
“I was as a dropout as my schoolgoing embarrassed the family,” she recalls.
But the wish to get an education never left her, partly because her father’s house was a meeting point for leftist individuals to discuss books, current affairs and the leftist movement.
At 18, she was married to Maoist ideologue Baidya, then a 29-year-old school teacher. He went underground soon after.
Subsequently, the idea of getting an education gradually vanished from Sushma’s mind as she was engrossed in the more immediate needs of her family.
But better late than never.
She had a comparatively easy life in Kathmandu, with the time and resources for education, after the party joined the peace process. Her dream materialized when she came to know about Chetana Women’s school, though Baidya did not relish the idea of her going there, for fear of being ridiculed. “I had already made up my mind and got myself admitted, and he finally gave in,” Sushma says beaming.
She says her determination to continue her schooling was bolstered after Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who reached the Baidya residence the day after he was eleved to the post, asked her to become a role model for illiterate women of her age.
Sushma is not alone in beginning her education late in life.
Rammaya, 49, wife of Maoist Secretary Posta Bahadur Bogati, is in grade four at the same school.
Among other spouses of Maoist leaders, Shanta Bhandari and Sita Mahara dropped out last year due to poor health.
Sita and Shanta are the wives of Maoist leaders Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Yekraj Bhandari respectively.
Sarala Chepang, dauther of Maoist lawmaker Maya Chepang, is also a student at the school that was established six years ago.
The non-profit school has some 400 students and most of the teachers are either volunteers or work for a nominal salary.
“We teach the poor, housemaids, dropouts and those in middle age,” said Vice-principal Santa Pandit.