Following the Occupy Baluwatar protests that began over the rape and robbery of a young woman returning from Saudi Arabia by TIA officials, there has been a lot of pressure from individuals, national and international organizations (including the UN that came out in support of the movement) and the media, on the government to address Violence Against Women (VAW). Yet, the government has been conspicuously inactive in this regard. True, the office of the Prime Minister had formed a monitoring committee, comprising some prominent women’s rights activists, to investigate the cases of Sita Rai, Saraswati Subedi, Bindu Thakur, Shiwa Hasami, and Chhori Maiya Maharjan, cases which are on the forefront of the protesters’ agenda. But after fifteen days, when the committee made its report public, it has been severely criticised by many, including one of its members Renu Rajbhandari who resigned before the report was handed to the Prime Minister. Citing a “fundamentally flawed investigation procedure” Rajbhandari has claimed that the government refused to implement her suggestion of suspending the Director General of Immigration Department who is implicated in the robbery and rape of Sita Rai. Complaints of non-cooperation from the government have also been heard from Sudha and Sushila Maharjan, daughters of the missing Chhori Maiya Maharjan.
In the face of such indifference from the government, the only action that can work against VAW is awareness of the issue among the general public. (In fact, the Occupy Baluwatar movement itself was begun as a result of some individuals’ active awareness campaigns through social media.) The wake of Occupy Baluwataer has done a lot in this regard by generating furious debates and bringing the issue into public consciousness with the full force that it deserves. Hundreds of protesters have been gathering at Baluwatar every day, and case after case of rape and sexual violence, which might have gone unnoticed in the pre-Occupy Baluwatar era, now find their ways into police stations and media outlets. And now, political leaders of all parties have gathered together to announce a movement against VAW. Leaders of parties including Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, UCPN (Maoist), jointly signed a declaration to address women’s issues in their agendas, and stop providing political protection to perpetrators. The declaration promises, among other things, gender sensitivity training to political cadres. We laud this step taken by political parties. We hope that such a training will be able to raise awareness of gender issues in a wide range of groups affiliated to political parties, and will be able to do for the rest of the country what Occupy Baluwatar has done in Kathmandu.
On the political front, the opposition has announced a protest starting from Saturday in Dailekh to protest the government’s interference in the investigation of journalist Dekendra Thapa’s murder. Perhaps to counter this move, the ruling coalition has also announced its own movement of awareness. The political parties’ commitment regarding gendered violence comes exactly at the right time, at a moment when a grave issue of justice vs. impunity is threatening to turn into an everyday political wrestling that could end up overshadowing other contemporary issues, including VAW. We appreciate the parties for coming together to address this vital and universal issue. We hope they will earnestly live by their commitments