|Raju Kandel, with Amy Farrell, says colleges in Nepal offer nothing akin to women’s studies.
Nepal is a country where men are men, and women are lesser beings, particularly in rural areas of the mountainous monarchy. It’s a situation that disturbs many people, particularly one 24-year-old man. And he’s bound to do something about it, even if it means this low-key guy must call attention to himself.
Only one month into his arrival at Dickinson Raju Kandel ’07 drew inquiring glances—as the only guy to declare a major in women’s studies. “People said, ‘Is everything all right with you?’ ” he says with a shy smile.
Kandel’s adviser David Commins, professor of history, and Amy Farrell, chair of American studies, assured him that everything was perfectly all right.
His desire to know why women have more rights in the United States than in Nepal earned him an opportunity that is rare in a country where the average daily wage is $1.
Kandel, son of a sociology professor and a housewife from the capital city of Kathmandu, was awarded two years of study in the United States through the Partnership for Learning Undergraduate Studies (PLUS) Program. After writing an essay, submitting test scores and interviewing, Kandel was selected from more than a thousand applicants, he says.
PLUS was initiated in 2004 by the U.S. Department of State to allow students from the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa to complete their undergraduate work in the United States, with the goal of fostering greater understanding between Muslim-majority country residents and Americans. Kandel had earned a sociology degree and taught for a couple of years in Nepal before his selection. Dickinson, one of only 22 colleges or universities named to host the students, was selected for him because of its women’s studies program, he says.
After spending the summer at Montana State University taking courses and polishing his English skills, Kandel arrived in Carlisle. Mountainous Montana had more the look of Nepal, but the learning situation here suits him better.
“In Montana, one class had 80 students; here there are 14 to 15 in a class. I get to know the students better. I also like the way the courses progress. Classes are discussion oriented. I give my opinion. What I have learned within one month here I already can implement in Nepal.”
Kandel revels in the fact he can invoke issues that aren’t broached in Nepal. “We talk about reproductive rights, abortion. Nepal is the fourth country in the world where women die in childbirth.”
Among the practices that bother him in Nepal are: child marriage, often in the early teens in the rural areas; selling of young girls into prostitution; rape by guerillas who roam the rural areas; forced enlistment in the guerilla armies; and banishment of women to cowsheds for the duration of their menstrual periods. “I don’t believe menstruation is a problem,” he says. “It’s natural.”
He also abhors discriminatory practices, such as allowing sons to be engineers or doctors but daughters only to be teachers. As a neophyte teacher himself, he was upset to be given upper-level courses to teach, while veteran women teachers were only allowed to teach lower levels.
His personal life has been affected by the culture. Kandel’s girlfriend of 10 years, who works for an organization that elevates and educates the children of Nepal, is from a traditional Indian Hindu family. Her parents consider Kandel a poor match because of their difference in caste.
“She is not free,” he says. “Her life is influenced by her parents. If she were male she could do what she wants.”
Though he views the treatment of women in the United States as worlds better, he still finds some things surprising. Kandel mentions how long it took for women to gain the right to vote, the fact that an equal-rights amendment hasn’t been passed and the low numbers of women holding political office. “When I compare to Nepal, it’s way better here, but still something needs to be done,” he asserts.
A month into his Dickinson stay, he was marveling at the opportunities—attending a lecture by trailblazing feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith and making plans to attend the Pennsylvania Governor’s Conference for Women, at which Sandra Day O’Connor, Madeleine Albright and other heavy hitters were to speak.
With eight other students from Nepal on campus, Kandel has plenty of reminders of home and belongs to the Dickinson Desi (Indian Student) Association. But he has as many American as Nepalese friends, he says. Club soccer and cricket are passions in which he likes to indulge on campus.
This summer Kandel hopes to land an internship in Washington, D.C. “There are so many U.S. agencies working to help women in Nepal,” he notes. “After two years I will go back to Nepal and do some work for women. It’s the main reason I was selected [for the PLUS program]. I think the problems can be solved.”•