Authorities must pull out all the stops to complete a fair investigation into the rape and murder of 13-year-old girl
It has been more than two weeks since a 13-year-old girl was raped and murdered at Bhimdutta Municipality, Kanchanpur, but police investigations have drawn a blank. The ninth grader at Saraswoti Higher Secondary School had gone missing on July 27. Her body was found in sugarcane filed at Nimbukheda in Bhimdutta the following day. The sluggish progress has raised doubts about the investigation. According to DSP Gyan Bahadur Sethi, spokesperson for the District Police Office Kanchanpur, 20 investigation teams, including a team from the Central Investigation Bureau, are working on the case. But what they have achieved is zilch. Let’s look at some of the statements made by DSP Sethi: “The place where the body was found had a lot of water which posed a problem in the probe,” and “A large number of police personnel have to be deployed to control protesters, causing manpower crunch for the probe.” This is preposterous.
Protests have continued every day in Mahendranagar since the body was found. And rightly so, as we have seen in the past also how authorities have handled incidents of rape and sexual violence. According to rough statistics, around 60-80 rape cases are reported every month in Nepal. According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 2016, seven per cent of women aged 15-49 had experienced sexual violence. That figure is based on the random sampling. But sexual violence occurs also to those who are not in the 15-49 range – like in the recent case of the Kanchanpur girl – hence the actual number is certainly higher. However, the conviction rate in rape cases is very low in Nepal. There are various reasons for this – from legal hurdles to political and financial pressure to so-called mediation to socio-cultural issues.
While there seems to be a lack of sensitivity on the part of authorities concerned to deal with rape cases, there are some socio-cultural aspects that are also contributing to rising incidents of sexual violence.
Misogynistic attitude, disregard for consent, objectification of women and gender norms validating men as sexual pursuers must change. There is an urgent need to understand sexual violence as a structural problem which can be addressed only through a wide-ranging approach, including some legal changes. It’s a shame that the state and authorities have been too slow to recognise crimes like rape and failing to curb the growing incidents of sexual violence. The state has to take full responsibility for protecting the women and their dignity. It is sad that incidents of rape and sexual violence are getting lost in the din of political clamour and slogans, with none of the political parties coming out to speak strongly against rape crimes. There is an urgent need of change in mindsets when it comes to incidents or rape and sexual violence. In the case of the Kanchanpur incident, the government must pull out all the stops to conduct a fair investigation. Protesters in Kanchanpur have accused the police of trying to shield the guilty, suspecting involvement of an individual with powerful political links. The government and police must respond to this. The state cannot take incidents of violence against women and children, rape and sexual violence lightly. This is unacceptable.
Awareness pays off
The Musahar community which is one of the socio-economically disadvantaged communities in the country has now become aware of the importance of education, personal hygiene and sanitation. The Musahar families at Dothara Loharpatti Municipality-5 in Mahottari district have started sending kids to schools. They are also aware of the importance of personal hygiene and sanitation, thanks to regular assistance from district-based Nepal Red Cross Society.
According to the national census, there are around 33,000 Musahar people in the district. So far, only 15 children from this community have passed SEE. Janaki Sharan Saha, a member of the Province 2, said it all became possible due to rigorous campaigns by various organisations and political parties which also gave political space to the Musahar people. This is a good move. But more needs to be done to improve their overall socio-economic condition. The provincial government must come out with special programmes to uplift their condition of living. Providing them with job opportunity as per their traditional skills can be the best way for social inclusion.
A version of this article appears in print on August 13, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.