ARTIST – MUNA BHADEL
PHOTOGRAPHY – SUSANA LOPEZ
INTERVIEW – BHUWAN ROKKA
TRANSLATION – ADITEE BHATTERAI
Santu Kumari Shrestha
Santu is the mother of three, the eldest of which suffers from cerebral palsy. The surrounding community consider Santu and her disabled son Rajan to be ‘possessed’ or ‘cursed’ making them outcasts in their own home. Together with her husband, the family of five became homeless after the earthquake and now live in a one-room shelter. Now, finally, they are receiving aid from a British woman who has agreed to build the Shrestha’s a safe home.
There is not much difference in my life [before and after the earthquake]. It’s always been hard. It always makes me want to cry. There’s no one at home that I can talk to, everybody just scolds me. No matter how much I do for them, they never see it. Sometimes I feel like running away, but looking at my son I don’t even want to do that. It makes me very sad. His father beats him too. He comes home drunk.
I still don’t know what happened to my son. I was doing laundry and he had slept at 8am. Other days he used to look at me but that day he didn’t. ‘Why wasn’t he looking?’ I didn’t know. I asked my son, ‘What’s wrong, babu?’ He did not say anything. I didn’t know that he had fainted. My aama [lit. mother, here mother-in-law] was at home at the time. I asked her, ‘Aama, please see what was happened to my son. He is not talking or saying anything.’ To that she replied, ‘Whatever. I don’t care if he lives or dies.’ I called her again twice, but she didn’t answer. Then I asked help from a lady outside. I said, ‘Please look aama, my baby slept at 8 in the morning, he still hasn’t woken up, I don’t know why.’ She said, ‘I’ll see,’ and came inside. She examined him and said, ‘It seems like your son has been possessed.’ I didn’t even have one grain of rice to do any rituals. I had nothing. I told the lady that I didn’t have anything and asked her if I could borrow some rice from her. She told me not to worry. ‘I’ll bring the rice, I’ll do everything that has to be done.’ She then brought the rice and performed the ritual. It seemed to have worked a little. But it happened again. It had already come to my mind that my son was going to die like that.
Santu recalls the day of the earthquake:
I was upstairs and was bringing hot water to bathe my son. I was on the stairs and then I couldn’t go, either here or there. I didn’t know if I should hold him. I didn’t know what to do. Then I held my son and slowly brought him downstairs. We stayed outside on the road all day and we didn’t have anything to eat. Again, when the earthquake would come and shake, he would laugh. And others scolded me, ‘What are you teaching him?’
‘What should I do?’ I had even thought of giving them [my children] poison and then taking it myself too; we’d all just die. I thought of giving all three of them poison, after all nobody looked after us, nobody cared.
I feel very happy now because I have received help. I am more concerned about him [Rajan] because the other two can walk, they can work, they can survive. For him, if we can find an organization or even if I have to treat him at home, I want him to be able to walk.