Smash rape cultureImpunity is one of the reasons why sexual violence continues to thrive.
The presumed rape and murder of Bhagrathi Bhatta, a 17-year-old schoolgirl from Baitadi district, has once again brought to light the dismal state of women's safety in Nepal. The Baitadi incident is also a grim reminder that the rape and murder of Nirmala Panta remains unsolved as yet. According to Nepal Police, 2,144 cases of rape and 687 cases of attempted rape were reported in the fiscal year 2019-20. However, since a significant number of survivors do not report such incidents to the police, the actual count could be much higher.
Global statistics on rape as well as other forms of sexual violence point to a clear case of gender imbalance: A vast majority of rape survivors are women, and a vast majority of perpetrators are men. Apart from women, individuals belonging to a multiplicity of gender identities and sexual orientations survive rape on a daily basis. The fact that the existing social system often puts the onus of surviving rape on survivors rather than holding perpetrators accountable, rape culture remains a persistent social malaise in much of the world, not least in Nepal.
Moreover, apart from the actual incident of rape, the long process of justice and the social stigma that comes attached to being a rape survivor perpetuates endless victimisation of the survivor. Therefore, apart from strengthening the legal and judicial mechanisms to provide justice without delay, efforts must also be made to ensure that the survivors of sexual violence do not have to undergo multiple layers of victimisation in the aftermath of the violence.
The failure to provide justice in a wide number of cases of sexual violence, including the Nirmala Panta case, has set a bad precedent in terms of providing a sense of security to citizens, especially women. The government must get its security wing to be more pro-active to mitigate incidents of rape and violence on a daily basis. At the same time, the government must work towards strengthening the criminal justice system, as impunity is one of the reasons why rape culture has survived for so long.
The government must also begin a massive and continuous campaign to create awareness about the ills of rape culture and take steps to discourage it. Any meaningful step towards mitigating sexual violence begins by smashing the patriarchy which facilitates the reproduction of systemic discrimination of women and sexual minorities.
The Department of Immigration recently said that a woman under 40 years of age travelling abroad must obtain a no-objection letter from her family or the ward chairperson. While authorities claim that this has been done to protect women from potential acts of violence, including trafficking, it is, in fact, a result of the deeply problematic patriarchal notion that sees women as transgressors of moral and social codes and aims to keep them within a set of moral-physical boundaries set by men.
Such acts infantilise women as well as reproduce the misconception that a woman's wellbeing is to be ensured through the benevolence of a male family member. Such acts ensure the continuation of systemic violence against women—or any human being for that matter. Such ways of thinking must change, and the change must begin, on the individual as well as collective levels, right now.