There is an argument that there has not been an abrupt rise in the number of rape cases in Nepal, it is just being reported more now. It is difficult to say what is worse: that it used to be hidden, or that victims and their families are coming forward to complain to the police.
That is because the high profile cases of rape and abuse in the past few months have shown that the police is actually involved in protecting perpetrators, falsely accusing the innocent, destroying evidence, and covering up the truth. Combined with cases of recent encounter killings, the actions have led to a serious erosion of the public’s confidence in the police. In fact, there may be many victims now who are not going to file a complaint because they fear harassment and fabrication.
As we reported last month, the number of reported rape cases in Nepal has increased by 30% in the past year. It has multiplied four times in ten years . There have been 479 rape and attempted rape complaints brought to the police since the horrific murder of Nirmala Panta in Kanchanpur on 26 July. A special committee assigned to investigate the case, while accusing the district police chief of covering up, came no closer to naming the suspects.
Read also: 'Daughter Slaughter', Monica Deupala
The police have been equally ineffective in tackling a surge in copy-cat acid attacks in the past two weeks. The shocking case of Samjhana Das in Rautahat has once more exposed the culture of misogyny, patriarchy and impunity that corrodes our society. Men perpetrate these heinous crimes because they are brought up with a sense of entitlement and the conviction that they will never be convicted. There are also mothers-in-law and women who commit gender crimes, but by and large, it is a male-dominated activity.
Acid attacks are especially horrific since they disfigure the victim for life, even if they survive. Pouring acid on a person is like burning them alive. In most cases, the root cause is the same as in rape, and often it is to take revenge for rebuffing an advance.
We have reported in the past decades in this paper about how acid attacks and bride burning are also perpetrated by in-laws for insufficient dowry.
The survivors often lose their sight and are maimed because the acid burns through the skin down to the bone. They suffer months of excruciating pain even if they do not survive, like Samjhana Das, who died on Monday two weeks after an acid attack. Her 15-year-old younger sister, Sushmita Das, was also injured. A neighbour, Rambabu Paswan, has confessed he used acid on them because Samjhana had rejected him.
Three years ago in the heart of Kathmandu, a fellow-student squirted acid on a class mate, and because it happened in the capital, the crime got wide play in the media. When the perpetrator was finally caught, it turned out to be a case of someone taking revenge against the girl’s family, who lived next door, for being taunted for being a Dalit.
The case illustrates how in Nepal there are layers upon layers of pent-up grievances against injustice and discrimination. Stricter measures on the purchase of acid, and monitoring its use may be a deterrence, but as long as the root causes of gender-based violence remain, potential perpetrators will simply use another tool to attack girls and women.
There is also urgent action needed to make the laws against acid attacks at least as strict, if not stricter than the ones for rape, bride-burning and other heinous crimes against women. At the moment, perpetrators only get a maximum of eight years in jail if convicted of carrying out an acid attack.
Violence against women is a manifestation of the pervasive patriarchy in our culture. Misogyny is sanctioned by religious texts, folklore, movies, songs. Insulting women is taken as a joke. We have to look deeply inwards as a society to question values that we as a people seem to have come to accept as normal.
Despite the new Constitution, the scale of justice in Nepal is still skewed. The persistence of gender based violence is the result of pervasive impunity, where men, powerful people, upper castes, urban dwellers, appear to have more protection from prosecution for crimes than women, lower castes, the poor, and weak.
It should be the state’s responsibility -- to protect with prevention, investigation and justice -- the most vulnerable section of society. Alas, in our case, it is the most influential who are protected.
It is meaningless to boast that Nepal’s Parliament has one of the highest representation of women in the world when we have such a poor record in granting women equal citizenship rights, and in protecting our mothers and sisters against crimes.
Read also: 'Daughter Slaughter', Monica Deupala
The roots of Rape, Kedar Sharma
10 years ago this week
Writing in the #416 issue of Nepali Times of 5-11 September 2008, the head of UNMIN Ian Martin wrote about the successes of Nepal’s peace process, but warned that Nepalis should not have to wait till the new Constitution (which was still long six years away then) to see an improvement in their lives. Excerpts from Martin's op-ed:
Nepal’s unique peace process has rarely gained outside attention since the guns fell silent two years ago. Yet, this success story deserves to be recognised and supported. Expectations are high among diverse groups for greater control of their lives and resources. But what federalism will mean in practice, taking account of the geographic and ethnic peculiarities of Nepal, remains elusive and potentially divisive. Reaching a national consensus will be a formidable task for the Constituent Assembly, and meanwhile the Nepali people cannot be expected to wait patiently until a new constitution is drafted to see real improvement in their daily lives.
But there is reason to be hopeful. Nepal’s peace process has been truly indigenous: it has not been mediated or managed by any external party. The UN has encouraged and facilitated the process through good offices during the last years of the conflict, human rights monitoring, assistance to the election, and monitoring arms and armies during the transition.