Looking back, 2012 was a painful year for every woman. Consider the infamous cases like Damini’s gang rape in Delhi, Sita Rai’s rape in TIA, a gang rape in Damak, and a rape of a minor girl in Thankot. They have created an apprehensive environment for every female—age no bar. This has raised a question in my heart: Are the women around me beyond the limits of justice, human rights and women’s rights?
I live in a district (Kavrepalanchok) where violence against women is rampant— cases have been found of family members themselves selling their daughters to pimps for money. The rate of suicide attempts by women is high. Kavrepalanchowk, Sindhupalchowk and Kathmandu have become homes and transit points for trafficking.
On the one hand, there are uneducated or under-educated women who have not seen the world outside the four walls of their home, and are much burdened by male-dominated rituals and regular daily household chores. On the other hand, there are women who call themselves free and are educated, but are still bound by traditional superstitious beliefs and taboos. Many times, educated and employed women have gained success because at some point someone said: “She is a woman, and hence we should give her a chance.” This makes me feel that women are being made dependent by the so-called professionals and pioneers of society. Sometimes I doubt my own status—have I reached this place because of my competence, or because I am a woman? If the second factor is the answer, I surely do not wish to continue my current position.
I am not a radical feminist but the truth is any job that is held by woman is still not seen with a professional eye. I have seen female co-workers being paid very less for investing their time and efforts at office. Further, they complain that they are not even provided with lunch in the afternoon. So, it seems that women in my district either lack professionalism and are not competent or they have been presented and used in such way that they do not seem professional at all.
I see a number of cases in my own locality where a wife cannot demand divorce from her husband even if he has deserted her or has married another woman. There can be various reasons for this. The first wife may not be aware that polygamy is crime. Or she may have been indoctrinated by Manusmriti which has taught women to regard their husbands as Gods. Or the husband may have promised his first wife that he would take proper care of her, despite his second marriage. Or maybe the first wife loves her husband so much that she cannot think of filing a case against him. So the cases of such women hardly ever become public.
Attending women rights related programs has always been my priority. Organizing something similar was like a dream come true. A few months ago, when I was with YES (Youth for Empowerment of Society, Banepa), the group organized an awareness and interaction program on sexual harassment. DSP Geeta Uprety was a resource person for the program, and researcher of Supreme Court Khadga Bahadur Shrestha was also present to provide a glimpse of harassment in work places.
The focus of the program was the remedies for the victims of sexual violence. Thus, it had aimed at telling the participants that “the law has given you protection over the grounds that if you are stared at with bad intention, if you are touched anywhere in an uneasy way, if any offensive words are used over your appearance, and any sexual comments are made, or if you are made to touch sexual organs of any person under compulsion and so on, you have right to speak against such acts as per Public Crime and Punishment Act.”
We had hoped to convey the message that if anyone happens to be a prey of such an offence, they should be able to file a case at the police station, or any other concerned authority. But I was much disappointed when one of the participants told me that she had been suggesting a school girl from Panchkhal who was regularly harassed by her neighbor to stay quiet. I had not expected such response from one of the participants of the program. Then I realized that the program which we thought had become “successful” had actually become a failure.
Then I reflected on my own role. As a scholar of law I am taught about law as an instrument of securing rights of people, regulating human behavior, and systematizing a society. My sentiments, hence, are really close to these phrases. But, I doubt if my sentiments are merely a belief—belief which is not backed by justification, and most importantly, by reality. Am I living in dreams? Because, in my society, there is neither regulated human behavior, nor systematized society, and hence no secured rights of people around me.
We hoped to convey that if anyone becomes a victim of violence, she should be able to file a case.
The great jurists John Austin has said “laws which do not come into action are merely like currency which is no more used, and language which is no more spoken.” The laws in Nepal have become the same—merely like a currency note that has lost the value. Emile Durkheim, the father of sociology had focused on the inseparable relation between law and society. Montesquieu explained that for laws to be implemented, a society is required, and members of society need to believe that the laws are for themselves. Thus, a strong state mechanism is required to make people believe that whatever problem they come across, the state will take up the responsibility to secure their rights. But, here in Nepal, people have seen criminals getting protection from politicians, rapists gaining honorable positions, a victim being compensated with a few thousand rupees after being raped and losing her dignity. Such a state of the victims has made people untrusting towards the justice delivery authorities. They ask: Why should I lodge a complaint, when I am not going to get justice?
Out laws are really strong. But their implementation has remained woefully weak. Communism, they say, advocates rejecting laws which are merely the means used by those with resources to exploit less fortunate members of society. Despite a communist party being in the government, the questions over justice are still unanswered. John Rawl mentions pervasiveness as a major element of justice. But, Nepali society and its women are far from this pervasiveness of justice.
The author is co-founder of Youth for Empowerment of Society, Banepa and Editor of KSLR (Kathmandu School of Law Review)