Thursday, September 04, 2003

It's been ten years since Rashmilla Shakya lost her job. Since then, she has been living with the aid of her family, and her meager forty dollar per month pension. Since she previously worked almost all of her life in the same area of expertise, her sudden lay-off was devastating to her, as she possessed almost no marketable skills-- she knew only one life, could do only one job, and that was suddenly, wrongly denied to her. Hundreds of thousands of victims of age discrimination know this same pain. The different thing about Rashmilla Shakya-- she was twelve years old. And worshiped by all Nepalis as a living Goddess, the source of all divine power.

At least until she reached puberty. It is against custom for a Rushari, or Virgin Goddess, to menstrate, so when Rashmilla began, she was taken home to her family and started all over again as a commoner, a life she had not known since she was four years old. Human rights activists have severe moral objections to this Nepali custom: When Rashmilla returned to her common life, she had no friends, no emotional ties to her family, no real world experience. She could neither read nor write.

Oh, cry me a river.

Here is a debate over the horrid mistreatment of a little girl worshiped on high by 23 million people, raised in a palace, granted her every wish, and kept in perfect health. Meanwhile, 27 million of her Chinese neighbors are taking root in sweatshop floors, also unable to read with the exception of a handful of words like "CAUTION", "HIGH VOLTAGE", and "KATHY LEE". According to Gauri Pradhan, head of the Child Workers Group in Nepal, human rights became an issue about twelve years ago: the 80's were over, Designing Women was about to get cancelled, activists had to seek out a new kind of cruelty to rebel against. Still, I think their aim was slightly askew: Rashmilla was offered everything needed to blossom into a fully-developed adult, including a tutor. Reportedly, the man was too scared to force Rashimilla to study, but if this is the objection the Human Rights Activists have, they might start with the Northern California public school system: haven't these people seen Dangerous Minds? At twenty-two, Rashmilla is now in college, working on her degree in information technology-- all evidence suggests that she's adjusted just fine, as opposed to the illiterate masses in our own backyard, drinking in streets, starving in allies, running the WB.

Despite the criticisms, the tradition, which dates back to the 18th century, continues, if slightly altered. The monthly pension has been raised, and the girl's families are now given limited visitation rights. The remaining concerns seem based around the fact that at the age a girl is chosen, they are too young to understand the reality of the decision to become divine. They cannot begin to imagine the psychological repercussions of reaching the most crucial part of their existence at such an early age, rather akin to NBC's "America's Most Talented Kid". (There's something I'd rally behind activism against. As if reality TV in general weren't already a screaming indignity, we've got parents forcing their children in the surreal, perverse contests by the thousands and the industry's leaders cackling like the devil with a fresh helping of human souls. They know, you see, that starting the exposure of these little prodigies early lines them up for decades worth of entertainment to the extreme: Today, it's "Most Talented Kid", tomorrow it's "Most Insecure Teenager", fifteen years from now it'll be "America's Most Moving Therapy". Picture it, if you will: some kid who's parents pushed him to build his entire system of self-esteem in his ability to due Jimmy Durante impressions, laying across a couch, telling the world Liz Taylor-style how he never felt beautiful, giving us all the details of his Freudian need to be accepted for who he is by Lance Bass and Mario Lopez. But I digress.)

If it's the mature ability to make a level-headed decision they want, here's my solution: TAKE ME! I'm more than willing to sacrifice my life of privilege for...a life of even more privilege. Sure, I menstruate, but I wouldn't if I didn't take my birth contol patch one week a month. And if I'm going to be an unwilling virgin for an indefinite amount of time, I might as well be the Virgin Goddess-- actually, at nineteen years old and still biblically untouched, I think I technically am the Virgin Goddess. Let's compare: Due to religious objections to leather, a newly civilianized Rashmilla "recoiled in horror" when forced to wear shoes to school. I, too, feel that horror, every time I see a price tag at Lady Foot Locker. The Kushari must always be clothed in red-- I have the MP3 of "Lady in Red" in my Kazaa shared folder. One ritual in the initiation for a Rushari is to spend the night in a dark room with the heads of slaughtered buffaloes. I work at Burger King! We're practically Twins!

Until my long-lost birthright comes to rescue me, however, I think we're all forgetting about the real victim here: Rashmilla's sister, Pramilla, who was interviewed on Rashmilla's behalf. We all have our sibling rivalries, but what kind of hell must this girl have known? Growing up in a house with walls covered in pictures and portraits of your goddess sister-- what kind of accomplishment could even come close? "Mommy, mommy! I got all A's on my report card!" "Your sister's a goddess, kid, keep trying." It's the ultimate Jan Brady complex. How must it have felt, even, just to do the interview. "Pramilla, honey, there's a reporter here who wants to speak to you--" And for a moment, her heart is all a flutter with hopes for the attention she never before received--- "about your sister."

And it all comes crashing down again.

All melodrama aside, this girl is no more a victim than Sharon Osbourne is a talk show host. If an entire nation needs an uneducated little girl with a painted third-eye to give their lives religious focus, then we aren't the people to judge, not when our religious beliefs are being guided by the future stars of "America's Most Pedophilic Priests". There are a lot more productive things that a human right's activist could be doing with their time--There's hunger, devastation, humiliation, disease. For god's sake, there are people children being abused out there, there are fathers raping daughters, and I have to go to work at seven AM tomorrow morning! Where are the protesters at Burger King's door, holding signs that say "FREE LINDA", huh? No where!

It's always Rashmilla, Rashmilla, Rashmilla.

On with it.