23-29 August 2013 #670

For better or for worse

Nepal’s law and order situation has changed for better, but the people still feel insecure
Ojaswi Shah and Anurag Acharya

SANTOSH YADAV
ALREADY GONE: Bhuti Khatun lost her house after violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims in Sareswor, Siraha district on August 9.
When millions of Nepalis from all walks of life took to the streets in the spring of 2006, it was hoped that the 19-day, non-violent rebelling would end not just the conflict but also lead the country through a swift, democratic transition to stability and development.

Seven years on, the Constituent Assembly has been dissolved, elections are looking iffy again, and the transition drags on. To be sure, Nepal has made remarkable gains despite impending political impasse.

The maternal and infant mortality rates have gone down dramatically and school enrolment rates are one of the highest in the region. Politically, the people have been empowered from subjects to sovereign citizens of a republic. Nepalis today are more aware of their rights and have learned to organise as well as articulate themselves. The state institutions, in turn have become empathic and forbearing towards previously excluded peoples.

However, the prolonged transition is taking a toll on everyday life as interim arrangement is proving insufficient to ensure effective state deliveries including security, concludes a recent study titled Snapshots of Local Security and Justice Perceptions in Selected Districts of Nepal, carried out in 10 districts of Nepal across five development regions and published earlier this year.

Going beyond conventional preoccupation with political conflict and resulting violence, the report acknowledges that the overall security situation has improved with a decline in crimes like kidnapping and extortion, mostly as a result of exemplary police-public collaboration.

However, there appears to be an epidemic of gender-based crimes like domestic violence resulting from alcohol and substance abuse, dowry-related violence, sexual harassment, and rape. Even in Kathmandu, the research shows high incidences of violence against women. In many cases, violence was linked to socio-cultural practices such as polygamy, child marriage, and women’s limited access to property and citizenship rights. Even with greater female participation in political, social, and economic life in recent years there has been a rise in the number of registered cases of violence.

REDEFINING SECURITY: Security no longer has a military connotation. In fact, the main threats to security come from deprivation, domestic violence, and sexual abuse at home or work. The main threat perceptions are different in different parts of Nepal.

The report highlights positive initiatives taken by Nepal Police to be more gender-responsive. The work carried out through their Women and Children Service Centres in coordination with community-based organisations like women’s groups and para-legal committees have contributed to this change. However, more needs to done in terms of strengthening, capacity-building as well as resourcing and staffing of these centres.

The report also lists ‘political party interference in criminal investigation’ as an obstacle in undermining security and justice. Similarly, extortion, kidnapping for ransom (of business persons and their family members), and manipulation of tender-bidding processes continue to be a main security threat to business people.

Additionally, frequent shutdowns in the districts by protesters obstructing traffic, cutting off supply lines, and resorting to vandalism are an obstacle to an environment that is conducive for an overall growth of the private sector.

Despite these challenges, proactive policing and leadership and commitment displayed by some district police officers have increased public faith in the security apparatus. However, as the report points out, these encouraging developments have been slowed down by poor infrastructure and asymmetric resource allocation, which leads to poor outreach.

For instance, public-police partnership which has proved to be an effective way of combating local crimes needs adequate investment in community-level infrastructures. Resources and manpower allocated for delivering public security are being diverted away to cater to the needs of the influential at the very top. Similarly, services targeted at providing security to women and children are underfunded and not prioritised.

Ojaswi Shah is Project Officer at Saferworld and was involved in the preparation of the report. Anurag Acharya is Program Manager at the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Read also:

Full report

Rape for ransom, SHATRUDHAN KUMAR SHAH

Patriarchy in the political hierarchy, ANURAG ACHARYA

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