Move Forward In Rape Cases : Roshan Kumar Jha
In Nepal, three rape cases are reported every week. Many more cases go unreported. Women and girls are not safe whether they are at home, school, street, public transport or the workplace.
The victims of rape usually keep the incident a secret for reasons of prestige, honour and their future. Such an attitude on the part of the victim allows the culprit to roam free without any fear of condemnation or punishment. Even those that do get apprehended do not get severe punishment.
Rape cases on increase
In recent days, rape cases have reached epidemic levels in the Terai region because the perpetrators not only go scot free, but are often rewarded for their crime.
Two years ago in Mahottari, a young woman was forced into a sugarcane field and sexually abused by Farmud Ansari and Murduj Ansari. They were arrested, but instead of punishing them, the locals padlocked the girl's house and expelled her from the village for having "corrupted" the local youths. After seeking help from the police and political leaders, the girl got a compensation of Rs. 40,000, half of which was taken by the mediating all-party leaders as a donation for their 'community development fund'.
Last year, a 17-year-old girl in Mahottari's Bairganiya village was raped by 25-year-old Ranjit Das who also filmed the incident and circulated the minute-long video via mobile and YouTube. When the local authorities were informed about the crime, instead of punishing the accused, they collaborated with the local bigwigs to force the victim to marry the perpetrator. Das is now in custody, but the video is being sold via phone, and has even reached Qatar and Malaysia.
In August, another 17-year-old girl from the same district was raped by Ahmed Miya, who got his friend to record the act on his mobile phone. By coincidence, a young man from their village saw the video on a phone in Qatar and alerted the girl's family. But instead of arresting the accused, powerful men in the village forced the girl to marry her rapist.
An 18-year-old girl from Mahottari was gang-raped in broad daylight while she was carrying water from the communal well recently. Police arrested all of them and took their case to the district police office. But the girl's family withdrew the complaint after the powerful locals put pressure on them.
"They threatened us, we are poor what can we do? So we withdrew the case," the girl's mother said.
Eleven rape cases have been registered in Rautahat alone in the past year, of which nine have been settled through a written agreement after the victim's family was threatened. All 17 rape cases were registered at the Women's Cell of Rautahat. Police have been unable to take action due to local pressure. In Mahottari, 16 rape cases have been pending in the courts for the past three years. Because the police are an accomplice as mediators, many victims now take their cases to a women's rights group in Jaleswor where 37 cases are registered.
In a recent case in Kalaiya, a six-year-old rape victim succumbed to injuries while undergoing treatment at the Kanti Children's Hospital on March 8 while the world was observing the 105th International Women's Day. She was admitted to the hospital on February 22 following a brutal rape. The girl was found in an unconscious state at a garbage disposal site of Kalaiya-6 on the morning of February 21. She was initially taken to the Narayani Sub Regional Hospital in Birgunj and later brought to the Kanti Hospital for further treatment. The perpetrator of the crime has been sentenced to 35 years in prison.
There are many more such incidents which go unreported in the media, and rape for ransom has become a thriving business because of impunity. Many of the victims are minors violated by neighbours, teachers and relatives, but are forced into a settlement.
The rapists who come from powerful families never get punished, the victims who are poor never get justice because the police themselves work to cover up the crime and work out an arrangement. Rape is not a sexual crime; it projects violence and power deeply-rooted in the Terai's patriarchy.
True peace and justice are possible only in the absence of violence against women. In every village and in every city, women are the victims of domestic violence. There are no rehabilitation centres or camps for the victims to recover from the violence. Thus, a situation has been created where women are unable to report the violence against them due to fear and lack of protection. Most of the women do not report to the police department for fear that it will bring dishonour to the family’s name. Instead, they quietly suffer the indignation.
In many remote places, women are unable to even report to the police due to the geographical location. In this situation, the media can play a very important role in presenting what is happening in the society to the general public. Since some time, the media has been giving importance to women's issues. There have been incidents where the culprits have been apprehended following publication of news in the media.
Our government must move forward to treat violence against women as a serious problem. They must instruct the police to register and investigate every case that is brought to them and bring the perpetrators to justice. We cannot have peace in Nepal unless our government upholds the rights of our citizens to live without fear of violence at home, the workplace and public places. The government must publicly hold the police accountable for registering and investigating rape cases and amend its policies towards this end.
(The author is a practicing human rights lawyer at the Supreme Court of Nepal, firstname.lastname@example.org)