Gender based violence: Occupy Baluwatar highlights the issue
Religion, customs and age-old prejudices have put Nepali women in a subservient and exploitable position in many domains of life. They are usually ignorant of their rights and even if they are not, they do not have an easy access to justice.
It is a harsh reality that women in Nepal have been ill-treated for ages in our male dominated society. From being deprived of an independent identity to being looked upon as a commodity, women are generally robbed of their dignity and pride.
And the trauma doesn’t end there. Sometimes, it might even go up to the extent of forcing her to commit suicide or she may be burnt to death for various reasons including that of dowry. This type of violence transgresses the boundaries of caste, class and religion and is prevalent in almost all societies.
Some changes suggest that Nepali women are becoming more liberated, but others imply worsening conditions for Nepali women, such as more violence against women. The increase in violence may be temporary, as Nepal is in transition to a more modern society.
But one thing is for certain, at the moment the problem of gender-based violence is getting worse. Nepal’s problem with rape perhaps has to do with deep rooted traditions of patriarchy, misogyny and repressive attitudes that prevail in our society.
What we need now is “zero tolerance” towards gender-based violence like rape, kidnapping and abduction, homicide for dowry, torture, molestation and sexual harassment. Occupy Baluwatar or The Baluwatar Satyagraha as it is popularly called these days has marked a new beginning in the “zero tolerance” attitude.
The protests that started with the rape and robbery of Sita Rai* at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) on November 21 is now in its 43rd day. The protest has led to a wider scale movement with demands of suspension of Director General Suresh Adhikari and Director Lekh Raj Pokharel of Department of Immigration (DoI) for their role in Rai’s case.
Demands include in depth investigations of cases like that of Chhori Maiya Maharjan, who has been missing for a year now, Saraswati Subedi, who was found dead at her workplace and Shiwa Hasami and Bindu Thakur who were burnt to death.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai had, at the start of the protests, addressed the issues and reassured the public that the cases will be looked into. The PM probably might have hoped to quickly disperse the crowds with an immediate reassurance. What he definitely hadn’t counted on was the mass gathering every single day until he puts his words into practice. The protest that began with a single case has morphed into a movement against gender-based violence that will not end till the Prime Ministers’s assurances materialize.
Photo: Keshab Thoker
There have been some positive developments but they’re few and too far in between. The corruption charges against senior TIA officials and their suspension brought some respite but bigger issues remain to be addressed. The government has yet to take action against the accused and the protesters plan to continue with the sit-in until the culprits are brought to justice.
Initially, with active participation of youths, artists, musicians, human rights activists, journalists and the public alike who expressed solidarity in the cause of bringing violence against women to an end, the premises around the Nepal Rastra Bank in Baluwatar would be jam packed with people during the scheduled hours from 9 to 11 in the morning.
What is interesting to note about the movement is that instead of more people turning over to support the cause, people who initially petitioned the cause can no longer be seen at the venue. Some have, however, resorted to tweeting about the cause from the comforts of their beds as the victims bear the flippant nature of the weather to shout slogans to give continuity to the movement.
As one regular participant once commented, it’s not about tweeting or facebook-ing, you have to actually be there in person to show your support. And when you think about it, you can’t help but agree as protests have a way of fizzling out with time and if that happens, this movement will just be another one of the many movements that yielded no concrete results.
However, this doesn’t seem to have deterred those who are committed to the cause and the protest continues despite a marked difference in the number of people turning up. From flash mobs to men donning saris in an attempt to get people sit up and take notice, the dedication of a few regular ones and occasional participation of some new faces is praiseworthy as a lot of victims and their families still have their hopes pinned on the movement.
Occupy Baluwatar has managed to bring to the forefront the grave issue of gender-based violence and has put immense pressure on the government to investigate such cases with utmost care and that in itself is a quite an achievement.