Have you raped anyone? If your answer is yes, think: why did you commit a crime deemed to be wrong by society, and illegal by law? Are you a victim of rape? If your answer is yes: did you go to the police? Did you tell others? Did your rapist(s) go to jail?
If you did not go to the police, what stopped you? Were you afraid of being stigmatised? Were you worried that you would disgrace your family? Were you afraid of losing your job, or being harmed by the perpetrators?
To understand the root causes of the rash of rape cases in Nepal recently, we must ask and explore answers to these uneasy and unnerving questions.
Read also: ‘Republic of rape‘, Editorial
Rape is defined in a Nepali dictionary as ‘an act of forcibly having sex with a woman, and violating her honour’.
But rape is now such a multi-faceted crime, it cannot be defined so narrowly. ‘Violating a woman’s honour’ turns the attention away from the criminal. It also does not acknowledge the fact that men, especially boys, can also be raped. Consensual sex with a minor is rape, and rape can happen in a marriage too.
Rape is not about lust, but power. It exerts dominance over an economically or physically weaker person, usually a woman.
Those who have raped or could do so may be few in number, but it is a manifestation of pervasive patriarchy in our culture. Misogyny is sanctioned by our religious texts, folklore, songs, jokes, and proverbs are full of sexual innuendos that insult women. We need to look deeply inward as a society to question these accepted values.
Read also: ‘Justice for sale‘, Tufan Neupane
Police records show that three girls or women are raped every day in Nepal. Ahalya Sharma, a marital rape survivor, says that number is a gross underestimation.
“Only those who cannot tolerate it anymore go to police, but no one knows the plight of women like me who were raped every night by their own husbands,” says Sharma.
While studying in Sikkim and aged 19, Ahalya fell in love with a 21-year-old man. They spent a night together in a hotel, but Ahalya did not allow her boyfriend to go all the way, and he agreed to wait until their marriage.
But her family married Ahalya off to someone belonging to her own caste, who raped her almost every night for 20 years. She wept, and later realised it was because of unfulfilled longing for her friend and his love. She says: “It is easy to fight if you are raped by others. But if you are raped by your own husband, what do you do?”
Draupadi Khatri’s husband was a migrant worker, and she was raped by her two brothers-in-law while he was overseas. Not able to stay home anymore, she fled and became a prostitute -– almost as a way to get back at society for what it did to her.
After meeting Ahalya and Draupadi, I am now even more convinced that rape has nothing to do with sex. It is a crude exhibition of masculinity and male power that brutalises and dehumanises women. The lack of proper education, the dearth of healthy erotic literature, and a flood of pornography on the Net is propagating this epidemic. The culture of impunity is spreading the message that men can get away with it.
If we want to tackle rape, we must uproot engrained patriarchy. We will have to review, question or even rewrite literature, school curricula, holy texts and film that propagate this malevolent malehood.
Some names are changed.
Four-fold increase in reported rape in 10 years, Sewa Bhattarai