Kakadbhitta (Jhapa), Jan 30,2015: Whoever says pulling rickshaw for livelihood is the prerogative of the male only? Meet Fulmaya Dhimal from Sani Arjun Municipality -5, Jhapa who then busted rickshaw pulling was no longer a male bastion.
Dhimal arguably is the first ever female rickshaw puller in Nepal who perched on the pedal of a rickshaw some 18 years ago, raising many eyebrows.
Dhimal, now 61-year-old, is back on pedal despite her age and physical disability.
Both the first and the second inning of this audacious woman’s foray into this male-dominated profession owes to acute poverty.
When she first adopted this profession in 2053 BS at the age of 43, it was to fulfill the economic responsibly of her seven kids and herself after her husband abandoned them some 25 years ago. She worked different odd menial jobs, from doing the dishes at others’ houses in the locality to weaving carpet in Kathmandu and the like to fend the children.
Extreme poverty pushes to rickshaw pulling. ‘Once she ran short of food to feed her children. Thatâ€™s when she fed boiled water to children. Wandering to and fro searching for a solution to her perpetual livelihood problem, she reached the market in the locality. There she saw rickshaws parked.
On an impulse, she pulled one of the rickshaws and started pulling it with no proper training, and of course, without permission from the rightful owner.
“I got slapped for that, but in that stroke I found a solution to my hand-to-mouth problem,” Dhimal quipped, flashing a toothless smile.
However, she pulled the rickshaw on a regular basis after she bought one from the money she bagged from the Rickshaw Pulling Competition from Kakadbhitta to Hetauda. She emerged a winner, beating physically strong men. And afterwards she began to work as a boss of her own, leaving her livelihood- worries at bay. Success and fame Dhimal then started to shoot to fame. She not only grabbed news paper headlines as ‘the first female woman rickshaw puller’ but also the eyeball of locals as well as few people of national repute including the former PMs- Girija Prasad Koirala and Krishna Prasad Koirala and matinee idol Rajesh Hamal, among others, who had enjoyed a ride in her rickshaw on various occasions.
Reminiscing the good old days, Dhimal cherishes the occasion when Girija Prasad Koirala and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai recognized her audacity and offered her opportunities including a trip abroad. “The then Prime Minister GP Koirala, who would lovingly address me as ‘Chhori’ (daughter) looked for me when he was in Birtamod, Jhapa,” she said.
“Leader Giriraj Kumari Prasai later helped me obtain a citizenship and a passport, and on the behest of the PM, I travelled USA and Brunei for four months where my work garnered recognition and respect,” Dhimal basked in the bygone days’ glory.
Dhimal at once frowned, remembering a fellow team member in the overseas trip who took away the money (in Dollar) and souvenirs citing that the money was spent for nothing. Further harping on her success stories, she shared that leaders CP Mainali and Bamdev Gautam had also felicitated her with the ‘Audacious Woman’ award by inviting her to the Capital. Dhimal, with a twinge of nostalgia, mentioned about her chance audience with the late King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya in Kathmandu, when she had appealed for a piece of land for building a house on. The late king also had nodded in the affirmative. Unfortunately, her dream was shattered with the Royal massacre on June 1, 2001. Bad days again Dhimal’s downturn started when she was rammed by a speeding motorcycle one night six years ago. She narrowly escaped from death but sustained severe injuries to her rib, hands and feet.
“I am bearing the brunt of that night’s injury until today as my right hand is malfunctioned,” shared the grandmother of four who underwent a four-month medication at Kadamtola Medical Collage in India. She now pulls the rickshaw with the strength of one hand. A comeback
When she recently hit the road with a rickshaw, clad in a jumper, wrapper and slipper, many known asked her where she had been all these years to which she had been responding with witty banter, ‘Has the city come to a standstill without me in the scene?’
When she started the profession, the rickshaw fare was relatively high since there were not much private mode of transportation then. For instance, the fare from Birtamod to Sanischare was 50 paisa. Those days, people did not mind tipping her a bit more, hailing her tenacity.
In her comeback, the elderly, who is making a decent Rs 200 a day working from dawn to dusk, experienced the difference in the decorum of the passengers who haggle a lot for fare and end up paying less! When this reporter recently called on Fulmaya, her neighbour Rupa Shrestha expressed her qualm about the reporting on Fulmaya because she was of the opinion that she was merely made a news item. “A woman who set an example to other women, is now overlooked by the State,” argued neighbor Shrestha, adding that the State, honoring her, should provide a piece of land to this woman who deserves to rest in peace at her own abode at this age. Currently Fulmaya stays with her four grandchildren and her eldest son. None of her grandchildren go to school, which is nearby. Instead, one 11-year-old works as a laborer in the locality. This 61-year-old woman on pedal proved that what a male can do, women can do it better. But things could have been better if the woman was given a state pension for her sheer audacity and setting an example as the first woman rickshaw-puller of the country.