The One Hundred and Four Year Old Man by dan court

On the border of the Dhading and Nuwakot districts, and on our way to Dandagaon we encountered Sita Shrestha and her husband Dhana Man Shrestha.  At the age of 97, with a chain smoking growl in her voice, a low cackling laugh, winking and bouncing around with the energy of someone a quarter, let alone half her age, she exchanged jokes with our guide, Gopi.  Whilst several of her daughters and sons looked on as she held court, she boasted to us that she’d had fifteen children and that ‘you could go anywhere in Nepal and find a direct relation of hers’ but that she was still on young compared to her husband, who was one hundred and four.  We asked to meet him, and so walked to the back of the building to a balcony where sat a shrunken, frail man slowly finishing up his Dhal Baht, slowly picking away at the food with his hands.  With a shove and rant from his wife, he slowly got up and walked (with no cane and still fairly mobile) to the front where we took some photos of them together. With over two hundred years accumulatively in age, and still showing signs of affection, belonging and love, we couldn’t help but feel we’d just met two very special people.

Dhulikhel Jail by dan court

We were invited to visit the Dhulikhel prison about 30 km outside of Kathmandu with Indira Ranamagar, the founder of the Nepali charity PA (Prisoner Assistance) Nepal.  

Indira founded the charity in 2000, with the mission to give 'prisoners and their children a better today and a brighter future'.  With four sites throughout Nepal, and 30 full time staff, Indira and her staff are committed to providing a safe environment for the children of prisoners to learn, live and grow up with each other until their parents are free.  Under Nepali law if a child’s parents are both imprisoned (or more often than not, a child’s single parent is imprisoned for poverty related crimes), the child has to live in the prison with their parent unless they can waiver over custody to a guardian, which is where Indira comes in.  The charity also works to directly improve the lives of prisoners, regularly visiting prisons to distribute any form of aid Indira can get her hands on; from clothes to cold drinks, toothbrushes to soap.

I don't think either of us have ever met someone quite as remarkable as Indira - imagine someone with the crusading zeal of Margaret Thatcher, compassion of Florence Nightingale, magnetism of Eva Peron and the impulsiveness of a springer spaniel (note, I’ve been raised with Springer Spaniel’s and this is most definitely used in a positive sense) all wrapped up into the body of this little Nepali woman.

We distributed a new T-shirt and pair of shorts to each prisoner, along with a small pack of biscuits and a plastic cup of Coca-Cola, Sprite, or Fanta.

Prisoners then performed some songs as a group with one brave soloist performing a solo performance of a heavy metal song Acapella to get things started.

 The following photographs hopefully can illustrate not only the living conditions and day to day lives of prisoners, but also the crushing depressive reality of living in a situation that for many of the prisoners with mental illnesses, do not wholly understand.

Prisoners lining up in the most orderly of queues to receive a clothes handout and soft drink of their choice.

Prisoners lining up in the most orderly of queues to receive a clothes handout and soft drink of their choice.

Indira handing out clothes to prisoners.

Indira handing out clothes to prisoners.

A Prisoner performing his rendition of a heavy metal song to the prisoners and guards in the ‘musical therapy’ session.  The prisoner in the background using the clothes to cover himself from the sun has been a prisoner for over thirty years.

A Prisoner performing his rendition of a heavy metal song to the prisoners and guards in the ‘musical therapy’ session.  The prisoner in the background using the clothes to cover himself from the sun has been a prisoner for over thirty years.

The prisoners’ washing line and buckets to store their drinking water.  Under Nepali law, prisoners are given a 45 Rupee daily allowance to survive, which includes them having to buy their own food.  In almost every case, prisoners put their money together, meaning they can buy basic supplies of rice and Dhal Bat.  This communal sense of shared purpose demonstrated an engendered sense of community; but also of a closeness of bonding, with few cases of insolence or prison violence.  The risk of misbehaving and being placed in solitary confinement by the guards, or of falling out with another inmate and therefore being excluded from the group, would result in either solitary confinement or being deprived of your food rations - as Indira put it ‘In the UK people are worried about their freedom whilst in prison, in Nepal all they care about is food’.

The prisoners’ washing line and buckets to store their drinking water.  Under Nepali law, prisoners are given a 45 Rupee daily allowance to survive, which includes them having to buy their own food.  In almost every case, prisoners put their money together, meaning they can buy basic supplies of rice and Dhal Bat.  This communal sense of shared purpose demonstrated an engendered sense of community; but also of a closeness of bonding, with few cases of insolence or prison violence.  The risk of misbehaving and being placed in solitary confinement by the guards, or of falling out with another inmate and therefore being excluded from the group, would result in either solitary confinement or being deprived of your food rations - as Indira put it ‘In the UK people are worried about their freedom whilst in prison, in Nepal all they care about is food’.

The cooking utensils used by prisoners.

The cooking utensils used by prisoners.

The only prisoner allowed to keep an instrument in the living area was the man in the blue shirt - the rest were given the drums only when requested from the guards.

The only prisoner allowed to keep an instrument in the living area was the man in the blue shirt - the rest were given the drums only when requested from the guards.

With encouragement from Indira several prisoners get up and dance to the traditional Nepali music played by the other prisoners, overseen by one of the prison staff in a white shirt and other prisoners.  The prisoner with the yellow striped T Shirt has been convicted for murder.

With encouragement from Indira several prisoners get up and dance to the traditional Nepali music played by the other prisoners, overseen by one of the prison staff in a white shirt and other prisoners.  The prisoner with the yellow striped T Shirt has been convicted for murder.

Not every prisoner chooses to get involved in the music session, with some hanging out at the back of the courtyard.

Not every prisoner chooses to get involved in the music session, with some hanging out at the back of the courtyard.

Indira with prison guards.

Indira with prison guards.

Prisoner Portraits

Photography by Dan Court / words by Rory Jones