KATHMANDU, Nepal (GPI)-- Sapana Acharya, 18, a college student, moved more than 300 miles from her home district of Morang to get an education in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
But the more difficult journey has been the daily bus ride to get to Ratna Rajya Laxmi College, a constituent campus of Tribhuvan University.
It’s not because the buses are often crowded and uncomfortable. Rather, it’s the attitude and behavior of the male passengers. Acharya says they either push or inappropriately touch her – usually intentionally – during her 30- to 45-minute bus ride every day to and from school.
“I am frustrated by being touched in my private parts in a crowded bus,” she says.
The public transportation around Kathmandu is always crowded with throngs of people waiting to board already packed buses. The mobs are worst during peak hours, when working adults and students are traveling for their jobs and school. This allows more opportunity for perpetrators, Acharya says.
But she has no other option for getting to school.
“I have to use the bus even if it is crowded,” she says dejectedly. “Otherwise, I will miss my classes.”
But she refrains from reporting the sexual harassment because of the fear of what would happen if nobody believed her, she says.
“Where do I go and report against such behavior?” she asks. “Is there any law against harassment? Even if there is one, how do I prove that I was harassed? There is no evidence.”
Nepali women say they face constant sexual harassment on public buses, their main means of transportation to get to work and school. Double victimization deters them from reporting incidents, as society often blames the victims of sexual abuse here and evidence and witnesses are difficult to secure. Laws are in place to protect women from abuse, but reports and enforcement of penalties are rare.
There were more than 1.28 million public vehicles registered in Nepal during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, according to the Department of Transport Management. One million people use public transport daily in the 70 of Nepal's 75 districts that are connected with a roadway, making this industry a major player in the Nepali economy.
Public buses are the main means of transportation for the majority of the population, especially women, children and people with disabilities, says Kathmandu traffic inspector Sitaram Hachhethu.
They are also the most common places for girls and women to suffer sexual harassment.
Manima Shubba, a homemaker living in central Kathmandu , stresses that women of all walks of life have faced abuse in public vehicles – including her. The only difference is the number of times they have been victims.
Ganga Mishra, a 19-year-old student who attends the same college as Acharya, is one of those victims. Residing in the north of Kathmandu, she must take a 20-minute bus ride to get to school in the central part of Kathmandu. Like Acharya, she also faces constant sexual harassment on the bus.
“As the bus started to move, the middle-aged guy moved towards me,” Mishra says, recalling a particularly disturbing incidence. “I didn’t say anything when he bumped on me every time the driver hit the brake. I had to rebuke him when he moved his hand towards my chest.”
Mishra says she felt lonely and humiliated when the perpetrator denied any wrongdoing. Instead of helping her, other travelers glared at her accusatorily. Even the females on the bus offered no help, she adds.
Mohan Mani Pokharel, an associate professor of educational psychology at Tribhuvan University, says this amounts to sexual abuse.