Attacked and violatedFrom Chhaupadi death to incidents of sexual exploitation to cases of acid attacks, there was no let-up in incidents of violence against girls and women in 2019.
The issues related to gender-based violence in Nepali society have been talked about for a long time and the press has been an important agency in informing and, at the same time, making people aware of them. 2019 became the year of fighting against gender-based violence that exists in the society due to the support it got from superstitious people or by so-called elite personalities. Here are three gender-based issues that were raised by the media in 2019.
In August 2017, the government enacted a law, which came into force from August 2018, with a provision that anyone forcing a woman to live in sheds will have to serve three months in jail and pay a fine of Rs 3,000. The penalty is higher for those holding a public position.
Despite the Civil and Criminal Code banning the practice of Chhaupadi, many women, particularly in western Nepal, continue to be forced outside their homes during their periods due to the superstition attached to menstruation. According to a report made public by the National Human Rights Commission, as many as 15 girls and women died in chhau sheds in the past 13 years in Achham and Dailekh districts alone.
In 2019 as well, there were cases where women died due to strict enforcement of the Chhaupadi practice. However, there weren’t any legal actions taken against the culprits until December 2019. In the first offence related to Chhaupadi, Chhatra Raut was arrested and taken into custody after Parbati Budha Raut was found dead in a Chhaugoth in Sanfebagar Municipality in Achham district. According to the police, Chhatra, the brother-in-law of Raut, was arrested on suspicion that he had banished her to the menstrual hut.
MeToo stories from Nepali academia and theatre
2019 saw the whistleblowing phenomena when many former students and artists came out and talked openly about the sexual harassment that they faced from the men in powerful positions in the field of academia and theatre. Although MeToo stories from the women highlighted the issues related to abuses of power in the form of sexual assault and harassment by men against women, needed actions weren’t taken against the accusers. Despite the absence of legal actions against the accused, the decision by the former students and artists to speak out about what they experienced sparked a conversation about molestation and abuse in the education sector or at a workplace. Here are three cases from 2019 that echoed sentiments of MeToo movement.
Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidyalaya’s teachers accused of sexual harassment:
In January 2019, based on the interviews with at least seven former female students, the Post broke the news of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour by Bodha Raj ‘Basu’ Tripathee, a maths teacher at Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Lagankhel.
The Post also obtained a document started by the school’s alumni that collates testimonials from over 40 students, accusing at least four teachers other than Tripathee. Sumanta ‘Suman’ KC, a Nepali teacher and Gokul Sharma, an English teacher, along with Tripathee were accused of sexual molestation in the document.
Following a Post report, an investigative committee was formed to look into allegations of sexual abuse against three teachers. However, after two months into the investigation, the committee cleared all three of them, saying it couldn’t find sufficient evidence against them.
Rachana Dahal, 21, who was among those who recounted being molested by Tripathee told the Post earlier that the committee’s decision didn’t surprise her, because she felt its members were more sympathetic to the accused from the very beginning of the investigation.
Tribhuvan University lecturer sexually harassed female students for years:
An investigation of the Post also in January found allegations against the 65-year-old Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan, a retired senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology of Tribhuvan University, based on interviews with three former students and their friends who had been directly advised by him. One of the women, Smriti, who spoke to the Post, said although she confronted to Bhattachan earlier, he wouldn’t care less. “So what? I am doing it out of love,” she said he told her. However, Bhattachan strongly denied the allegations, calling them baseless and false in an interview with the Post.
Regarding how the university would take action against Bhattachan, then Tribhuvan University vice-chancellor Tirth Raj Khaniya said that since the accused lecturer is no longer associated with the institution, the university cannot do anything against him. “Had the victims come forward at the time of the incident and filed a complaint with the university, we could have taken immediate action,” Khaniya said.
In February, the university suspended Baubalal Sah, assistant dean at the Faculty of Education, for allegedly misbehaving with women at the central campus.
Theatre artists admitted sexual harassment accusations:
In April 2019, a report about sexual harassment in Nepal’s theatre community was first published by Shukrabar weekly. According to the report, several female actors accused Raj Kumar Pudasaini of One World Theatre, Rajan Khatiwada of Mandala and Sunil Pokharel, the venerable founder of Gurukul Theatre of sexual misconduct.
Following the report, Pudasaini and Khatiwada apologised and released remorseful statements. However, Pokharel remained silent. One World Theatre and Mandala went a step ahead and suspended Pudasaini and Khatiwada from several of its projects for a year.
Despite being held accountable by their own institutions, Khatiwada and Pokharel were found back on stage in less than a year. Upon questioning the double standard towards the movement, Mandala’s director Srijana Subbha said that the theatre company did what it could by accepting Khatiwada’s resignation as general secretary of the company for a year.
“We let him go from his official position at Mandala and he hasn’t been involved in anything, but we cannot keep an eye on what people do outside of work,” said Subba. “Does the MeToo movement have a rule that says perpetrators need to be boycotted from everywhere?”
There were a number of acid attacks on women in 2019. Acid attack cases made us question the safety and security of women. At the same time, these incidents confirmed that there is a long way to go in securing a gender-based violence-free society. According to the Nepal Police, eight acid attack incidents were reported across the country in the past four years—three in the fiscal year 2014-15, two in 2015-16, one in 2016-17, and two in 2017-18. In the past fiscal year alone, four such attacks were reported from across the country. Here are two cases of acid attacks on women that were reported by the Post.
Acid Attack by her husband: In May 16, Jenny Khadka, a 20-year-old woman, was attacked with acid by her husband Bishnu Bhujel. According to Senior Superintendent Uttam Raj Subedi, chief of the Metropolitan Police Range, Kathmandu, Bhujel and Khadka had had marital difficulties for over a year and had been living apart.
“The couple had arguments over the phone many times,” said Subedi. Bhujel was held in judicial custody for further interrogation. According to police, Bhujel said he had received the acid from a jewelry shop in Banepa.
Acid Attack by creep, psychopath: On September 6, 15-year-old Muskan Khatun from Chhapakaiya in Birgunj was attacked with acid by 16-year-old Samsad Miya after Khatun rejected his friend Majid Alam’s romantic overtures. “Alan was furious after his proposal was rejected,” said DSP Ananta Ram Sharma, spokesperson for the Parsa Police.
“The incident seems to have been an act of revenge,” Sharma said, adding that Miya was acting on Alam’s request. Khatun, who was assaulted on her way to school, suffered burns on her face, chest and hands. She was transferred to Kiritipur hospital for further treatment. Condemning the act, Lalbabu Raut, chief minister of Province 2, announced a Rs500,000 aid for Khatun’s treatment.