Republic of rape

The number of reported rapes in Nepal has shot up by 30% in the past year. It has multiplied four times in ten years. There are at least three rape cases brought to the police every day in the country. The victims can be babies or the elderly, the perpetrators often hunt in packs, and in many cases, murder their victim afterwards. Even nuns are not spared.

Survivors of rape, already traumatised, are often forced by family members to keep quiet because it will bring shame. If they do go to the police, the line of questioning by male officers is insulting, as if the victims were somehow responsible for the crime. Police often try to get the perpetrator and the victim’s family to come to a compensation agreement.

There have been cases where the survivor is forced by the family to marry the rapist either because of stigmatisation or because the girl is from a ‘lower’ caste and the criminal a rich and powerful local. The most under-reported are cases of incest.

Read also: 'The roots of rape', Kedar Sharma

Even when the victim is from a privileged class, like the 13-year-old Grade 9 student who was raped and murdered in Kanchanpur last month, the family was pressured by the Police not to raise a fuss. Faced with escalating protests, local administration produced a mentally unstable street flasher as the alleged perpetrator. They forced the girl’s father to sign papers confirming he was indeed the rapist. This has got locals really angry, and the protest has spread nationwide.

The NCP government in Kathmandu, instead of using its strength in Parliament to push gender reform, has been reacting defensively. A female NCP member of Parliament actually said the rapes were “a conspiracy hatched by the opposition”.

Prime Minister Oli, when confronted with the question of women’s empowerment and one-third quota in his party’s committee, said in a speech he was tired of the “nag, nag, nag” from women's groups. Government-based trolls are cyber-bullying activists and journalists who dare write about affirmative action for women, labeling them 'dollar farmers', and accusing American and British aid agencies of being behind protests.

Read also:'Justice for sale', Tufan Neupane

The frightening rise in rape cases is emblematic of the culture of impunity in the country. The state, especially the Home Ministry, has abdicated its primary responsibility of protecting citizens, especially its most vulnerable members. The call by some of the more vocal activist groups to legislate capital punishment for rape is a sign of the growing anger. But it is precisely because of the possibility of the miscarriage of justice, or the innocent being framed, that we do not agree with accused rapists being executed.

At a roundtable organised by Himalmedia last week, an all-female panel of activists, academics, lawyers, politicians and police officials, discussed the best way to reduce the crime rate.

An anti-rape resolution, pushed by a caucus of 28 MPs from the ruling and opposition parties, that calls for sensitisation against rape and gender-based violence through the school curricula, has been sitting in Parliament. Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara reportedly is holding back the resolution because it would show the government in poor light. If true, this would prove that it is the government that is the main obstacle in efforts to reduce threats to Nepal’s women and children.

At first reading, the new Penal Code that went into effect on 17 August seems to address impunity with stricter punishment for rape. But on closer inspection, it has left many loopholes that allow local law enforcement wider latitude for interpretation. In male-dominated officialdom, this means the scales of justice are weighted against victims of rape and their families.

A husband guilty of raping his wife used to have a 3-5 year jail term. Now, although the jail term for rape has been increased and marital rape recognised, the new code says he can be jailed for ‘up to five years’ – giving the courts the chance to award lighter sentences.

Many of the perpetrators are from politically well-connected clans, and exert pressure on local administration and law enforcement to let them go. Their strategy is to prevent rape cases ever coming to the police or the courts by arm-twisting the victim’s family to sign an agreement.

Our report exposes a case in which the court has set the rapist of a minor free after his lawyers doctored the victim’s birth certificate to show she was 19 years old. In another case, a rapist gave land worth Rs50,000 to the family of his victim as inducement to dismiss the complaint.

The first order of business now should be to get Parliament to pass the rape resolution. This will induce the state to be more sensitive, and allow it to use the full force of the law against predators. In the longer term, we, as a society, have a lot of work to do to uproot patriarchal norms and values that perpetuate these atrocities.

Read also:

Four-fold increase in reported rape in 10 years,  Sewa Bhattarai

No country for women,  Shreejana Shrestha

How does the Nepali media cover rape,  Bhrikuti Rai

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