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No respite for women in communist Nepal

Apr 22, 2009

Violence and caste-based discrimination persist against women in Nepal even after the Maoists took charge of the country last year. Journalist Bhumika Ghimire finds out that despite their lofty promises, justice continues to elude a large section of women.

Last year the Maoists came to power in Nepal. Their entry to the country's power structure was made possible by people who were desperate for a change. Although there have been some improvements since the former guerrillas came to power, the women of the country, sadly, have yet to feel any difference.

According to a report by Amnesty International released on April 10, the Nepalese government has failed to protect women. Madhu Malhotra, deputy program director for the group's Asia Pacific office, said, "Women activists are singled out for violent attacks as it further promotes a culture of silence and discourages women experiencing violence to speak out."

In a country where the birth of a daughter is still regarded as a misfortune, attacks against women devoted to ending gender bias are a sure sign that the society is not ready to give up its age-old prejudices. The government's failure to properly investigate and prosecute the guilty adds to the problem.


Last year, after a series of violent attacks against women rights activists, the government established a task force to study the situation and submit recommendations on how to end violence against women within two months. The report has yet to materialise.

The government's laissez-faire attitude is empowering criminals. And the criminals are not always men. Earlier this month a dalit woman was assaulted, publicly humiliated and forced to eat human excreta after being accused of witchcraft.

Kalli Kumari B.K. was accused by local school headmistress Bimala Lama of practicing witchcraft on her daughter and other villagers. B.K. was forced to accept that she is a witch. Before being publicly humiliated, she and her husband were kidnapped by Lama and confined in a room for two days.

After mercilessly beating up B.K., Lama force-fed the dalit woman her own excreta in the presence of the villagers. A women's rights organisation is now helping Kalli Kumari B.K. and her husband, but the government has failed to provide any assistance.

Across Nepal, every year a number of dalit women are accused of witchcraft and are publicly humiliated. Often they are victimised for demanding equal rights or trying to get out of poverty, thus threatening the rule of the so-called "upper class."

'Lesser evil'

Unfortunately, caste-based violence against women has been ignored by the government as a "lesser evil." Local police do not take these cases seriously. In the case of Kalli Kumari B.K., local authorities acted only when the case was highlighted by national media.

Gomadevi Khatri, who is 75 years old, was also mercilessly beaten up by villagers, her husband and his second wife after being accused of witchcraft.

Government inaction is empowering criminals who attack women, but civil society's ignorance is also to blame. Rights activists based in Kathmandu and other major cities tend to pay attention to caste and gender issues only when the media highlight such incidents. Merely reporting these "sensational" incidents is doing little to eradicate violence, as no effort is made to understand the cause or socio-economic context of the incidents.

When a dalit woman or a dalit family is attacked, the reason most often is the fear of local influential "upper caste" individuals that the "lower caste" is being audacious enough to demand fair treatment. Widows and single women are also targeted. In the case of Gomadevi Khatri, she had separated from her husband after his second marriage and was thus an easy target.

Until something is done to educate society about such issues and to protect everyone equally under the law, such incidents will certainly continue.

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