Justice eludes many rape survivors

In recent years, rape survivors and victims of sexual abuse in Nepal have increasingly gone public with their experience and many are choosing to pursue legal action. But even when they file a complaint, it is rarely that they get justice because of loopholes in the system.

Dipendra Chaudhary, 29, of Kailari was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl last year. After the girl’s family lodged a complaint against Chaudhary five days later, the police arrested him the next day.

During interrogation, Chaudhary confessed to raping the minor, and based on this the court ordered him into judicial custody for further investigation. But a month later, the bench headed by Jayananda Paneru, the senior-most judge at the district court, acquitted him citing that there was not enough evidence in the charge sheet.

Read also: Rape rulings in Nepal follow letter, not spirit of the law, Sewa Bhattarai

Six months later, Paneru heard another rape related case against Dharma Rokaya, in which he was  alleged to have raped a girl in Dhangadi. The bench again ruled in favour of the defendant citing insufficient evidence.

On the same day, another bench headed by Khemraj Bhatta heard six Dhangadi rape cases. Of those that received a final verdict that day, the judges ruled that one of the cases did not have sufficient claim, acquitting Akash Chaudhary and his friend who were accused of raping a girl.

Another judge Baburam Baniya’s courtroom also heard four rape-related cases on the very day. In one of the two cases that received the final verdict, the judge Baniya ruled insufficient evidence.

Figures from the Kailali District Court show that more than half the rape cases that were closed between 16 July-5 September 2021 had verdicts in favour of the accused. All in all, 198 rape cases were registered at the Kailali District Court last year alone, of which 120 were closed, and 60% (72 cases) acquitted the alleged perpetrators.

Read also: #TheyToo, Sewa Bhattarai

Cases related to rape are initiated and prosecuted by the government. Based on a police investigation, the public prosecutor’s office files a case in the district court on behalf of the victim. If the decision is not satisfactory, the prosecutor can appeal to the high court. According to Jagdish Shah, IT Officer at the High Court in Dipayal, the government has appealed the 72 cases from Kailali District Court.

Bishwa Adhikari, Superintendent of Police in Kailali says there could be many reasons why the decisions are often given in favour of the defendant: “The delay in filing the cases makes it difficult to gather evidence, it also gives the other party more time to gather evidence in their favour.”

Survivors of rape, already traumatised, are often forced by family members to keep quiet for fear of shame or reprisal. Even when they do press charges, there have been cases where the victim’s families have been pressured to step down. A misogynistic society that often blames the victims and questions the choice of clothes and lifestyle adds to the victims hesitating to report the crime on time or at all.

But when complaints are lodged late, it becomes harder to trace the physical evidence, witnesses can change their statement and even the victims may be coerced to take back their case, making it difficult to ensure a fair trial.

Lawyers and activists say that the police and public prosecutors should change how they handle rape cases. Most victims choose not to pursue cases because they do not know how to work the system, and often do not have the resources to fight the case. The perpetrators often come from politically, economically and socially stronger backgrounds.

Read also: Justice delayed and denied, Sewa Bhattarai

In some cases the police mediate and get the perpetrator and the victim’s family to come to a compensation agreement. The line of questioning by male officers is also often offensive, implying that victims were somehow responsible for the crime.

“In many cases, the police refuse to register the cases which delays the process and in the meantime the evidence disappear or are destroyed,” says Chief Attorney for Far Western region Kulananda Upadhyay. “There are also lapses in the investigation and prosecution from the public prosecutor’s side. When the victim’s statement is recorded, the officials don’t do it verbatim and use their own language leading to discrepancies and in turn a weaker case at court.”

Absence of proper medical examination, gender insensitivity while handling the cases and treating rape complains as any other case also results in accused walking free.

Says advocate Renu Pradhan Shrestha, “No one wants to be raped but when people in the judiciary handle and discuss it as something normal, turn hostile towards the victims, the accused walk free.”

Translated by Sahina Shrestha from the Nepali original published on himalkhabar.com

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