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Break the silence
Publication Date : 30-01-2013
A series of protests across the country against gender-based violence has been underway for over a month now, the most enduring campaign of its kind in Nepal where a great number of women have participated. It started with Occupy Baluwatar, which continues outside the prime minister’s residence, and has spread to the districts and the women’s cells of various political parties. Unsurprisingly, the news reporting of cases of rape and sexual abuse has gone up drastically in recent weeks. Yesterday, the case of a 15-year old girl who was allegedly gang-raped on a bus in Butwal by three men made it to the headlines of national dailies. Although the rape took place over a month ago, the girl is still undergoing treatment at the Lumbini zonal hospital in Bhairahawa as her uterus sustained serious injuries. Equally worrying is her mental state, which is frail at best. This story reminds of the horrific Delhi gang rape, which also took place on a bus on December 16 last year.
A major problem in addressing sexual harassment and abuse is that they are still considered taboo and hardly get reported. The past month’s protests have been a grim revelation, reminding that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset is deeply entrenched in society. Thankfully, at least the number of reported rapes is increasing. In 2007, 309 cases were reported; last year, that figure rose to 555. But it is only extreme cases that end in rape or physical violence and that are reported to the police, if at all. According to a study published by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2010, over 40 percent of all cases of violence against women are those of mental violence, the majority of which go unreported.
The state obviously has to do a lot to address the issues of patriarchy. The first official point of contact for victims of abuse, most often than not, are the police, who tend to take a discouraging position when it comes to responding to cases of violence against women. For years, women’s rights activists have pointed out the police’s reluctance to register first information reports (FIR), which is a huge hindrance to victims’ search for justice. In fact, the Nepal Police spokesperson is on record trying to justify inaction, claiming that registering all such complaints would be too burdensome for the force. Furthermore, the atmosphere of reporting incidents of violence against women is often hostile to victims, as the majority of police personnel are men and tend to be dismissive of women in distress. Most police personnel have even been found to make attempts at forced reconciliation in many cases. Women cells are present in all 75 districts to thwart such activity, but there are simply not enough women in the force for the cells to play a meaningful role in offering respite to victims. Of the 60,000 strong force, only around 3,500 are women, of which the vast majority are constables. And given that these women work in a system run by men wary of rocking the proverbial boat, justice for exploited and abused women remains a difficult pursuit.