Nepal hails shortest man, shuns tallest woman

Nepal celebrates Khagendra`s world record. The story of Urmila is of suffering.

Kathmandu: He is hailed as a "Little Buddha" and draws amazed crowds wherever he goes. While the Himalayan nation celebrates Khagendra Thapa Magar`s world record as the shortest man at 22 inches, the story of Urmila Chaudhary, the tallest teen in the country, is that of discrimination and suffering.

Though the same age as Khagendra who has been named Nepal`s ambassador to promote tourism, 18-year-old Urmila stands at seven feet three inches, evoking gawking and unkind remarks wherever she goes.

"Who will marry this giraffe of a girl?" is the common response she faces in her village.

While Khagendra, who was officially recognised as the world`s shortest man by the Guinness Book of World Records last month and is looking forward to new honours in 2011, to be celebrated as Tourism Year, Urmila is struggling for her life in Kathmandu`s Miteri Hospital.

Two hospital beds have been clubbed together to accommodate the teen, who tried to kill herself after she flunked the school-leaving examination, dubbed Nepal`s Iron Gate because of the high incidence of failure.

Her father died when she was young and her mother, Chandra, and brother Arjun, eke out a meagre livelihood collecting firewood and selling it to villagers in Siraha in southern Nepal.

The girl was driven to try to take her own life after she became an object of derision in her village where she was regarded as a monstrosity.

"Urmila suffered from an excessive secretion of growth hormones, which caused her unusual growth," says Janu Khadka, a doctor at the hospital.
Now, though she survived the suicide bid, she has been diagnosed with diabetes and tumour, driving her family to the verge of desperation.

"We need nearly Nepalese Rs.200,000 for an operation to remove the tumour," Arjun said. "While the hospital has promised to help, we still need to raise a substantial sum ourselves. We don`t know how we will ever raise the money."

Urmila belongs to the Tharu community, a people who were originally powerful landowners in the Terai plains. However, displaced from their own land by migrants from India as well as Nepal`s hills, they became slaves in their own country.

Though Nepal officially proclaims an end to untouchability at the start of every new government, the Tharus are still at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

In the remote Terai villages, where the caste system is rigid, they are still assaulted for approaching the village drinking water source and not allowed to enter temples or upper caste houses.

Siraha also has one of the highest incidences of atrocities against Dalits or untouchables.
The National Women`s Commission, the National Dalit Commission and the UN`s human rights agency in Nepal this week conducted an investigation in Siraha after reports that incidents of caste-based discrimination and gender-based violence were not being prosecuted, sometimes due to political pressure.

"The situation raises serious human rights concerns," a joint press statement by the three agencies said.

"Dalit women are especially vulnerable and at risk. We urge the government of Nepal to act immediately to ensure access to justice for all individuals, especially to victims of these serious violations, consistent with national laws and international human rights standards," it said.


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