With some of them dressed up as the all-powerful Superman, activists gathered outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Baluwatar on Thursday, demanding action against gender-based violence. This was 65th consecutive day of protests, and the costume was a satire on Nepali leaders who defy the law.
“We will go on like this for 90 days of creative protests. If the government continues to be apathetic, we will devise new strategies,” said Pranika Koyu, one of the organisers.
The protests, which began on December 27, have been dubbed “Occupy Baluwatar” — in a reference to global protests under the “occupy” banner.
The spark that bled
The protests were sparked by the rape of a migrant worker. Sita Rai (name changed) arrived at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport on November 21 last year, where immigration officials discovered she was travelling on a forged passport.
She was forced to hand over the 8,500 Riyals (INR 140,000) she had saved working as housemaid in Saudi Arabia. Later that night, police constable Parshuram Basnet took her to a hotel and raped her.
A pregnant Ms. Rai filed a case at the Kathmandu district court a month after the incident. The constable was arrested but the immigrations officials involved have absconded, reportedly to India. Ms. Rai later aborted the foetus.
The news, which broke when the gang rape of a medical student in New Delhi was making headlines, galvanised journalists, activists, and human rights workers.
“I was outraged”, says Dewan Rai, a journalist at The Kathmandu Post, who called a few activists, urging them to take to the street. “I felt the incident really revealed the brutal face of the state power overpowering a helpless individual.”
The same week the protests began, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai formed a high-level committee led by the secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, Raju Man Singh Malla, to recommend action in cases of gender-based violence.
In addition to Ms. Rai, the committee looked into four other cases. One victim was found hanging at her employer’s house, where she worked as a maid. Another had been missing for over a year. In both cases, the families claim the culprits have protection from senior politicians, including Home Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhedar. The third and fourth victims were found burnt to death.
Asked to comment on the progress in the cases, Mr. Malla at the PMO’s office responded, “Is this about GBV [gender-based violence]? Look, we’re busy. We don’t have time for GBV.”
Members of Mr. Malla’s committee formed by PMO have also refused to sit with protesters in meetings organised by the National Women’s Commission.
Activists believe this reluctance is due to the alleged involvement of high-profile politicians in at least one of the cases.
Have the protests achieved anything? After 65 days, the question looms large in the activists’ mind.
“Yes”, says Mohana Ansari, a member of the National Women’s Commission. “But until women are at decision-making levels in parties and the government, violence against women will continue.”
According to Sudheer Sharma, editor of Kantipur daily, part of the reason some protest generate much media attention is because the activists are well connected people. “The frequency of incidents against women has probably not gone up”, he said, “but the depth of media coverage has, and that has created awareness”.
Keywords: Nepal rape protest