Kalpana Khadka, a 27-year-old married woman, says she feels liberated after sending her two children to school at 9 a.m in Kathmandu, the capital. Clad in tight jeans and a maroon T-shirt, she applies her makeup while humming a song from the latest Bollywood movie.
The ring of her mobile phone interrupts her. The caller is her boyfriend, a man she is having an extramarital affair with.
I am ready for you, she says into the phone. Where are you?
Khadka says she has sex with her boyfriend almost every day. She says shes more sexually satisfied by him than her husband, who works abroad. She says her boyfriend is more educated and more handsome than her husband.
I cannot live without him, Khadka says.
Khadka, originally from Jiri, a small town in Dolakha, a district east of Kathmandu, married a boy from the same town at 16. Once she moved in with her husbands large family, she became responsible for cooking, washing dishes and clothes and also working in the field.
But the yield of the land they owned was not enought to feed the whole family. So she and her husband decided to move to Kathmandu, where he could work as a taxi driver.
Her husbands new income was enough to make a living, but frequent vehicle strikes prompted him to take a job in Dubai. He wanted to earn more money so that his children could study at good schools and he could buy property in Kathmandu.
But Khadka says that after her husband departed, she had casual relationships with many men in order to fulfill her sexual desires.
But now, I am totally tied up in this love, she says.
Six months after her husband left, Khadka says she fell in love with a young man who lived next door.
I become very sad if I do not see him, Khadka says.
Her boyfriend works in a private company in Kathmandu and is also studying to receive a Master of Arts degree. Khadka goes out to the movies or dinner with him almost every day. She says that she also bought a motorbike for her boyfriend out of the money her husband had sent home from abroad.
Khadka used to live in a different apartment in Kathmandu, but she moved six months ago because her neighbors started talking about her closeness with another man, she says.
Her boyfriend tutors her children, who call him, Uncle, Khadka says. This also aims to assuage neighbors suspicions about his frequent visits.
I cannot say if its good or bad, Khadka says of her extramarital affair.
Khadkas husband is not aware of her affair. But she plans to leave him once he returns from Dubai so she can start a new life with her boyfriend.
Extramarital affairs are on the rise in Nepal, where the liberalization of a traditionally conservative and patriarchal society is changing the institution of marriage. Economic factors, such as an increase in foreign employment because of high unemployment at home, also adds to infidelity. Police and government representatives confirm an increase in men and women reporting extramarital affairs, which are illegal, but evidence is difficult to find. Sociologists suggest a socio-cultural repositioning of attitudes toward marriage in order to make relationships more equitable and realistic.
There has been no study yet to show the percentage of Nepals population having extramarital affairs, says Shishir Subba, a psychology professor at Tribhuvan University
in Kathmandu. But he says the cases of infidelity have been increasing in recent years.
Nepalese society has been historically closed, Subba says. But increasing education, awareness, means of communication, study abroad and foreign migration have liberalized local attitudes.
Nepalese society is traditional, conservative and patriarchal, deeming marriage essential for women, says Mina Upreti, an assistant sociology professor at Tribhuvan Universitys Trichandra Multiple Campus. In the past, men have been in control of womens economic, social and sexual roles.
But with more women pursuing education, they no longer put up unsatisfactory situations at home, she says. The institution of marriage has been changing. Women marry for security then pursue a more meaningful exchange of emotions and feelings elsewhere.
Women use their husbands resources to start and continue their relationships with other men, Upreti says.
Extramarital affairs have long been against the societal norm in both love and arranged marriages. But this has been changing.
The society is getting liberal gradually regarding sexual affairs, Upreti says. Therefore, these things are taken as normal.
Overseas employment has been another factor.
Because of deteriorating employment in Nepal, many young people migrate overseas for employment, say Nirmala Sitaula, legal counselor for the National Women Commission, established by the government in 2007 to improve gender equality.
On one hand, the economy of the country depends on the remittances sent by these foreign migrant workers, she says. On the other hand, their spouses often squander the money or engage in extramarital affairs or incest, causing families to disintegrate.
Like Khadka, Binu Lama, 32, also developed an extramarital affair while her husband was working overseas.
Lama, from a village in Gorkha, a district west of Kathmandu, says she fell in love with and married her husband 11 years ago. But four years after their marriage, he sought employment in Saudi Arabia.
Although he came back twice to visit her and their child, he continued to renew his contract overseas. He and Lama eventually lost touch, so she pursued a relationship with another man from her village, who was married with three children.
Like her husband, he was also working abroad, but they used to talk regularly over the phone, Lama says. They dated for three years and recently got married, without divorcing their spouses.
After returning to Kathmandu from abroad several months ago, Lamas new husband did not go to his house in Gorkha to visit his wife and children. He came instead to the lodge in Kathmandu where Lama lives.
I am having a new life with my new husband, Lama says, giggling.
Although extramarital affairs are becoming more common, they are still taboo. People in her village gossip about Lama and her new husband, and their families dont approve.
Our relatives hated our marriage. Therefore, we have not gone home, Lama says, despite the fact that her child lives with her parents.
For men who work abroad, the affairs can come as a shork. One resident of Pokhara, Nepals second-largest city, whose name is withheld to protect his identity, says he moved to Japan for work so that he could provide for his wife and children. During his decade-long stay, he earned enough money to buy land and a house in Kathmandu in the name of his wife.
But when he returned to Nepal, he found out that his wife had married another man and had taken their children and property. He says he was disheartened to see another man enjoying
the property that he had earned.
With nowhere to go, he has now started a new life working in the real estate business. He recently remarried, and they live in a rented room.
I do not trust women at all, he says.
Extramarital affairs, if they can be proven, are illegal in Nepal, Sitaula says.
For police intervention, the spouse must provide evidence of sexual relationships or marriages before both parties were divorced in order to start an investigation, she says.
Anju Acharya, 30, recently filed a case against her husband at the Womens Cell of Nepal Police in Kathmandu. She says he has been neglecting her since he started having an extramarital affair more than a year ago.
I had dreams of happiness, and now see what happened to me, she says. My life is taking an unexpected turn.
Her life was blissful after marriage, Acharya says. Her husband used to come home from work on time and help her with the household chores while she watched their young child.
Then about a year ago, her husband started coming home late and stopped answering her phone calls, Acharya says. When he was at home, he neglected her and their child.
Suddenly, when my husbands feelings changed, all my dreams were shattered, Acharya says.
Acharya was shocked when she found her husband talking to another woman at midnight from the bed they shared together. But he became angry when she asked him to stop.
In desperation, she visited his office. When she found out that her husband was having an affair with one of his co-workers, she met the girl and asked her to not get involved with a married man. She also pled with the girls family.
But she couldnt change her husbands heart. That was when she decided to seek legal help, she says. When she registered her complaints, the police arrested her husband.
Acharya and her husband reconciled after he signed a paper promising not to get involved outside their marriage again. But it wasnt long before he broke that promise, she says.
So she made her husband quit his job and move to Ilam, a district, 600 kilometers from Kathmandu. She started a small grocery store but has not been able to start over with her husband.
Physically, he is here, but his heart is elsewhere, Acharya says in exasperation during a phone interview after moving. To change over a new life has been very difficult.
The number of women seeking help through nongovernmental organizations working for womens rights and through the Nepal Polices womens cells after husbands seek extramarital affairs has been increasing, Sitaula says. But there are no statistics on this issue yet.
Lal Kumari Khadka, the subinspector at the womens police cell in Lalitpur, a district adjoining Kathmandu, says her office receives four to five cases every month related to extramarital affairs.
A year ago, when the real estate business was on the rise, rich businessmen were the ones involved in the extramarital affairs, says Khadka, who is not related to Kalpana Khadka. But now, both men and women of alleconomic strata of society come to the police with this problem.
The female victims cite domestic violence, lack of care, negligence and bigamy, Khadka says. Male victims say their wives run away with all their money, leaving the children behind.
Police register cases of extramarital affairs under domestic disputes.
We counsel the couples who come with
these problems, help them reconcile their differences and ask them to live together amicably, Khadka says.
The National Women Commission also handles cases, registering them as domestic disputes as well. The commission received 337 domestic violence cases during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, Sitaula says. But its difficult to gather evidence to resolve such cases.
Maheshwari Kunwar, a masters degree student studying sociology at Tribhuvan Universitys Padma Kanya Campus, says that men and women should be partners with equal rights, including the ability to leave the other at any time.
Women shouldnt be dependent on their husbands and should be rather empowered, Kunwar says.
Lama says she is unsure whether her new marriage will stick.
I think this marriage is not going to turn out the way I wanted, she says. I might leave him and live alone.
But Khadka says she has found happiness with her new boyfriend.
I can leave my husband and children, but I cannot leave my boyfriend under any condition, Khadka says.
Although society has become more liberal and extramarital affairs more common, they are still taboo in the community. A local shopkeeper, who asked that his name be withheld to protect his privacy, says neighbors are suspicious about Khadkas childrens tutor and doubt her happiness will last.
The guy will not knowingly marry a mother of two kids, the shopkeeper says. This affair will finish up the money and ruin their lives.