Nepali Times



It seemed like an ordinary evening. It was a week after Dasain, and Arati Sharma was at her parents' home in Dhobichaur, Kathmandu. Her mother had made dinner for the family earlier in the evening. Arati was getting ready for bed when suddenly her mother started foaming at the mouth. Realising she had consumed a poison of some kind, Arati rushed her mother to Bir Hospital and admitted her to the emergency room.

Bimala Gautam died 12 days later of organophosphate poisoning, commonly known as poisoning by pesticide. She was 38 years old.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, a report published by the Family Health Division has found. Almost 16 per cent of deaths among women between the ages of 15 to 49 are suicides. This figure has shot up dramatically since 1998, when only 10 per cent of the deaths were attributed to suicide.

The suicide tally has gone up across the board. Police figures from 2008 showed that there had been a 40 per cent increase in suicide in the preceding four years. In fact, death by suicide was higher than the death toll inflicted by the conflict in some years.

But the number of suicides among women is higher than that among men. Kathmandu Metropolitan Police registers 10-15 suicide cases each week, the majority of which are women.

Why are women killing themselves at this alarming rate?

Bimala Gautam was the sole earner in her family; her husband was inebriated most of the time. Living in a rented apartment in Kathmandu, she took odd jobs to support her husband and young daughters. In a report filed with the police, her daughter wrote, "We don't really know why she took her life. But since no sons were born in the family, the pressure might have told on her."

There have been no specific studies on the causes of suicide in Nepal. What is known, however, is that women face unique social and psychological conditions that force them to take desperate measures.

In 2008, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Saathi, a women's NGO based in Kathmandu, analysed gender-based violence in Surkhet and Dang districts. Over 80 per cent of respondents reported experiencing domestic violence from their husbands and other family members, and 74 per cent were forced to participate in non-consensual sex, also known as marital rape.

"What was disturbing is that during focus group and individual interviews, the majority of those women said they had felt suicidal," says Bandana Rana, president of Saathi, who also led the research. "Only a few say they actually attempted suicide. But the majority of them said they wanted to die (malai marna mann lagyo)."

There is no specific data linking domestic violence with suicide. But experts say trauma, depression and other mental illnesses are among the common psychological after-effects of domestic violence.

"Mental violence at home is virtually impossible to prove. But it can be speculated that this could lead to feelings of helplessness and desperate measures," says Michiyo Yamada, Gender Program Officer at UNFPA Nepal.

Victims of domestic violence have little legal recourse. The government has not developed any comprehensive legal programs to prevent violence against women, nor has it met international obligations to protect women from violence or punish perpetrators. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal famously announced that he would open a hotline to his office to assist women in critical conditions. After months of complaints, the phone now rings at the other end of the line. Women are prompted to leave a message but no one responds to them.

The upward trend in suicide can be avoided, says Kiran Bhatia, gender advisor at UNFPA. "Every suicide is a cry for help; an unmet need for urgent intervention for a woman who is trapped in a situation where she has reached
the limit of her capacity to cope with violence, abuse and discrimination. These women desperately need support."

(Names of the victim and her family members have been changed)

1. Sam

Well, I guess issues like these will have to wait. Women's suicide prevention will need to wait, children'w education will need to wait, infant mortality will need to wait, constitution will need to wait, curbing abductions will need to wait, controlling reckless murders will need to wait.

Everything will need to wait becuase the government is busy with bigger and better things like changing the way our unique flag looks, accepting mightly garlands for delivering cheap speech, issueing Nepali passports to Indian nationals, forming their own gangs in the name of youth groups.

I never was a fan of the Royals, but frankly, now I miss them.  

2. DR


It is ironic to see the slow death by suicide of our mothers in Nepal along with the country of Nepal as a whole. For Nepal democracy turned out to be a curse. Democracy brought more corruption and corrupt people to lead an already exploited country. Without proper education of true democracy and rule of law people became excited for the curse of democracy and just look at the result our mothers are killing themselves in higher ration than ever. We have fights and disagreements every where from Tarai to the hills and from west to east people are doing whatever they like to do for their own selfish reasons. However, Nepali people are forgetting that we have really powerful and fiery dragon breathing over our neck from the north and a very cunning and equally powerful jackal from the south already inside our house in numbers drooling for the kill. So, if we keep on fighting among ourselves and keep on bickering about everything without any committed, honest, and faithful leaders for Nepal the possibilities of becoming five course dinner for these two hungry and powerful neighbors from north and south. The truth is they have done it in the past to Tibet and Sikkim. Nowadays, Tibet is known as an autonomous region of China, and Sikkim is known as one of the state of India. So, wake up Nepal do something!!!!    

3. GT
This article gives some good reasons why women are more likely to attempt/commit suicide than men. Unfortunately, it does not even try to explain why the incidence of suicide has increased in recent years. Perhaps the NT could run another article trying to address this.

4. Raymond Dewan,USA

First of all,our learders have to be educated before we can educate Janta.I have not seen any leader who truely love nepal and nepali.They have no vision for a great nation.They are all after power,money, and salute.Their goal is to reach in high position and bring all their natta gotta and provide good jobs.Look at Mr. koirala who suppose to be a great leader and suppose to change nepal like singapore.What happen his promise.He served so many times prime minister and now forcing every cornor to make sujata next prime minister.They are all after their own,including maoist.It is shame king birendra died.I am shame and regret I supported stupid and narrow minded leaders for democracy.

This is the result women and children are suffering.Nepali men have to change attitude.Instead of acting like boss of his house and making women do all the work.I saw most women borrowing rice,salt and etc from their neighbour to provide a meal to their children and husband who comes home drunk.He expects good  and fresh meal and great sex  like x rated movie he seen with his friends at rakshi bhatti.

Lastly,Women are pressured from her own family.They are forced to marry young age and men they never know.She must leave her beloved maiti ghar.Her parents are happy to get rid off her.Sometimes I wonder,daughters are cheaper than chickens of the house.They bargain for a chicken but daughter they give away happily.

Now she must get up early morning and do all household work.She is slaves to mother in law.She must produce male child.So wherte is the law to protect these innocent women.Where are the leaders who suppose to be leading the nation towards prosperities.Too busy fighting for position.Where are husbands and fathers who suppose to love and provide.I think too busy burning tires and showing dada giri.So women have no where to turn ,so they see death is their answer.

5. Gill Maharjan
I was really shocked to read these terrible statistics regarding women and suicide in Kathmandu. Although I now live in Nepal, until last summer I was the founder director of a social enterprise that offered support to individuals regarding their mental health and emotional well-being in the UK. The rate of suicides for women in my home city of Nottingham is currently 6 in 100,000 per year.

It saddens me that there is nothing available to reduce the isolation and desperation of so many women in Nepal, but maybe now is the time to change this situation. The suicide figures hide the real story - the number of women who feel equally desperate but feel trapped to carry on as they recognise that their death would have a massive impact on the wellbeing of their children and families.

So I ask the Nepali Times to keep this issue in the spotlight. It also raises the issue of mental well-being in general - as well as the impact of poverty, heavy drinking in males, domestic abuse and of course the general attitude towards women. These matters won't go away, even if people would prefer to brush them under the carpet, and they leave a massive legacy for the future.

6. Abhishek
Nepal is a traumatized nation. Conflicts, Political Crises, Zero Economic Development, Morally Bankrupt Bureaucracy + Leadership, Fatalist and Cynical Populace... Women, children, elderly and poor are the most vulnerable in the end. 

7. Norbu Ghaley
When the true wisdom of love and compassion lacks in the core teaching of the religion in our society, everything starts from that absence of true love and compassion, and above that blind faith and discrimination plays the most part to put more depression on the women of Nepal. But still the blind faith and discrimination against the women continues to go unchecked, specially in the Hindu dominated parts of Nepal, sorry to say that, it is bitter but the truth is truth, hiding these real facts in our society causes all these gruesome suicide stories by our loving and innocent Nepali sisters and mothers!

Stop! Discrimination against women! 

8. Itisha Giri
In 2002, the rape law was amended as ordered by the Supreme Court to include marital rape as a punishable offence and it can carry a sentence of up to three years - as far as I am aware. The prison term is hardly a reflection of the gravity of the crime but it is a fact that the threat of a conviction is a strong deterrent to any crime. However, how many women are aware, courageous, resourceful or tenacious enough to pursue a court case that could take months and could easily be derailed by some form of institutionalised corruption that the perpertrator can easily take advantage of.
The women of Nepal have always been marginalized but the civil war has  had a massive impact in regards to increasing pressures and demands from the 'lesser' gender, a natural outcome of any major conflict in a state.
 How many women have had to become the sole bread earner of the family overnight by losing a loved one to the conflict in the past decade? How many young women have moved to bigger cities because of the conflict to find work but have instead ended up in sleazy dance bars (some now even equipped with showers?)
How many women were actually victims of rape during the conflict?
We could perhaps begin to get an understanding of why women are killing themselves at such an alarming rate by trying to come up with answers to just the few questions raised above.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)