The winter months have always been the peak protest-time in Nepal. This winter, the two main sets of protestors squaring off against each other belong to the same political party. Each faction of the Nepal Communist Party has declared a ‘third people’s revolution’ against the other. Yet protests of a different kind are also happening all over the country: the protests against the persistent rape culture.
Enraged women have taken to the street following the rape-and-murder of 17-year-old Bhagirathi Bhatta of Baitadi district of the Sudurpaschim Province. Bhatta was raped and strangled to death on her way home from school. The crime is eerily similar to the rape-and-murder two-and-a-half years ago of 13-year-old Nirmala Pant of Kanchanpur district, also in Sudurpaschim. In fact, the two bespectacled victims look hauntingly similar.
As happens with most rape cases in Nepal, police never solved the Pant incident. Bhatta’s friends and relatives fear a similar fate. The fear is legitimate. Despite making big strides in women’s empowerment over the last 15 years, Nepal is still a highly patriarchal society that looks upon women as second-class citizens—even the country’s constitution discriminates against them.
Now a new law makes it mandatory for women who want to go abroad to first seek the consent of their family and local ward office. Separately, the menstrual huts have long been banned and yet Nepali women continue to die from cold and animal bites after being thrown out of their homes during their periods. This is another illustration of the patriarchal state dictating how women should lead their lives. And if a woman is sexually abused or raped, it’s likely her own fault: she wasn’t wearing right clothes, she was being needlessly bold.
This entrenched patriarchal mindset of feminine inferiority makes state institutions hesitant to investigate cases of violence against women and to punish the guilty men. Crimes of sexual violence are increasing, yet only the most gruesome ones come to light. It is men who impose this culture of silence. Yet the same men are expected to act as women’s protectors, 24-7, as is evident in the new requirement for women leaving Nepal. The protesting women are saying Nepali women don’t need men to guard their purity and conduct. What they ask for are equal laws and their equal applicability.