3-9 April 2015 #752

Class, no bar

Violence against women is prevalent in high income families too, they are just better at hiding it.
Sahina Shrestha

Mala, a medical graduate, was studying in China when she began speaking to Mohan, a Nepali businessman living in the US. The two fell in love over the phone, and despite her parents’ opposition Mala married Mohan in 2009.

Within days of the wedding Mohan began to abuse her.

“He would dictate what I wore and how I arranged my closet. He grew extremely possessive,” says Mala.

After Mohan returned to the US, Mala’s in-laws started to taunt her, accusing her of practicing witchcraft and ordering her to abort their unborn daughter. She was physically assaulted by her sister-in-law and not allowed to leave the house or meet her parents.

When Mala was finally able to go to the US, she found out that her husband had been living with another Nepali woman. Still, she continued to stay with him. But after his abuse grew more frequent, Mala decided to go to a domestic violence shelter. Mala is now living by herself, and works as a health care assistant in the US.

Currently, domestic violence makes up 78 per cent of all violence against women cases in Nepal. Out of the 6,835 cases reported in the police last year, 3.62 per cent of the victims had a high school education and more than 4 percent were independent. Among the perpetrators 4.7 per cent were educated till the higher secondary level or above and almost 12 per cent held jobs or ran their own businesses.

“Domestic violence happens at all levels of the society,” says SSP Krishna Gautam of Nepal Police’s Women and Children Service Directorate, “It has nothing to do with education, class, caste or creed.”

According to an annual report published by Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), 83 per cent of the abused women were literate, of which 21 percent had a higher secondary diploma or above.

Domestic violence statistics based on development regions. Source: Women and Children Service Directorate, Nepal Police

Meera Dhungana of Forum for Women’s Law and Development says, “People belonging to the upper and middle classes are more conservative so women from such families are least likely to report abuse. They’d rather file for divorce.”

In addition, many victims do not speak up to save their family’s reputation. Most reported domestic violence cases thus come from victims in rural areas. A weak law against domestic violence also doesn’t encourage a woman to seek justice.

As per Nepal’s Domestic Violence Act 2009, perpetrators can be fined up to Rs 25,000 and/or can be jailed for six months. The meager punishment is what discourages many women from filing complaints under the domestic violence act, says Sandhya Sitoula of Centre for Legal Research and Development, which receives hundreds of cases related to violence against women.

Even when the abused registers a complaint with the police the perpetrator isn’t taken into custody. Many opt for reconciliation, and are forced to return home to the same man who abused them.

Lenient punishment, a patriarchal society and our culture of marriage (where women are required to leave their family and adopt a new one) seems to be the factors playing into domestic violence.

Jyotsana Maskay, chairperson of LOOM, an NGO working for women’s safety says: “Domestic violence is a crime and not merely a social problem like many treat it to be.”

Mala says: “I am educated and come from a good family. I never thought this would happen to me and can only imagine what other uneducated women have to go through.” Mala has filed a partition case against her husband and says she is planning to divorce him soon.

Mala and Mohan are pseudonyms.

Read also:

No safer, Uma Khanal

GenderViolence, Trishna Rana

“My husband and in-laws left me to die”, Ayesha Shakya