Nepali Times
We shall overcome



She came in upset and in tears. Finally, she broke down and said that she had been touched. It sounded innocuous enough, but she had lost her innocence forever. At 12, she has been made to feel ashamed and dirty for something that was not her fault. The young girl could be among hundreds of girls and women who are molested or abused on the streets, in the fields, in homes or workplaces throughout Nepal every day.

Violence against women is suddenly news, with each new crime getting front page treatment with a headline that begins with the word 'another'. But sooner or later, the crimes will be routine again to be consigned to a tiny item in the inside pages that one glances at before turning the page.

The most disenfranchised, abused, and violated people in Nepal are its women. It makes no difference which ethnicity, caste, religion or socio-economic background they come from. Whether they are educated women from Kathmandu or an illiterate Dalit woman in the eastern Tarai, they are all victimised. They learn from very early on to live in fear of men. By their good fortune of being born male in this country, boys are valued more than girls. The discrimination starts even before they are born: the spread of ultra-sound scanners has skewed the male-female ratio in urban Nepal.

The boy gets to go to school, even if the girl is more studious. Boys are taken to hospitals even for minor ailments, while girls have to be really sick. Girls get to eat last, have to cook, wash and forage for firewood and fodder. The dropout rate for girls is double that for boys in rural schools.

It's not the little boy's fault, his doting parents instill this discrimination in him, and ensure that it is passed down to another generation. The boy grows into a young man with a monumental sense of entitlement. He may not be rich, educated, or handsome, but he is more important than a woman, any woman.

Nepali men will continue to prey on women until this mindset changes, until male sexual aggression stops being seen as the norm, glorified in movies and media, to be rewarded and propagated through parental and peer pressure. Men are accorded the power to taunt women, pass lewd remarks, grope, molest, rape, and murder. The policeman who looted and  ravaged Sita is a by-product of a culture of rape where abusing women is almost sanctioned by society despite being proscribed by state laws.

In the Tarai, many victims are forced by their families, communities, and even police to marry the rapist. Although recent high profile cases have become matters of national discourse, Nepali society has always been steeped in discrimination, abuse, and exploitation of its women. The trafficking of young women to brothels in India and now to work as domestics in Gulf countries are proof that slavery is alive and thriving in modern Nepal. The lack of outrage in society about this, and the acceptance and even collusion of the male-dominated ruling class in trafficking are shocking. Even more appalling is the fact that many of these young women have been sold off by their own relatives.

Our society's code of conduct stigmatises the very women who are victims. They are accused of 'polluting' community values if they are raped. If a woman has an opinion, dresses in jeans, has male friends, it is entirely her fault because she is begging for trouble. Films, tv shows, music videos, and popular media perpetuate this temptress myth through a cross-border culture industry. The 'good girl' listens and obeys while the 'item girl' is served up as a sexual opiate.

As a woman in Nepal you learn very early on that safety is a relative term. Walk down to the corner store, and neighbourhood boys sneer and yell, all in good fun, just some harmless 'eve teasing'. Boys, after all, will be boys. Inside buses or in religious processions, groping is routine. Shouting at an attacker gets you even more unwarranted
attention, and the last place you want to go to is a police station to lodge a complaint.

So what do I tell the 12-year-old girl? That the monsters she needs to worry about are not in the movies, that they could be her teacher, her uncle, her friend, her doctor, a stranger in a bus? Do I tell her that she needs to learn to protect herself because the police and the courts won't? But I will tell her that change will come. That Nepali women are beginning to speak up, press charges, and raise their united voices. That tomorrow will be better than today, and collectively, we shall overcome.

Rubeena D Shrestha is the editor of Wave magazine.

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

Predator state, BHRIKUTI RAI
A young Nepali woman returning from Saudi Arabia is robbed by immigration officials and raped by a policeman

Al Jazeera video on
Rallies against rape in Nepal

1. Tashi Lama
Absolutely Rubeena ji, I very much appreciate your truthful article on the discrimination of Nepali women, you did strongly voiced the concerns of Nepali women, I do clearly understand this discrimination in Nepali society. As we know that Nepal is much influenced by Indian culture and tradition, both countries makes similar discrimination on women populace, even though in the Hindu religious tradition, they revere women as Mata Durga, Mata Saraswati, Sati mata and Sita mata etc, but in realistic issues women are treated badly, like an inferior beings. I found this more badly practiced in Hindu society, I think this kind of mind set has lot to do with the religious beliefs, which are more of blind faith cultures passing on, especially in Hindu tradition, amongst many beliefs of blind faith, the most commonly practiced is "Dhak Bhatti" during the funeral of diseased father, it is believed that if the son lights the funeral pyre, the soul of diseased reaches "Bhaikunda" meaning in the state of heaven, it is that simple, upon finding these nonsense beliefs, it makes me laugh. Such silly beliefs in Hindu tradition gives good excuses for Hindu man to have many wives, because in lieu in finding the son as hire to the family and as giver of Dhakbhatti for the last rites. All these silly mind set needs to be changed to bring equality in between men and women of Nepal and India too! Concept of " Kanya Dhaan" is also a one of the factor of discrimination. Country as a whole doesn't progress if this gender equality is not practiced.

Unlike in India, it is fortunate that Nepalese society doesn't practice scanning and then killing of female fetus, which is very sad and severe in Indian society. I was just shocked watching the documentary talks in "Satya Mev Jayatey" Almost decades ago while I was in Delhi en route to Kathmandu, I saw this chilling documentary in Aajtak channel, the killing of new born baby girls, which was filmed by hidden camera, as these merciless father hires a midwives who does all these sinful jobs of killing baby girls, prior to the birth, these killers are ready with a towel soaked with water, once the baby was born, we can hear the cry for a moment and then it is silenced, it is because these paid murderous midwives suffocate the powerless infant and kills them instantly, when the unconscious mother wakes up, she finds the dead baby and they tell her that the baby was born dead. How sad and how cruel it is to find these chilling stories of mercilessness acts in humanity. All these are caused by blind faith and wrong views in the tradition of the society.

Nepali women should strongly rise and resist against this discrimination and get the equal right as that of Nepali man. This is 21st century,  believe on reasons and shed off all the old stupid beliefs and wrong views on mother being, this would bring peace and prosperity in Nepali Samaj!    

2. Raj-Canada


Perhaps you should just appreciate that gender discrimination (including sexual violence) is widespread in the mindset of SouthAsians and Nepalis alike; as the artcile points out regardsless of ethnicity, religion, or geography. However, you always seem to have an ax to grind towards Hindu ways and beliefs, as though it is inherently evil, juxtaposing it with your self-righteous way/self.

FYI... being born into a Buddhist family does not guarantee that one/you have followed Siddhartha's way. Most Nepalis know that. The practice of it is another thing. 

Don't color this issue or any other with your bias, as it seems for you on any issue. Or else you are just like who you are pointing out.

3. Mr. Poudel
I think you are forgetting a very important part of the problem; that of women oppressing women. Come on!!!, don't blame the males and the society for all your troubles... I am not defending the male attitude towards women, but males quite often are pawns in the feminine politic (very unmanly but certainly true).

Now, who is the person who expects the lady of the house to give birth to a boy child? Who will find another woman for the man if the woman fails to give birth to a boy? Who is more likely to be against sending daughters to school? Most often, who lures a girl into the hands of a human trafficker? Who demands that the female child be aborted?

The answer is... usually the woman (in the form of mother-in-law, mother, grandmother, aunts, other female relatives, girl 'friends', neighbors and maybe the witch).

Therefore, half your battle is against the matriarch... sure you will overcome (but who will be overcome?)... sure you might win (but who might lose?)...

4. TD
I agree with every sentence written in this article. There's nothing sadder than growing up in a society where you feel unsafe,and afraid just because you were born a female.

5. amanda mclean
interesting , Mr poudel,puts a different slant on the issue!The ''sin factor'' is inherent in us all, female and male.Each of us are accountable to our creator God. Jesus forgives sins,but also judges those who are stubborn n refuse to change their mind n heart to the ways of God. People should think about this in their life choices. As for discrimination---evil flourishes when 'good' people do nothing. The christian scriptures are clear. Treat one another with purity. Young women as your sisters and older women as your mothers.Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

6. S
Mr Poudel, you are right in that in our culture women oppress women often as much as men do. The root of the problem here is a culture where men and women alike perpetuate patriarchal and often mysogynistic values. Rape, actual physical rape, is the most extreme and cruel form of the debasement of a woman, yet as Rubeena Ji mentions in this article and as I have experienced it on a daily basis myself, women are consistently and tirelessly mistreated in Nepalese society. From the needless catcalling and purposeful groping on the streets, to the countless complex traditions that propagate and solidify the "position" of women in their households and families, to the favoring of male students over female students in schools - we live in a culture that ensures that women know they are second to men. It is not overcoming men in particular, or the women or any identifiable social group, but in overcoming a culture that is not able to keep up with the underlying social changes that have occurred in Nepal. Nepalese women are more educated now, are taking on professional roles earlier deemed manly, are heads of families, are leaders in politics and civil societies -are opinionated. Change has already gained momentum and it is in realizing this, and raising generations of Nepalese to come, girl or boy, to respect each other as equals that we will truly overcome.   

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)