Rural municipality chair accused of coercing a Dalit woman into abortionJaya Bahadur Chemjong is among seven people accused of forcing a Dalit woman to abort her fetus at 21 weeks as she was in an intercaste marriage, district police say.
When a Dalit woman from Kummayak Rural Municipality in Panchthar married a Chhetri man in July last year, not everyone was happy. Conservatives in the village took exception to the intercaste marriage but no one had imagined how far they would take their objections.
The 19-year-old woman, on February 5, filed a First Information Report with the Panchthar District Police, accusing seven individuals of forcing her to undergo an abortion. Among those accused is Jaya Bahadur Chemjong, chairperson of the municipality.
“Chemjong is accused of foeticide for allegedly coercing the 19-year-old Dalit woman to get an abortion,” said Deputy Superintendent Siddharaj Neupane of the Panchthar Police. Hospital records show that the woman underwent a pregnancy test on January 9, said police.
The woman was 21 weeks pregnant when she had the abortion. This is against the law, as abortions in general cases are only permitted up to 12 weeks, according to the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Act. Abortions always require the consent of the pregnant woman.
The Act allows women to terminate pregnancies up to 28 weeks if a doctor decides that their pregnancy poses a serious risk to the mother’s life or could seriously affect their mental and physical health; if the baby will be born with deformities, or if they are infected with HIV or similarly incurable diseases. Pregnancies resulting from rape or incest can also be aborted up to 28 weeks.
According to Neupane, three health workers, including a doctor at the Samarpit Hospital in Phidim, who were involved in the abortion have been arrested for further investigation and are currently in police custody.
“The District Court has remanded them into custody,” said Neupane. Chemjong meanwhile is on the run.
On February 6, a day after the FIR was filed, Chemjong had handed over the responsibility to Seeta Acharya, vice-chairperson of the rural municipality, making her acting chief.
“Chemjong gave me all responsibility saying that he would be busy for a couple of days on personal business,” said Acharya.
A police investigation showed that Chemjong had pressured the victim to undergo the abortion at the behest of the husband’s family, especially the elder sister, said Neupane.
“We sent a police team to the rural municipal office and to his residence, but he is nowhere to be found. We are tracking his mobile phone too,” he said.
The police have recovered the fetus from the field it was buried in and are testing the remains for further investigation,” said Neupane.On February 12, Min Bishwokarma, a Member of Parliament, had drawn the attention of the federal parliament to the issue and demanded that action be taken against the perpetrators and that the woman receive compensation from the government.