Nepali women take to media to expose abuse
After a flurry of accusations by Nepali women of sexual harassment by co-workers, bosses, teachers, family members or strangers in buses, the #Metoo movement has largely dropped out of the headlines. Very few of the accused have faced trial, detention, or even lost their jobs.
And it is perhaps because of this impunity and sense of entitlement in conservative Nepal that women are now stepping up with deeply personal testimonies of their own abuse. They are using social media platforms, and the weekend section of newspapers to keep the issue alive. These narratives are inspiring more women to come out and tell stories they have never told anyone.
“I was harassed since the time I did not know the difference between good touch and bad touch, but I could not do anything about it even though I am not shy. I just could not bring myself to slap a harasser in a public vehicle. Then I thought, even if I am not be able to hit back, I can write about it,” said Durga Karki, who wrote a courageous account in Annapurna Post titled #Notme.
Even though only a few brave women came out during the #Metoo campaign to tell their stories, Karki says nearly all Nepali women have been harassed at some point.
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Shivani Singh Tharu, a well-known media personality, recently shared a write-up in Kantipur titled 34 inch ‘D’ which recounted incidents of harassment she has faced from a male teacher, men in her worksplace, and others.
“I got many messages from women saying they had faced such situations as well, they said they too needed to speak out publicly,” says Tharu. “Among those reacting were men, some of whom have daughters and were emotionally touched. They started imagining what if it was their own daughter?”
These recent writings by women in the Nepali press have also spread awareness among men who may have intentionally or unintentionally made women feel uncomfortable with their behaviour.
It is not just women who have been writing confessional pieces. Author Ramesh Sayan recently published an article Keta Haru Ko Kuntha (Frustration of Boys) which talked about how boys are brought up by their families and the kind of values they learn from society. Sayan wrote about how topics related to sex are neither taught by parents nor teachers, but by equally under-informed peers.
“The main issue is how men were schooled. As a man, I experience the same psychology and my company since childhood has only been male. I wrote the article to show how the social structure is for them”, says Sayan.
One of the most talked about recent write-ups is by Kunta Sharma because it was about her former husband, Megh Raj Sharma who is better known as the singer ‘Manjul’. The two are literary personalities, but Kunta Sharma writes about how despite being educated and supposedly independent, she suffered physical and mental exploitation from her husband.
“I was educated, yet I was like a doll inside a toy house and served as a sex slave,” Sharma, now 74, confided.
Sharma and her son filed a defamation case in the Lalitpur District Court against Manjul, but Sharma was not happy with the court’s decision. When a DNA test proved that Manjul was indeed the father of their youngest son, the court fined him a mere Rs500.
“Our society is infected with patriarchy. Women have to muster the courage to go public, and must have the endurance to fight till the end, whether or not we get justice,” Sharma says.
One reason the women say they are writing about their past now is because very few of the accused men faced any action. “The #Metoo movement fizzled out in Nepal because the men got away, that was because women did not want to name names,” says Durga Karki.
Tribhuvan University recently filed a sexual harassment FIR against economic teacher Jagadish Murti Koirala, but he is absconding.
Bimal Acharya, who edits the weekend section of Annapurna Post and published both Kunta Sharma and Durga Karki’s accounts, says: “I consciously publish more stories by women, and encourage new women writers and provide them a forum.”
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Women are now coming out not just on mainstream press, but also on social media to share stories and encouraging others to do the same. @CatcallsofKTM on Instagram gives space for women to share testimonies, and was opened by a 16-year-old who says she was frequently harassed. She prefers anonymity for now, but felt Nepali women needed the platform.
“It is a good followup to the #Metoo that women are coming out to share their stories, one writer encourages others to write,” says Narayan Wagle, the editor of Kantipur.