No country for womenThe number of reported rape cases has jumped 256 percent in the past decade
Rape and subsequent murder of a 13-year-old girl in Nimbukheda of Bhimdutta Municipality-18 in Kanchanpur district made news last week. Mahendranagar Bazaar remained tense after locals and the girl’s relatives demonstrated in front of Mahakali Zonal Hospital, the municipal office and the bazaar area on Saturday.
The protests though are only a reminder of how hollow platitudes are doled out at the end of each similar cycle. Worryingly, cases of sexual violence and rape against minors have become a regular occurrence. And this incident of the girl who was killed in a sugarcane field in Kanchanpur is part of the continuum of violence women in Nepal face every single day.
According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS)—a national sample survey providing information on areas such as fertility levels, marriage and domestic violence—1,131 cases of rape were registered in 2017. It further mentions that while rape is still widely under-reported, the number of reported rape cases has jumped 256 percent in the past decade. On average, 78 rape cases are reported in Nepal every month. Considering the shame that befalls rape victims in Nepali society and the known cases of authorities unwilling to register complaints, the actual number of rape cases could be much higher.
It is commonplace for police to refuse to file charges, preferring instead to force the victim and perpetrator to come to an agreement. This has been the general practice with the police who put the moral burden on the victim. The standard line and a patriarchal discourse on honour: It will only make the girl’s life difficult when society finds out.
There are numerous instances where perpetrators have gone free after paying the victim or her family a certain amount of money. And even in cases where incidents of rape manage to get a hearing in court, the proceedings drag on for years.
This then raises a pertinent question: Are we far more complicit in crimes against women than we care to acknowledge? Sure, we make laws, but nobody wants to enforce them and people keep reinforcing misogynistic norms that nobody intends to break. An act of rape or even sexual violence stems from men fostering a feeling of entitlement. And it becomes rampant when consent and women’s bodily integrity become irrelevant to a man’s desires.
The rape problem needs a rewiring of society’s attitude. A woman’s body is not a repository of family honour. Neither are men predators and women preys. The onus of remaining safe should not be squarely put on women but be shared by society and law enforcers. Women too must refuse to take sexual violence as routine and exercise their agency.
Law enforcement has to change its approach to become more victim-friendly. Authorities must be extra careful and considerate when taking rape complaints, and hiring more women in the police force would help. Only when we shed our nonchalance towards sexual violence, and feel the searing shame our society has until now only imposed on its female victims, can we change this culture and make our streets and cities safe for our girls and women.