Nepal: a thousand trades, a thousand miseries (IV)
In 2015, Renaud Meyssonier left France to travel to Asia. A few months into his trip, he was arrested for using counterfeit money at the border of India and Nepal. He was consequently sentenced to one year in prison. Renaud was sent to the small Bhairahawa prison south of Nepal, where he stayed for one month before being transferred to Katmandou.
According to the Prisons Act , the goal of work for prisoners should never be to make a profit
It was possible to work at Bhairahawa. A workshop called The mudha company was held every day from 7am to 3:30 pm. to manufacture “Mudhas”, small circular bamboo seats. The material arrived each morning and was taken out in the evening. The mudha company has half of the volleyball court sectioned off where the tools are supposed to be kept. This is to prevent a murderer from walking around with a saw, hammer or sickle…
Thirty some people work there on a regular basis. The finished products are then sold on the outside for only 450 Rupees. That is the equivalent of about 4.50 Euros for a hand-crafted item that takes many hours to make. The mudhas are produced at low cost, as they are made from cheap material and sold at discounted prices. The workers are not well paid at all. Based on performance, a good worker can earn as much as 100 rupees a day, which is only one Euro…
The workers are usually paid at the end of the month, but some prefer to be paid at the end of the day.
It is often the ones who work all day who ask to be paid daily because they are penniless.
This tiny salary allows those who do not receive money from relatives to buy tea, cigarettes, and dietary supplements and not much else. For those who have to pay a fine or a deposit to get freed, it is mission impossible. The prison should be able to offer properly paid jobs to allow people to pay for their release. Furthermore, according to the Prisons Act – the Nepal Prison Regulations - the goal of work for prisoners should never be to make a profit, but should be to provide a fair wage.
Many were playing dice games with the money they had received that morning
One day, we all congregated in front of Dormitory #3 where money was being distributed. Before the beginning of winter, the government officially offered 1,100 Rupees to each prisoner (about 11 Euros) to buy a blanket. But, unofficially, it was to be used during the Tihar[^tihar] festivities. In this prison, 1,100 Rupees is a lot of money, the equivalent of two and a half months pay.
[^tihar]:The Tihar is a Nepalese holiday that takes place in November.
Each prisoner had the pleasure of receiving a 1,000 Rupee bill called a hazaar and a 100 Rupee bill called a diamond. A “diamond” is worth less than one Euro…
It was casino night in the dormitories that night. Many were playing dice games with the money they had received that morning. The rule was no more than 50 Rupees bet per toss. But there was no limit to the number of tosses…The betting was going well. Some walked out having lost everything, and others left in debt, all the while keeping in mind that gambling is illegal in Nepal.
Apparently, the law had not made its way to the prison.
The “taxes” are higher than at Bhairahawa where 30 Rupees per day were held back.
After several months, Renaud was transferred from Bhairahawa prison to Katmandou prison.
At Katmandou, during the 7pm roll call, Cobra, the head prison guard of Block 6 hands out a diamond, a 100 Rupee bill to everyone. Block 6 was where I was transferred. I was told that this money represents a 10 Rupee daily stipend that each prisoner receives from the State.
The diamonds are given out every ten days. The government gives 45 Rupees per person, per day. Here, 35 of these Rupees are taken at source, supposedly for paying for the administration, cooks, dishwashers, etc.
The “taxes” are higher than at Bhairahawa where 30 Rupees per day were held back. Here, the inmates do not receive their pay as long as they are in Block 7, as this block is for new arrivals. This means that they are there for at least one or two months before being transferred to another building. It is at this point that they start getting compensated. As for me, I had been waiting for more than two months. Given the number of new arrivals, this represents a lot of money taken by the administration. Some even accuse the jailer [the director] and the naike [prisoners- guards] of engaging in an obscure rice trafficking. Part of the 700 daily grams allotted to each person is resold on the black market on the outside to supplement their monthly income.
In September 2015, Charles Sobhraj1 started a petition. Because of inflation, the government had raised the salaries of police officers. Sobhraj demanded that, as a result, the prisoners’ pay should also be increased from 45 to 145 Rupees as recommended by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.
Nine months later, the pay was still only 45 Rupees and did not seem like it would be increasing anytime soon.
the French serial killer condemned to two life sentences in prison in Nepal ↩
The exploitation of Man by Man does not stop at the door of prisons, it begins there...
One evening, I went to buy a new notebook at the grocery store since I was short on paper. Once there, I found the seller in his underwear smearing lotion on his body. I asked him:
“Is that Vaseline?”
Many people liked using it as a means to hydrate their dry skin because of the environmental grime in here.
He responded: “No, that’s too expensive for me. This is mustard oil from the fields.”
Behind him on the shelves were Vaseline jars. I found it surprising that he could not afford a jar. Actually, it was logical. To keep the products from being trafficked, the stock and the price were strictly controlled by the naike. The seller must give the naike the total inventory number and it must correspond exactly to the number of products sold.
For this, the naike pay him a pitiful salary each trimester which amounts to a sum of between 50 and 100 Rupees a day. The rest goes to the provosts and the jailor who rents the concessions. This is why the poor guy could not afford a jar of Vaseline even though he was selling it all day long.
There are many poorly paid small jobs: cooks, dry cleaners, sellers, butchers, masons, craftsmen, dishwashers…There are also those who spend their days threading plastic beads on nylon thread. They often do that at night during power outages using the light from their headlamps.
Some made sets for women and sell them outside of the prison, others made small items such as lighter covers. All of these guys were employed by the prisoners-guards who provided them with the material, collected the finished products and paid them a skimpy salary when he had time.
Moreover, contrary to what I had thought, the cost of living is not cheaper in prison. It is more expensive. Profit margins are greater. With a few exceptions, everything is more expensive here, which is scandalous in light of the few jobs and especially the paltry wages.
A needy person without financial support is simply crushed by the prices and has no purchasing power. Unfortunately, the exploitation of Man by Man does not stop at the door of prisons, it begins there.
Renaud Meyssonnier, for Prison Insider Translated by Kelly Field Edited by Marg Mc Millan