How controversial statements by lawmakers on sensitive issues go uncheckedThe debate has started on the need for lawmakers to change their traditional mindset rather than just amend the laws and policies.
Ram Narayan Bidari, a National Assembly member nominated by the President, in a recent television interview said that 90 percent of rape cases involving adults “are not rape cases”.
"If adults say they have been raped, I think it might not be a rape in 90 percent of the cases," said Bidari. "It might be rape in 10 pecent cases, but most often, adults enjoy with consent, but file a case when differences arise."
Bidari did not stop there.
“Laws have been made in which a man has to provide money and property to a woman if he commits rape, or marries her or they have a divorce,” said Bidari. “But in other countries, only the property earned by the couple is split between the two during a divorce, which is good.”
Bidari questioned how appropriate it is for someone to file a case for property right after marriage and then later divorce.
When Bidari was making such remarks, the country was still grieving the death of a 17-year-old rape victim who took her own life in Saptari after her family was forced into an out-of-court settlement by the village elders.
Bidari, also a lawyer, expressed a similar sentiment to the Post’s sister paper Kantipur. “Ninety percent of the rape cases that have come to me were fake,” he said. “I spoke of my experience in the interview.”
The lawmaker went on to say that he has always fought for women’s rights and was the coordinator while formulating the Criminal Offences (Sentencing and Execution) Act, 2017.
“I am sensitive to women-related issues and in matters related to minor and poor individuals, but the trend of enjoying with consent while the relationship is sound and then making rape accusation when it goes sour has been increasing,” said the lawmaker.
Bidari also questioned the credibility of attempted rape complainsts filed two, five or 10 years after the incident.
The remarks from a National Assembly member on a serious crime like rape stoked anger and disgust of many people.
However, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), its parliamentary party, or members of its women’s committee have neither publicly criticised Bidari’s statements nor asked him for a clarification.
But Bidari, leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party representing former Maoists, is not alone among members of the federal parliament as far as controversial remarks are concerned.
On July 15, Ganga Chaudhary Satgauwa, a member of Women, Children, Senior Citizens and Social Welfare Committee of the House of Representatives, gave a controversial statement about women whose husbands have gone to foreign countries for employment.
“Women have done injustice to men,” said Chaudhary. “While men work hard in the foreign countries to earn for their families, their wives have affairs at home and spend the money.”
“Where do such men get justice when their wives run away with the money?”
She went on to say that more men have become victims than women.
Hira Gurung, another member of the committee, seconded Chaudary’s view.
There is no evidence to back Chaudhary’s claim that more men have suffered injustice from women.
A report published by the National Human Rights Commission last year found that cases of social, economic, sexual and cultural violence were comparatively high on women whose husbands were employed in foreign countries. In the study conducted in Dhanusha and Sindhupalchok districts, around 40 to 50 percent women whose husbands were in foreign employment were found to have experienced domestic violence.
According to the national rights watchdog, around 1,500 cases of violence against women were filed in the commission in the last fiscal year.
Though men have also become victims in some cases, such cases are not widespread as those of women.
Chaudhary has not been able to clarify on what grounds she said that more men have become the victim than women.
Like in the case of Bidari, neither the Women, Children, Senior Citizen and Social Welfare Committee nor her party [ruling Nepal Communist Party] has asked why she made such a claim without facts.
Nepali Congress lawmaker Devendra Raj Kandel made a similar comment last year in the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the House of Representatives while discussing citizenship.
“Families will break down if women are taught of equality,” said Kandel.
However, Article 18 of the Constitution of Nepal guarantees the right to equality that no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of gender for this fundamental right.
Dilendra Badu, another Nepali Congress lawmaker, had also said that women would marry foreigners if they were given equal rights in citizenship and bear children.
These incidents show how lawmakers, both from the ruling and opposition parties, have been making controversial remarks in the parliamentary committees as well as in the media. And in most of the cases, such remarks from lawmakers and politicians go unchecked.
Niru Devi Pal, the chair of the Women and Social Committee of the House of Representatives, said while some lawmakers made such remarks due to lack of knowledge, some did so to gain notoriety.
“People’s attention is drawn to controversial statements,” Pal said. “Lawmakers also believe that they will come in limelight by giving such statements.”
“Of late, I have started to intervene when members make such statements in committee meetings,” Pal said.
There is a norm in parliamentary proceedings of removing any controversial statement a lawmaker makes by the House Speaker. Chairs of parliamentary committees have the same authority during the committee meetings.
“We have started to practice that authority,” Pal said. “Men might have become victims in some cases, fake rape cases might have also been filed, but we have to look at the overall scenario rather than exceptions.”
There is also a provision in the instruction manual regarding the conduct of both houses of the parliament of forming a committee under the chairmanship of the speakers of lower and upper houses to observe the conduct of lawmakers.
But, no such committee has been formed in the two-and-a-half-year tenure of the parliament.
In the code of conduct issued by the ruling Nepal Communist Party earlier this year in Januray, there is a provision that party members should stand against violence against women.
But, the controversial remarks of party members do not become the topic of discussion in both parliamentary committees and party meetings.
However, Dev Gurung, chief whip of the ruling party’s parliamentary party, has a different view on this matter.
“We should not construe a difference in opinion as a violation of the code of conduct,” Gurung said. “If anyone has spoken against the law, s/he will be treated by the law, and it will also be against the code of conduct.”
“The constitution has guaranteed the freedom of opinion and expression, so there can be debate and discussion in case of difference in opinion, but there is no provision that the party or the parliamentary party should alert the lawmakers.”
Those elected by the people should themselves think about what they should speak and what not, Gurung added.
However, controversial remarks lawmakers have made against the laws they formulated have started a debate on the need for lawmakers to change their traditional mindset rather than just the policies formulated by them.
Pushpa Bhusal, the chief whip of the Nepali Congress parliamentary party, said that such remarks from lawmakers reflect their traditional thinking.
“Women’s vote is crucial from the streets to parliament, but a negative attitude towards them after winning the election hinders change,” said Bhusal. “We have to establish a leadership that can change this attitude.”
There is a need to discuss such remarks of lawmakers in the parliamentary party as well as parliament to discourage them, Bhusal said.
“Freedom of expression doesn’t mean you can say whatever you like,” she said. “The chair of the parliamentary committee should make a ruling on such statements and attention can also be drawn in the parliamentary party if someone makes such remarks.”