KATHMANDU, Nepal (GPI)
Nearly 40 protesters gather every Monday at the gate of the District Administration Office, the hub of local government activities in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. They hold signs that read: “Down with Dominance of Women,” “Stop Women Violence” and “Justice to the Victims” in Nepali.
The protests began back in December 2012 after Nepalese immigration and police officials gang-raped a young woman here, says Ishan Basnet, a protester.
Authorities dismissed four immigration and police officers, says Mohna Ansari, a member of the National Women Commission, which the government established to improve gender equality and justice. The court found the police constable involved in the rape guilty in April 2013, sending him to jail for five years and charging him 50,000 rupees ($525). Two other immigration officials involved fled after posting bail, and the court has yet to deliver a verdict for the last immigration official.
The 19-year-old rape survivor has kept her name anonymous, but the media and public know her under the alias of Sita Rai. After working abroad illegally in Saudi Arabia with a false passport for four years, she flew back to Kathmandu in November 2012, the 19-year-old says. Immigration officials arrested her for having a fake passport, and the next day, they took her to a private lodge.
There, the four men raped her and stole her money and belongings, she says.
“I was threatened by those government personnel not [to] tell anyone about the incident,” she says.
After returning home, she tried to hide the event from her family, but she eventually told her older sister. A few days later, she returned to Kathmandu and filed a police complaint against the men.
When she went to the hospital, doctors discovered she was pregnant from the rape, Ansari says. The government provided assistance for her abortion and also compensated her 150,000 rupees ($1,570).
Dol Raj Shahi, the police inspector of the Nepal Police’s Women and Children Service Center in Lalitpur, a district of the Kathmandu Valley, says the police take incidents of violence against women seriously.
“If a single personnel from the police is corrupt, it cannot be generalized that every police official is wrong,” he says.
The woman’s case inspired others to seek justice for violence victims, says Nirmala Sharma, the president of Sancharika Samuha, a forum for female journalists and communicators in Nepal.
“The protesters just want justice and end of lawlessness,” Sharma says.
Throughout Nepal, cases of violence against women are increasing – both because of a rise in violence as well as an uptick in reporting such violence thanks to growing awareness about the issue. Protesters and women’s rights advocates urge the government to improve the justice system for women by creating fast-track courts. Police say they take incidents of violence against women seriously but explain that investigations take time. Protesters vow to continue until the government meets their demands.
Twenty-two percent of Nepalese women between ages 15 and 49 suffer physical violence at least once, according to the 2011 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey. And 9 percent suffered physical violence within the 12 months before the survey.