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.
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.
Photography by Dan Court / words by Rory Jones