Insurgency-era victims of sexual crimes still unheardMost victims are from marginalised communities and lack of faith in the system deters them from coming forward.
It was wheat-harvesting time in Sudurpaschim in April 2002. On the second day of the month, Ramila and her sisters were resting at home after working in the fields all morning. At noon, a joint patrol of Nepal Army and Armed Police Force came and encircled their house. They barged in and started assaulting all members of the family accusing them of being Maoists.
Ramila’s elder sister had gone underground a year earlier after joining the Maoist party at the height of the insurgency. But other members of the family didn’t have any link with the party. But the security personnel wouldn’t agree. After showering kicks and punches on all family members indiscriminately, they took Ramila along. With a blindfold and tying her hands behind her back, she was taken on a truck. An eighth grader at a local school, she was just 14 then.
The security personnel started molesting her from the time she boarded the army truck. “They started touching my sensitive parts, which only increased until the journey ended,” she told the Post. That evening she was taken to the Armed Police Force Battalion at Banbehada in Kailali district. She was tortured and forced to confess that she was involved in attacking a police post a few days back. At midnight, she, along with other arrestees, was taken to Teghari Army barracks in the district.
Ramila was produced before a Nepal Army Major for the purpose of recording her statement, where she was raped. “I would be taken to a room for my statement whenever the Major or others would want to rape me. This would generally happen at night,” she said.
There wasn’t a single day for around two weeks in the Teghari barrack when she wasn’t raped by multiple army personnel. As she was kept blindfolded, she didn’t see the rapists. “However, I will recognise the Major’s voice. That sound haunts me to this day,” said Ramila.
Ramila was taken back to the Armed Police Force battalion from the army barracks. The torture didn’t stop, nor the rape episodes. In her four months in army and police custodies, she was beaten, kicked, pinned in the hands, not to mention the dozens of instances of rape.
The security forces then had a free hand in arresting and keeping “suspects” captive for as long as they wanted without producing them before the court after the then Sher Bahadur Deuba government imposed a state of emergency in November 2001. Most such incidents happened during the emergency, be they rapes, killings or enforced disappearances. People like Ramila from the marginalised indigenous communities suffered the most.
However, the state has never recognised them. They haven’t even received any interim relief, let alone being given justice and bringing their perpetrators to book. Lodging complaints against the security forces was not possible until the 2006’s Comprehensive Peace Accord. Through the agreement, the parties promised justice to the victims of the insurgency-era atrocities. However, around 17 years later, justice remains elusive.
The victims of rape and sexual violence are among those who have been neglected the most. Neither has the state provided them any interim relief like those given to the victims of enforced disappearances or to the families of those murdered, nor has it taken any initiative to conduct serious investigation of the pain inflicted on them. That has left victims like Ramila in a lurch.
Following continuous indifference from the government, victims like Ramila have started a campaign to put pressure on the state to heeding their concerns by forming a network called the National Organisation of Conflict Rape Victims. Led by a former Constituent Assembly member and CPN (Maoist Centre) leader Devi Khadka, the organisation held its first gathering in May last year and its national meeting this week.
“We have realised that our concerns will never be addressed unless we fight for it ourselves,” Khadka, herself a victim of rape at the hands of the police in Dolakha, told the Post. One Tuesday, they met Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal demanding immediate relief, setting up of a separate mechanism to study the cases of rape and sexual violence as well as a peace fund to support such victims. Dahal, according to the victims, is positive on their demands.
Khadka said most such victims have not lodged their complaints with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, because it is not easy for them to open up. It is, therefore, necessary to set up a separate mechanism, be it within the commission or outside, to probe such incidents.
Records at the truth commission shows that among 63,700 cases it has received, 314 are related to rape or sexual violence during the insurgency. In 2018, a study team comprising Manchala Jha and Madhabi Bhatta, then members of the commission, was formed to suggest relief and reparations to such victims after consulting them. Although they submitted their report recommending immediate counselling, treatment and interim relief for the victims, that never materialised.
The government has also ignored the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Deciding on at least two of the cases of the insurgency-era sexual violence, the UN committee called on Nepal to investigate, prosecute and punish the men involved in rape and to provide the victims with full reparation, including reimbursement of the medical expenses incurred. However, nothing happened.
Khadka, the coordinator of the victims’ committee, said less than 10 percent of the victims have lodged their complaints at the truth commission. If her assessment is anything to go by, the number of rape victims stands at over 1,000 and those who suffered sexual harassment number in thousands.
Most of them haven’t filed complaints because it is a sensitive issue and victims are afraid to come forward as they don’t trust the existing system. “Unlike others, the victims of sexual violence cannot even share their pain with their family. Only they know how they are living,” Khadka said. “I urge the government to realise the facts and act before it is too late.”
(The name of the victim in the story has been changed to protect her identity).