Women’s rights, dignity and safety cannot be ensured as long as the community itself does not foster the “we” feeling
Police have arrested Niraj Jarghamagar in connection with the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, identified as Dittiya Rasaili, a resident of Hariharpur village of Mithila Municipality in Dhanusha district. According to the District Police Office, Dhanusha, an autopsy conducted on her body revealed that the girl, who could not speak, was raped before she was throttled to death. Her charred body was found in a sugarcane field near her village on February 14 (last Thursday). The accused, a resident of Bateshwor-4, Dhanusha, has admitted to the crime and trying to destroy all evidence, including his thumb prints, by setting the body on fire. Jarghamagar had already served a two-month jail sentence for committing minor theft.
Cases of rape have been on the rise in recent times and have become a matter of great concern to everyone. The victims are mostly minors and those living on the margins of society – the weakest section of society. The accused, Jarghamagar, also had made the girl a soft target because of her physical vulnerability. There has been a spurt in such crimes largely because the perpetrator has been able to get off the hook easily. Rape cases have been settled with cash handouts by the family of the perpetrator in the rural areas. Such forced reconciliation, or mediation, in rape cases should have been penalised in the first place. In most cases, the perpetrators of sexual violence are those who have suffered a family breakdown, are isolated from family and society, are deprived of normal upbringing and indulging in bad company. People showing deviant behaviour tend to treat women and girls as a sexual object and hold misogynistic views. They see themselves being superior to women and, hence, hold the desire to have control over them. This is one reason for sexual violence against women and girls.
Harsh legal punishment is not enough to protect women and girls from being abused by men in a male-dominated society. A community as a whole must play a significant role to ensure women’s safety, dignity and rights. Society must also be held responsible for violence against women. Rape cannot be treated as an isolated case. Stigma is attached to it, and it leaves a scar on the victim as well as the family members throughout life. Society itself must take a bold step in dealing with such crimes. One of the reasons for the increasing number of sexual crimes is because protection of girls and women is seen as a family or state responsibility rather than that of society. Members of the society are too focused on achieving personal goals and have no time for the overall good of society. There has been a breakdown of societal norms and that feeling of “we”, which was there in the past, is slowly vanishing. There must be effort to unite the people in society to solve its problems. In the above case, the safety of the child should have been the concern and responsibility of society. Only when there is community ownership of what goes on in society, will there be change for the better. One way of doing this is to introduce civic education in the schools so that boys start respecting the opposite sex from childhood.
It is not the type of news that people pay particular attention to, although it would be in their interest to do so. Doctors at the Sukraraj Tropical Infectious Disease Hospital have warned of an outbreak of diarrhoea and dysentery in the capital anytime soon. The hospital is already seeing quite a few patients, and the number is expected to swell in the next few weeks. Actually, outbreaks of diarrhoea and dysentery are quite common this time of the year and become contagious in March-April.
It doesn’t take much to stay safe from the diseases. Unhygienic food and contaminated water are what cause them. So avoiding street food sold in the open and drinking water only from a reliable source are the best preventive measures. Teaching children to wash their hands after visiting a toilet and washing vegetables and fruits before eating would also go a long way in preventing the communicable diseases. A diarrhoea epidemic strikes with ritualistic regularity every year in the hills of Nepal, especially in the mid and far west, where medicines and health personnel are hard to come by. Hundreds of people die as a result. So instead of waiting till it happens, preparing for the eventuality now would save the government a lot of criticism later on.
A version of this article appears in print on February 20, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.