Empowering women entails enabling women to enjoy their rights by increasing their representation in all government bodies and political parties and framing women-friendly policies at all levels of governance. Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal lawmaker Chanda Chaudhary has devoted her political career to achieving the goal of empowering marginalised communities, including women and vulnerable sections of society through political and social activism. She says a country’s prosperity is inextricably linked with women’s empowerment. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with her to know her views on some key political and women related issues. Excerpts:
A new session of the Parliament will begin soon. What issues will you raise in the House?
My party’s demands related to constitution amendment, withdrawal of false cases against our cadres and swearing in of our lawmaker Resham Chaudhary, who is in judicial custody, remain unaddressed. No effort was made in the last two sessions of the Parliament to address our demands. The day we decided to extend our party’s support to Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader KP Sharma Oli to win the premiership, we did so because we were hopeful that the Oli-led government would address our key demands. Although Oli had the majority to become the PM without our party’s support, we, however, supported him in the hope that he would address our demands. If our demands are not met in the new session of the Parliament, we may withdraw support to the government. We are debating this issue within our party.
Is your party discussing these issues with the Upendra Yadav-led Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal, which is a coalition partner in the Oli-led government?
My party may have a different opinion on this, but I think the bond and bonhomie that existed between my party — Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and Yadav-led FSF-N before the provincial and parliamentary elections — do not exist anymore, particularly after the FSF-N decided to join the Oli- led government and the RJP-N opted to sit on the opposition bench. As we fought the provincial and parliamentary elections together and we are coalition partners in Province 2, we should remain united at all levels of politics. People will be more confident if the FSF-N and the RJP-N remain together, but the FSF-N thinks that it can continue to champion its cause even when it is a partner in the Oli- led government. The FSF-N, however, has not achieved anything ever since it joined the government. Ordinary Madhesis and intellectuals, including some leaders in my party view that since both the parties — the FSF-N and the RJP-N — champion the same cause of empowerment of Madhesis and other marginalised communities and groups, they should merge their parties to create a unified force. I am unhappy that there is lack of coordination between our two parties.
Budget session of the Parliament passed a stricture, which calls for multi-pronged strategies to control VAW. Are you satisfied with the government’s response to VAW?
I think there is a growing convergence of views among parties, particularly among women lawmakers from all parties, on VAW. Some male lawmakers are also supporting us, but the government has not done enough to control VAW. I think the government should fast-track cases of VAW to ensure justice for the victims. Incidents of violence against women, including rape and sexual assaults, have spiralled in recent months. There has been an unprecedented rise in violence against women also because of the state’s failure to crack all cases and bring the perpetrators to book. Punishing the perpetrators is necessary to deter criminal elements from committing VAW. I am in favour of awarding death penalty to rapists. Our government should think of amending the constitution to incorporate this provision in the laws. Only death penalty deters crimes of VAW. Why I am saying this is because even if the state awards life imprisonment to perpetrators of rape, people with enough resources and contacts in power centres can manoeuvre to get the law changed so as to bring their relatives convicted of rape out of jail or to persuade the government to waive or commute the sentence. Some people may say that death penalty might not be right thing from the human rights point of view, but I would like to tell them that we do not need to have any mercy for those who brutally rape minors. Where were the human rights activists when the eight-month-old girl was raped? Where were they when Nirmala Panta was raped and murdered? We should not forget that the death penalty is awarded for some crimes in the majority of American states. Does this mean there are no human rights in the US, the oldest democracy?
Rape and murder of Nirmala Panta, rape and murders of minor girls in Pokhara and Mahottari remind us that there should be enough deterrence in the laws. What is more worrisome is that the PM had insinuated in New York while attending the UNGA that it could take as long as 12 years to nab the perpetrators of VAW. In Nirmala rape and murder case, we have enough reason to suspect that evidence was deliberately destroyed. This case showed that law applies to only ordinary citizens and not to those who have power and contacts at high places. Despite lawmakers’ persistent demand to submit report submitted by Hari Prasad Mainali-led committee to the Parliament, the government did not do so. Rapists should not be spared and they should not enjoy any political patronage. A country cannot achieve the goals of development and prosperity unless the women of the country are safe.
You keep visiting Province 2 to campaign for political and social issues. Are you satisfied with the performance of the Province 2 government?
The work of provincial governments has also been constrained due to non-fulfilment of obligation by the central government. But as far as some other tasks that the Province 2 government has completed are concerned, I think the public is not happy with the provincial government. For example, the Province 2 government recently brought a bill to form Madarsa Board. My party has not reacted to it officially, but I personally think it is not necessary to form a Madarsa Board in Nepal. Muslim children who graduate from Madarasa schools without the knowledge of other mainstream subjects and technical knowledge cannot get jobs in the market. Forming Madarsa Board can set a bad per cent as other communities such as Baisya and Dalit could also seek to form their own boards along their caste lines. This could escalate caste politics in Madhes. We should learn a lesson from the perils of caste politics in the Indian state of Bihar that adversely impacted the development of the state for long.
Are you satisfied with the efforts of political leadership to increase women’s participation in their respective outfits?
I am in favour of ensuring women’s proportional representation in all the government bodies, including political parties. The Parliament has 33 per cent representation of women because the law places the obligation on the parties to ensure 33 per cent representation of women in the Parliament. The Cabinet, however, does not have 33 per cent women representation because there is no legal obligation for the same. This shows that in our country when the law does not make certain things obligatory, the persons responsible for executing inclusion policies do not honour the spirit of inclusion. Parties’ must be in the forefront to increase women’s representation because parties’ actions give a positive message in society. It is high time parties increased the representation of women, Dalits and other marginalised groups and communities. I hope my party ensures at least 33 per cent representation of women after the first General Convention to be held after a few months. There is no women representative among the party’s office bearers and since our party’s decision is taken by the presidium, there is no say of women as there is no woman in the six-member presidium. Thus, my party also has not been able to do justice to women leaders because the party has not ensured 33 per cent representation of women in the Central Committee.
Will your party be able to do away with the presidium after its first General Convention?
I am sure the General Convention will remove the presidium system and will go for a presidential system because almost 90 per cent of party cadres want the presidium to be removed. Party cadres want a rule-based system within the party. They do not want bhagbanda (quota based allocation of opportunities) among the top leaders. This is impeding the growth of our party which could harm our prospect in future.
Your party still lacks robust organisation in Madhes. How do you think your party can do better to increase its influence across Madhes?
If we do not have a robust organisation, then it is because local cadres are not actively doing their roles in their areas and this can happen only when all party units from top to bottom are elected. As long as nepotism and favouritism are at play in the party, cadres who have worked for the party day and night will be sidelined. This is bad for a political party.
What do you think your party should do to address the concerns of women?
Party leadership should consult concerned party wings before taking any vital decision. Everything should be governed by party statutes and no leader should take unilateral decisions.
What are your views on the new citizenship bill being considered by the Parliament?
As far as the citizenship issue is concerned, there are certain things that can be addressed only after the constitution is amended, but within the current scope of the law, some issues can be addressed. The bill’s contents should be changed to enable women unwilling to reveal the identity of their children’s fathers due to various reasons to transmit Nepali nationality to their children. Forcing women to reveal the identity of the father of their children may be humiliating to them in certain situations. The bill needs to be amended also to enable foreign women married to Nepali males to obtain citizenship by descent as they give up their birth linage and adopt the linage of their husband. The constitution should be amended to enable foreign women married to Nepali males to hold higher posts. The constitution bars naturalised citizens and citizens by birth from holding some key posts.
You come from Madhes where dowry remains a problem. How do you think the problem can be effectively tackled?
Laws alone are not enough to curb the menace of dowry. In fact, social awareness should also be created against the problem. Those who receive dowry should be socially boycotted and I have done it with my own relative. Apart from this, government bodies should monitor to check if anybody has received or is going to receive a dowry for the wedding of their male members of the family. This is easy to do because the dowry paying families often sell their land or other property which the residents of the village or municipal areas are aware of. Local levels can do a lot to address this problem by forming an all-party committee in their jurisdictions.
You also head Nepal-India Women Friendship Society. What does your organisation do to promote bilateral relations?
We have completed 56 programmes in the last five years in various districts, including Chitwan, Kathmandu and Kavreplachowk. Our organisation aims to strengthen people-to-people contacts between two countries that share age-old multi-faceted relations. Our organisation is also helping self-help schemes in various districts with assistance from the Government of India.
A version of this article appears in print on November 12, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.