Wherever Indira Ranamagar goes, people recognise her.
“Namaste Aama,” they say, which means ‘good day, mother’. Street children, politicians, and rich businessmen. They know that she rescues poor children from prisons.
When she approaches in her shining white sari, it’s hard to believe that Indira once ran around naked in the jungle. That she once couldn’t read or write. But Indira herself will never forget the poverty of her childhood. That’s what drives her to help others.
When Indira was seventeen, she left her village to continue her education in the capital city, Kath-man-du. She worked hard doing other people’s clean-ing and laundry, so that she could afford to go to school. She also worked as a teacher. At one school, Indira met Parijat, a well-known author who wrote a lot about human rights. Parijat thought it was wrong that people were put in prison for protesting against the injustices in society. She also wrote about how bad the conditions were for prisoners, and visited prisons to give out food and clothing.
Wants to help others
One day, Parijat asked Indira what she wanted to do with her life.
“I want to help others,” replied Indira. “Especially those who are as poor as I once was.”
Then Parijat asked Indira to start working with her.
“I was scared the first time I went into a prison,” says Indira. “I thought the prisoners were dangerous, but I realised that they were people, just like the rest of us. Most of them were extremely poor and couldn’t read or write.”
Indira began visiting prisons every weekend when she didn’t have school. She ran courses to teach people to read and write, and she donated clothes and food. She was shocked that so many children had to live with their parents in the dirty, cramped prisons.
“It’s a terrible environment for children,” says Indira.
She tried to find places for the children at various child-ren’s homes, but it was hard. The children’s homes were also overcrowded with poor children.
The first child
Indira is twenty years old, and on the way to visit a prison as usual. At the prison gate she stops dead. There is a child lying there, sleeping. It’s a little girl who is going to change Indira’s life.
The girl is three years old and her name is Anjali. Her father has just been put in prison and her mother is dead. Anjali curled up and went to sleep outside the prison to be as close to her father as possible. She doesn’t have anyone else.
Indira, who has already helped so many children to move from prison to different children’s homes, tries to find a place for Anjali. But nobody has space for the girl.
Indira decides to take care of Anjali herself. She is also disappointed with the child-ren’s homes. They rarely give the children the love and care they need. Indira has realised that the prison children need even more love and security, since they have often been through bad experiences. If they have been in prison for a long time, it also delays their development. Indira studies at secondary school, and Anjali comes with her to her lessons.
Anjali makes Indira work in a different way. Instead of rescuing children from prisons and taking them to children’s homes, she starts to take care of more and more children herself. Eventually, she has so many children that she has to start her own children’s home. Later, she starts schools and farms all over Nepal. Today, it is 22 years since Indira found that little girl sleeping outside the prison gates. Anjali is an adult now, with a family of her own. Indira has managed to save over a thousand children from prisons, giving them a safe childhood and an education.
Text: Eva-Pia Worland
Photo: Johan Bjerke