Sita Rai had been on her way home from Saudi Arabia on November 21, when she was robbed by immigration officials and then raped by a police constable. Splashed all over headlines in the last month, her plight had incited in its wake a series of protests outside the prime minister’s office in Baluwatar that are still going strong. Mediapersons, members of civil society, victims’ families, artists, and a mishmash of people from all walks of life have joined the demonstrations to show support, and aside from demanding justice for the crimes against Rai, protestors have also called for attention to the stories of Saraswoti Subedi, Chhori Maya Maharjan, Shiva Hasami and Bindu Thakur, and many other cases of violence against women and impunity that remain unresolved. The Post’s Anup Ojha talked to some of those picketing outside the PMO and asked them about their reasons for being there and their expectations.
Sushila Maharjan and Sudha Maharjhan, daughters of Chhori Maya Maharjan
It’s been 10 months since the two Maharjan daughters last had any contact with their mother, Chhori Maya Maharjan of New Road. “Our mother had left the house and we soon got a text from her phone informing us that she was at Manakamana,” Sushila shares. “We knew immediately that something was wrong, because she was never good at typing up SMSes before, and she wasn’t the sort to just take off like that without telling us beforehand either.” The family had filed a report at the Metropolitan Police Range in Hanuman Dhoka. Initially, all evidence had pointed at Nikki Singh, a long-time friend of Chhori Maya’s. “We found out that she had taken 50 lakhs from our mother, and was involved in a dhukuti, and there were all sorts of clues from Nikki’s friends that proved that she had been unable to pay it back, which would’ve been a valid reason for the kidnapping,” says Sudha. “But the authorities didn’t dig into the case properly.” The women are certain that Singh is backed politically, which is why action hasn’t so far been taken. “This is a country where impunity runs rampant; the prime minister himself had asked IGP Kuber Singh Rana to investigate our mother’s disappearance and he had promised to disclose all evidence very soon, but we’ve gotten nothing so far.” Sushila and Sudha are determined to stay and fight until their mother is returned or unless they’re given exact information about what happened to her.
Pushpa Basnet, social worker, CNN Hero 2012
Pushpa Basnet believes that men and women are two wheels of the same cart; they can’t and shouldn’t be separated. “But the cart has been tilting dangerously on one side for a long while, and women subjected to all manners of torture—rape, assault, torchings and the many levels of domestic violence—all over the country,” Basnet says. There is a sense, she believes, of needing to establish balance in the dynamics between the two sexes, and all this will come from respect. “I’m here to support those who are calling for culprits in unthinkable crimes to be punished, and to bring justice and peace to families who have suffered enough.” Basnet stresses that as a mother who is always worried about her children, this is not an issue that is removed from her life—“It could happen to anyone, anywhere, any time, that’s the scary part”—and so, playing whatever role she can in ensuring her kids can grow up in a safer environment is worth any amount of effort for her. “If stricter laws will frighten rapists from preying on even one woman, that’ll be an achievement,” she says.
Kapil Shrestha, professor at Tribhuvan University
For Kapil Shrestha, the balloon has finally popped—a much deserved explosion after years of suppression, he says. “The government has nowhere to run now,” Shrestha says. “The masses want quick answers and action.” The professor says that the government’s sluggish work in the past few years makes one feel almost as though there weren’t a government in place at all. “What kind of home ministry is it that would allow such rampant witch burnings, rapes and other violent cases to occur while watching silently?” Shrestha believes that the government has failed in one of its foremost duties—to provide security to the people, and women in particular.
Khadga Adhikari, father of Sarasawoti Subedi
Adhikari is at Baluwatar every day, his fingers clutching a placard that has a photo of his daughter on it—the recently-deceased Saraswoti Subedi. “After her husband passed away in 2006, Saraswoti was working hard to support the family,” he says. “I can’t describe to you how it felt when her employer, Krishna Prasad Prasain, called me in and I saw her lying dead on the bathroom floor.” Adhikari is not convinced by the Prasains’ assertion that Subedi committed suicide, and says that he is certain it is murder. “I have a nine-year-old granddaughter who is parentless now. What do I say to her?” Adhikari says he has no interest in any compensatory funds; he simply wants justice handed out for what happened to his daughter. “Until the state brings the guilty to court, I will continue protesting in any way I can,” the distraught father states.
Rita Thapa, educator,
activist and founder of Tewa
“The country is drowning in corruption and impunity,” says Rita Thapa. “We want an end to that. We want a government that is accountable to the people, that puts its needs first.” Thapa says that the increasing extent of political influence over other spheres is a major part of the problem in Nepal and the reason justice is so hard to attain for victims. “Take Saraswoti Subedi’s case, the reason it couldn’t be resolved was because those responsible for her death were given political protection,” she says. “And we’re waiting to hear on so many other cases.” Thapa says that as a Nepali, and someone who wants justice for those who suffered, she felt obliged to be part of the protests.
Karuna Kunwar, law student
Karuna Kunwar is an advocate of zero tolerance, the only way, she says, people will learn. “Yes you have your laws that are meant to weed out the criminals, but it’s such a simplistic concept that it doesn’t take into account the tangled web that such cases can often represent,” Kunwar says. “Domestic violence is one such complex area where laws might exist but implementation is often easier said than done.” The law student believes that crimes like rape are all an outcome of the patriarchal bent of our society, and the perception of women as the weaker sex. Kunwar senses a momentum building with the protests in India and Nepal, and says that if seized correctly, this could be a watershed moment not just for women in the country, but in the entire region itself.
Ashmina Ranjit, artist
Artist Ashmina Ranjit has been part of demonstrations for women rights before, but she says none have been too effective so far. This time, however, she feels things are different. “Political pressure plays such a huge role in determining the outcome of cases, you never know how far to trust the validity of verdicts,” she says. Ranjit believes the problem lies in the very structure of society, where women are suppressed and pulled down “just for being women.” “Unless we’re willing to really change perception and attitude big time—men and women—we’re going to be stuck in this rut.”
Cases of gender based violence that have been reported since protests, as part of the Violence Against Women campaign, began at the prime minister’s office in Baluwatar on November 25
Sahamat Miya of Govindapur, beat his 22-year-old wife Sanichari Khatoon to death.
Shiva Hasami of Gulariya was burned alive by her own family members after it was discovered that she was having an affair with a neighbour.
Homnath Upadhayay strangled his wife Pampha to death in Aganchok.
Kul Bahadur Syangbo, 50, and his wife Ram Maya, 47, were displaced from the village of Dandakharka after being accused of practicing witchcraft and thrashed by locals
Buna Rokaya, a resident of Badki, and a victim of domestic violence, committed suicide at the Jumla District Service Centre.
Sita Rai, 20, a migrant worker, filed a case at the Home Ministry against the TIA officials and police constable who had robbed and later raped her.
18-year-old Binu Thakuri’s body was found in Prastoka in Bara.
Maya Rai, 25, and her three-year-old daughter Chahana and one-year-old son Ideal were found dead in Tandi in Morang.
Kamaro Sarki of Narayan Municipality tortured his wife Chawali with a burning piece of wood, severely injuring her.
Prem Bahadur Moktan, 35, killed his wife Bibimaya for refusing to have sex with him in Gogane.
A 22-year-old woman was gang raped in Dhangadi VDC, Siraha, by Suresh Shah, 19, and Birendra Shah, 18.
Gahana Devi Yadav, 55, of Kajara Ramaula, was tortured by villagers and relatives on the accusation of practicing witchcraft.
A woman in her 20s was gang raped at the Himalaya Goodricke Tea Garden area in Damak.
A six-year-old girl from Baliramapur in Bara was raped by 24-year-old Wakil Pandit Kumal.
An eight-year-old girl from Maidi VDC was raped by 69-year-old Sane Sarki.
A 52-year-old woman was gang raped by youths in Panchthar.
Posted on: 2013-01-12 09:52