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.
Rape for ransom, SHATRUDHAN KUMAR SHAH in MAHOTTARI
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