Vow against VAW

As Nepal marks 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, Ruby Khan makes an impassioned plea for justice from her sit-in near Singha Darbar.

Photo: RUBY KHAN/FACEBOOK

Nepal’s Constitution envisions a society where women are liberated from the bounds of tradition and patriarchy. A society where all women are free to live dignified lives on their own terms, a society where violence and discrimination have no place.

The Constitution envisioned a dream of a new Nepal, and laws have been enacted, policies formulated, commissions formed, to make this dream a reality and ensure security and justice for women.

But women’s rights have been reduced to mere words, and the journey to justice for women who have been wronged stops at the threshold of their homes, never to reach the police or courts.

Indeed, girls continue to be barred from attending school, wives are beaten to within an inch of their lives by husbands who are never punished, young women are burned alive because their families did not provide enough dowry. Rapists go free to rape again.

That is why we marched for three weeks all the way from Nepalganj to Nepal’s capital. We are back here this week, at a sit-in to demand justice for the death of two women in Banke district which the local administration is refusing to prosecute.

Why did we have to walk all the way to Kathmandu? Because we were given the runaround in Nepalganj, officials in Kathmandu assured us last month that they would look into the cases, and we returned. But nothing happened. So we are back.

It is as if in Nepal justice is a luxury, a showpiece for those who can afford it.

We women are still treated like sub-citizens, limited to taking care of the home, hearth and children. Patriarchy dictates that women have no place in society, and have to silently suffer abuse and mistreatment even within their homes. Or be silenced when we speak out for justice.

Not a day goes by without a news item of a woman somewhere in Nepal being raped, yet there are many more cases which never make it to the media. And even fewer where the perpetrators are caught, tried and punished.

Physical, mental, or emotional violence against women is so commonplace in Nepali society that the public is desensitised. Nepali women themselves have been conditioned into believing that they must tolerate abuse, and accept it as their lot in life.

Corrosive Conduct, Editorial

And even if women do seek justice, they are faced with countless societal and bureaucratic challenges along the way. The process is familiar by now. It begins with blaming the victim, with accusations of lies and provocation. After that, if they manage to get through, police ask women to recount their traumatic experience again and again, they poke holes in their story while male policemen look on in amusement.

Victims are “strongly advised” to stop trying to get justice because the men they are going against are “powerful” members of society. Indeed, the police and judges get phones from these high-up men to dismiss the cases.

The Nepali justice mechanism, with its complicated channels, has made it all but impossible for women victims to report abuse. They are now directed from the local government to provincial government, then to Kathmandu. If, by a stroke of luck, they do manage to get into Singha Darbar, they are referred right back to the local government.

The chain of command is a vicious cycle which ensures that victims are so tangled in red tape that it becomes impossible to move the case on. The entire process is designed to hammer at a victim’s self-esteem and dignity until they finally give up.

Impunity in Nepal is now so entrenched that if a victim’s family does reach the police station to complain about an abuser, perpetrator have got there first to deflect it. The politics of justice is such that power and money prevail over the rule of law. The gap between the oppressor and oppressed has never been wider.

All the while, women must think of their children, household responsibilities, and families they have left behind in their journey for justice. Even while they are denied justice, women are judged by the media in the court of public opinion.

This is why we are sitting on a street near Singha Darbar. We will speak up for oppressed Nepali women, armed with nothing but hope that one day there will be justice.

Read also: Using numbers to fight gender-based violence, Lisa Honan

Ruby Khan was married at 14, and witnessed gender discrimination and violence from a young age. Now 34, she is a gender rights activist and was general secretary of the Banke chapter of the National Womens’ Rights Forum.

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