Nepali Times
By The Way
Patriarchy in the political hierarchy


Tabassum Alam from Sarochiya near Biratnagar was married into a family across the border in Forbesganj six years ago. Three years later, the groom's family started to torture her to put pressure on her family to pay more money.

Tabassum's family had paid as much dowry as they could afford: Rs 300,000 in cash and a new motorcycle for the groom. When her family couldn't pay any more money, Tabassum was returned to Nepal. Her family sued the groom in the Indian courts, but after four years she hasn't got justice.

Recently, Dinesh Mandal from Bardibas arranged for his sister Sabita's wedding with a well-educated and employed young fellow-Madhesi. But the groom's family demanded Rs 500,000 and a motorbike as dowry. "We had hoped an educated man would not ask for a dowry," said the crestfallen brother.

When a mainstream daily in Kathmandu recently published details of the accumulated property of influential Madhesi ministers, they said publicly that they had acquired the property as dowry payments. They defended the practice, saying it was part of the "Madhesi tradition". Gender rights activists did not seem unduly perturbed that politicians saw nothing wrong with women being price-tagged and sold off in the name of culture in Nepal's Tarai. The rot, it seems, starts right at the top of Madhesi society.

The 2007 Madhes movement called for the restoration of the identity and dignity of Madhesis. Five years on, the leaders of the movement have been preoccupied with power consolidation at the centre. As kingmakers in the current political equation, they have put inclusive Madhes as a pre-condition to their support. But in their lexicon, identity and dignity do not include the identity and dignity of their women.

Not a single Madhesi leader has so far admitted that the Madhes's problems go beyond statelessness. While demanding political inclusion, few are willing to be inclusive in their own political and personal behaviour. The glaring absence of Madhesi, Muslim and Tharu women among decision makers in Madhesi parties ridicules the inclusion agenda they claim to champion.

The cultural decay in the Madhes is perpetuated by poverty and ignorance, reinforced by a cultural orthodoxy of the educated and powerful. The discrimination faced by Madhesi women at the hands of their own has its roots in their alienation from social, economic and political life. The victims of rape, torture and other forms of domestic violence are mostly poorer, illiterate women. Perpetrators of the violence walk free because they enjoy political patronage.

This is the same society where till not long ago, women were forced to hurl themselves into the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. Wife immolation may have been eradicated, but the patriarchal value system that spawned the practice is alive and well, manifesting itself in dowry, rape, wife-burning, acid-throwing, "witch" hunting, and honour killings. Not a day goes by without some form of domestic violence against Madhesi women by their own kind.

"The government can bring legislation to ban dowry but the state cannot police it away as long as the embedded practice is not challenged from within the community," says Mohana Ansari, one of the few Muslim lawyers in the country, and a member of the National Women's Commission.

Ansari believes the campaign to end violence against women will remain ineffective as long as those expected to lead it stand guilty of perpetuating it. She is among the few female voices from the Tarai's Madhesi and Muslim community who speaks out in Kathmandu's power circle, and blames the social conservatism of the Madhesis themselves for discouraging women from asserting themselves.

According to a recent Education Ministry report, the number of school-going women in the Tarai has gone up, but the dropout rate is high and their participation in higher education remains low. Crimes against women in the Madhes stems from their disempowered status. Effective legislations, community mobilisation and gender sensitisation can help safeguard their rights, but long term solutions lie in ensuring access to mainstream social, political and economic life.

But that seems to be in no one's agenda, least of all for leaders steeped in patriarchy who are supposed to represent the Madhes.

(Names of the victims have been changed)

Read also:
Police don't arrest rapists in the eastern Tarai, they give in to local pressure and marry them off to their victims

1. Laura Pradhan
Dowry, gang rape, trafficking, is this what our society can offer to our sisters. The leaders should all drown in Rani Pokhari. The abuse against women cannot be tolerated any more. What if we reverse the table on this cruel leaders that are mere spectators to the abuses of women in Nepal. Lets kidnap a Deuba or a Gachadhar or a Thakur or a Yadav or a Dahal and traffic them to Afghanistan and sell them to a male only brothel. Unless we can muster the guts and pay back these leaders the same abuses we are going through, nothing will change in the near future. We must unite and fight, fight for our God given rights, enough is enough.

2. Bimala Thapa Magar

What we desperately need in Nepal is woman leader at the top. I mean a woman P M.  Then only things will get better for women.  S. Korea just elected a woman President.  Our neighboring countries have produced many fine and brave women PMs. Benazir Bhutto even died for the country she loved. 

The male dominated Nepali politicians have not experience any personal pain or shame or grief.  They are living comfortable lives and they know how to talk, that is all.

The women must unite and come out as a force to reckon with. We should not tolerate the discrimination a second more. India is in turmoil for a woman was raped in a public bus. We need similar force and backlash in Nepal for crimes against women. We must really put the fear in the hearts of current men dominated leadership to make any dent in daily abuse and rape of women. If we just stand and do nothing, the rape will continue forever.

Nepali Times deserves a lot of kudos for at least starting a conversation about the plight and abuse of women in Nepal. Thanks a million.Gauri  

3. Flexible1
There are two articles in this edition of NT both with identical themes; violence against women.

They are both well written, informative and essential pieces of journalism. But their content absolutely disgusts me, in fact it has enraged me to the point of losing sleep and taking two days to calm down and write this response. But my rage is returning as I write!
The questions that keep circulating through my head are all rhetorical, but nevertheless someone must ask them and go beyond the "normal" outrage:

1. How can Nepal as a nation expect to "be a member of the human race" if it allows such acts?
2. When will such acts be punished in a manner which fits the crime with speed and totality?
3. When will the people of Nepal stand up and be counted? If my daughter, sister, wife were violated like this with impunity the criminals would have nowhere on earth to hide from me.
4. When will Dr Bhatterai give this priority instead of digging up roads? What would he do if Hisila were raped?
5. When will DFID honour it's statement in their 2011 Operating Plan which states "we will also focus on reducing violence against women and girls"?
6. When will the international community CEASE all aid NOW with immediate effect until the violence ends?

As a UK citizen, married to a Nepali woman, with children who are half-Nepali, working in Nepal to improve the education of thousands of primary children a year ..... I am beginning to believe that I am actually part of the problem too. Maybe it needs all of us to "walk out", because educating these vile criminals is NOT the answer, but removing them from society IS the answer. And quickly!

4. Krishna S.
Discrimination against women and their inferior status is an accepted practice dating back thousands of years of Hindu culture. It's not just in Nepal Terai, but across the various ethnic groups in the entire Gangatic plains, one faces this endemic problem, both side of the border.In sharp contrast, in upper mountain cultures, it's not so much of a problem. 
One thing we must keep in mind is that the national boundary, when it was created, is not consistent with the ethnic lines. So the root cause of this problem lies not this or that side of the border, but the ancient superstitious and fatalistic Hindu dogma that can be found all over the plains.
So what can you expect from these greedy political class who are the product of thousands of years of rot, and now, in their new avatars as vindicated champions of the oppressed classes!

5. Kripa Basnyat
Very well written article Anurag. Patriarchy is at hearts of all the social institutions and this is being endorsed by women subconsciously. We do need to push agendas which includes women as decision makers. Woman PM in Nepal and all key institutions just seems like a mere dream but this is possible only when we bring structural changes, attitudinal and behavioral changes in people. We should not forget that PM in our neighboring countries came in power because their husband, father died and only exercised/supported patriarchy after coming to power to remain in power. No matter what- we will continue our fight for women's equality!!

6. Indira Basnet
After Anurag wrote this piece,  many women have been abused and raped. And many children are being deprived of a healthy, normal life. What are the solutions for abuse of women and children. Our male dominated leaders have not done anything for the plight of the needy and weaker population of our society. If only we could teach our leaders a lesson, if only we had strong rules of laws, if only...I could stop day dreaming or if only women could unite and take charge....  unless we treat women and children with the love and respect they deserve, we cannot and will not achieve anything as a Nation. You can this statement to Nepal Rastra Bank.     

Leave a Comment

Name (required)

Mail (will not be published)(required)

    Please read our terms of use

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)