Name: Sushma Pant
ARI Name: Sushi
Year at ARI: 1998
Organization: Nepal Bangladesh Bank
Position: Jr. Executive Officer
Work Area: Kathmandu
Other Activities: Chairperson, International Association of Religious Freedom (IARF) Nepal Chapter
“I realized people are equal, so we should respect like this.”
Born and raised in a Brahmin family, the highest caste in Hindu society, Sushma was taught that she should not take food from people of lower caste nor even touch them. “We [were] brought up that way,” she explains, “and it’s in our mind.” So one thing that particularly impacted her at ARI was how people of different cultures and social status could live and work together in an environment of respect. At the end of the training she put together a skit to show, “how I changed myself,” a change which she carried back to Nepal and the rural communities she was working in. “I realized people are equal, so we should respect like this.” However, to go against the tide of one’s own culture is not easy and her conservative mother was not happy with her daughter at first. But Sushma slowly won her over and at the birth of her son invited all her friends to the naming ceremony, whether of lower caste, or Muslim, or whatever differences.
Sushma lives in Kathmandu with her husband and son where she is currently employed at a bank. Her connection to ARI came through her previous work with the organization Human and National Development Society (HANDS) which was started in 1993 by ARI Graduate Ratna Dhungel. Following the participatory approach they learned at ARI, they initiated projects in the Sindhuli District such as vegetable farming, goat and pig rearing, as well as and making cards with pressed flowers. They also constructed a community center where sewing classes were offered. When Sushma came back from ARI she joined the activities as a program officer and the two worked together to build a “mini-ARI.” Sadly they had to cease all operations during the Maoist insurgency, which was especially strong in Sindhuli, transferring all programs and resources to the community. Since that time the organization has been able to start up some small projects in Changu Narayan in the Kathmandu area.
Presently, Sushma serves as the country representative for the International Association of Religious Freedom (IARF) in which several ARI graduates from India and Sri Lanka are also involved. She works with the association to organize inter-religious dialogues with people from different religions to explain their perspectives: what is Islam, what is Hindu, what is Buddhism, and what is Christianity? They also bring together youth of different religions and castes for poem and art competitions. When sharing about these activities Sushma enthusiastically explains, “I cannot work in the rural areas, but if in urban area, I’m implementing ARI learning here like in this way.”