The police now even get rape complaints from closely-knit communities who rarely went to them before, like the Musahar in eastern Tarai. However, even though families are more aware of legal remedy, justice is still a distant dream. The statutory limit to report rape used to be 35 days, and an amendment in 2015 increased it to 6 months. But even that does not help victims because they take years to open up about traumatic abuses.
Survivors also face intrusive and cursory medical tests that look for physical injuries, and if such signs are absent, risk losing credibility. “This is called rape stereotyping, and often happens to adolescents,” explains Binita Pandey at the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC). “Adolescents may be lured into intercourse with the promise of marriage, which is considered rape by law. But lawyers and defendanats try to claim the opposite if there is delay in reporting, or if the victim did not protest during the act.”
While the laws concerning rape have become progressively broader in Nepal, such nuances of the victim’s side of the story are still ignored. According to the Supreme Court’s annual report 2016/17, district and high courts gave verdicts on only 60% of rape cases, and it was only 8% at the Supreme Court, leaving victims with little hope for justice.
Even if a decision is reached, perpetrators often walk free. According to reports from the Office of the Attorney General, in 2015/16 only 44% of offenders were convicted among the cases closed, and the rest were either acquitted or the cases withdrawn. This means only around 20-25% of rape victims in the districts who file a complaint can hope for justice, and the figure is only 6% at the central level. The lack of justice for rape, and its social stigma combine to breed impunity.
“The laws may be strong but the implementation is so weak that offenders know they can get away with it,” says Chandra Bhadra. “To really deter rapists, we need naming and shaming, and physical punishment like chemical castration.”
There was hope that education, economic prosperity, and empowerment would automatically reduce violence against women. However, as women become more educated and aware, they tolerate less abuse and some end up suffering a male backlash. An example is Muna Adhikari, who despite being deputy mayor of Godavari, became a victim of domestic violence herself recently.
Says Bhadra: “Through education, we need to also bring men into the fold and make them aware, too. Only then can we hope that violence against women will go down.”
Back at the ChoraChori shelter, Shalini Kumari is tearful as she tells us that there is no one now to take care of her ill mother back in the village.
She is doubtful about ever getting justice. Yet, through her sobs, she tells a visitor: “I want him to rot in jail forever.”
Some names have been changed.