Tag: Nepal

“I knew I couldn’t stay silent anymore”: meet the women fighting sexual violence in Nepal

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Punjita Pradhan (front centre) with other activists Photo: Amnesty International South Asia

it’s awards season in Hollywood, and a year since a #MeToo-dominated Oscars ceremony made sexual harassment a global talking point. Critics will be watching to see what, if anything, has changed in the film industry since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.

But the #MeToo movement has made ripples far beyond LA. Away from the spotlight, there are many amazing women who are fighting against sexism, harassment, and violence, braving discrimination and stigma in their quest for change.

Punjita, Rashmila and Ashmita, three activists from Nepal, embody this spirit of determination.

In July 2018, a 13-year-old schoolgirl named Nirmala Pant was raped and murdered in Nepal’s Kanchanpur District. This brutal crime, and the lack of effective investigation by the authorities started a wave of protests across Nepal. Meanwhile, two women accused the former Kathmandu mayor of sexual harassment, inspiring others to come forward with their stories.

Here Punjita, Rashmila, and Ashmita describe why speaking out about harassment and violence is so important and tell us why Nepal needs a #MeToo movement.

“The protests following Nirmala’s murder sparked media coverage saying Nepal was having its ‘#MeToo moment’. Although there are parallels with global movements, some of the issues I work on are a particular problem in Nepal, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. For example, there are thousands of children in Nepal who live and work on the streets, and they are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. These children cannot rely on the authorities to protect them.

“Although Nepal has laws against gender-based violence and harassment, very few cases are reported. Those that usually end in an out-of-court settlement – but then the victims still have a lifetime of stigma to contend with. Victim blaming is still the kneejerk response for many in Nepal.

“There is supposed to be a minimum six-month jail term for domestic violence or sexual abuse, but in reality, the perpetrators are often released after a single night. So even if a victim reports a case, there is no guarantee of their safety afterward.

“I used to work as a journalist, and I faced sexual harassment from the police, army and my colleagues – experiences which I realized so many women share. One friend told me a story I couldn’t forget. In her neighborhood there was a woman who had recently got married and she was being constantly groped by her new brother-in-law. She didn’t want to report it – she was scared that her marriage would break down, she would be blamed for enticing that man and she would have to carry the shame all her life.

“Stories like this prompted me to quit my job as a journalist and start Utkarsha Nepal. Our aim is to create awareness about sexual harassment and abuse and to remove the stigma. Very few people in Nepal are willing to talk openly about these issues. We work in schools and colleges promoting understanding about mutual consent and healthy personal boundaries. We also provide counseling, healing and legal support for victims.

In my experience as a counselor, I’ve found that many women with depression or anxiety have faced sexual abuse at least once, and usually multiple times in their lives. When there is no justice, their trauma is prolonged.

“It’s important that we include men in this discussion too. Men who have experienced sexual abuse themselves may be more likely to go on to abuse others. This is one reason why it’s essential that victims feel they have someone to talk to.

“There have recently been some improvements in terms of awareness, and it’s great that these conversations are coming out in the open, especially with women coming forward about their experiences with high-profile men. But there is still a long way to go. In November, a government minister summoned the editors of five state newspapers and instructed them not to print any criticism of the government’s response to the murder of Nirmala Pant. The government is still so afraid of speaking about these issues.”

“In October 2003, I received a letter from my employer, the Kathmandu Mayor’s Office, saying my service had been terminated. No explanation was given, even though I had worked there for six years. Over the next few days articles started appearing in local and national news saying I had been sacked for corruption. It was a terrible time.

“I knew the real reason I’d lost my job. A few years earlier I had resisted repeated sexual advances from my boss. He kept hinting that I would be promoted if I spent time alone with him. He tried to hold my hand and touch me in ways I didn’t like. I told him straight that this was not going to happen, and shortly afterward his tenure ended. But when he was reinstated in 2003, one of the first things he did was to fire me.

“When I was fired, friends suggested taking legal action, but I was not sure that I would get justice. There was no law against sexual harassment then and my harasser was powerful enough to create “fake-proof” of my corruption, even though I was innocent. So I kept quiet – for fifteen years.

“Then, in 2018, I read a status on Facebook: a woman journalist was alleging sexual harassment at the hands of the same man. I knew I couldn’t stay silent anymore. So I shared my story on Facebook. I wanted to prove that victims of harassment are not voiceless.

“My post was shared widely on social media and was all over the news the next day. Even then powerful people tried to cover up for my harasser and paint me as a liar. The man I accused of harassment, who was in a very powerful post, threatened to sue me and repeated the corruption allegations against me. He is no longer in the post, but this is not just about one man. Nepal has many serial predators who have been misusing their power and positions for years. They include politicians, bureaucrats, actors, writers, business people, and others. It’s high time we reveal them.

Source: Amnesty International, South Asia, 29 January 2019.
Banner photo: Human Rights Watch.

In the lap of the Himalayas

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Photo: Arup Chanda

SAT Exclusive

By Arup Chanda in eastern Nepal

“Are you looking for a mug of chilled beer?” an immaculately dressed Nepali gentleman in his early 70s and wearing a three-piece suit and a hat, asked me in an Oxonian accent at Dharan, the premier city of eastern Nepal.
I was taken aback!

The sun had just set and I was lazily wandering around the city looking for drink having arrived by train from Kolkata to Jogbani in Bihar and then driven to Dharan late afternoon.
The gentleman is one of the retired soldiers from the Gurkha Regiment of the British Army. He guided me to Rodeos Restaurant and Bar, which had live music by one of the owners himself Subarno Sreshta.

The bar also had a good DJ Neeschal Palikhey, who played the latest Hindi remixes and of course a mixture of English requests by patrons.

Rodeos served excellent pork cooked in Nepali style as well as fast food and Chinese dishes. As night approached the dance floor crowded with youngsters dressed in latest fashion started arriving. I felt as if I was in a discotheque in Mumbai!

Dharan is the largest commercial city in Nepal after Biratnagar and capital Kathmandu. The city is located in eastern Nepal, 48 kms from the Indian Railways station of Jogbani in Bihar in India.

Dharan in its own right is a tourist destination and a unique city as retired soldiers and officers of the Gurkha regiments of the British Army and the Indian Army have settled building beautiful cottages.
After having enjoyed the drink and snacks at Rodeos, we headed for Jojolappa, which is a famous restaurant serving Newari cuisine.

“Jojoloppa” in Newari means “Namaste”, the popular form of Nepali greeting.
The owner Amrit Manandhar had accompanied us from Rodeo.

“There is a surprise awaiting you,” said Amrit, a handsome man in his early 40s sporting a moustache turned up on the ends.

The restaurant had low tables with brightly coloured large cushions on the floors with mats on the walls as back rest.
We took off our shoes and comfortably reclined on the cushions.
Amrit ordered some beer for us and spoke in Nepali to his staff.

Suddenly two waters appeared with large hookahs with hot red charcoal on top with smoke emanating!
“Take a pull. One tobacco is mint flavoured and the other is strawberry. The choice is yours. And mind you when you smoke there will be zero nicotine content in the smoke as it will pass through water in the container below the hookah,” said Amrit.
He showed me how to take a puff and as I puffed I felt a feeling of freshness with the mint pervading my entire nasal system.

Next was the Newari thali.

It consisted of rice, black lentil soup, stir fried spinach, mutton curry with very less spices perfect for the European palate, “grundruk” – a pickle made out of fermented “Raya” leaves, a chutney made out of white radish, green chlilles and parsley paste, papad and salad. In addition was a small bowl of ghee.

“Pour a little ghee in the rice and then begin your meal,” Amrit suggested.
After the beer and hookah, we just gobbled up the delicious meal.
Next day we spent visiting various temples around Dharan.

The Pindeswar temple on a hill top is visited by many tourists from India as the Pandavas, during their exile, were said to have stayed at the place.
Then most worshipped was the Dantakali temple of Goddess Kali. The upper teeth of the goddess was said to have fallen there and tourists again from India and particularly “Kalibhaktas” and a large number of Bengalees visit the shrine.
Having spent the day around the city, we left and travelled through the winding roads to a sleepy village, 28 kms from Dharan.

“Welcome to Dandabazar. Have a sip of Tongba,” said a group of Magar ladies in a remote village on a mountain top in eastern Nepal.
Magars are a tribe in Nepal famous for their traditional food and dances but are very docile and shy.

I reached Dandabazar with Krishna Blon of Kutumba Travels and Tours who had arranged for our home stay. A friend from Kolkata was also accompanying me.
It was chilly and by the time we had reached the village driving through the winding muddy road on the mountain in Dhankuta district, it was around 8 pm.

Tongba is a traditional intoxicant drink made from fermented millet granules and served in a container with hot water. On top of the cylindrical metal container is a straw and I sipped the drink as the Magar women kept giggling and served me “Kukra”, fried chicken with onions and lemon.

After I finished two Tongbas, some young men and village belles arrived dressed in Magar dresses and equipped with “dholaks” and cymbals. Magars are famous for their “Hurra” dance and they wanted to perform for the “guests from India”.

As they danced and sang and I watched with awe, two young Magar women suddenly pulled me into the group despite my protest that I couldn’t dance!
As we held hands, I tapped my feet and shook my legs to the beat of the drums and cymbals, the Magars clapped and it went on for an hour.

The effect of Tongba had gone off. But the Magar women were too eager to offer me two more drinks.
Since there was no pollution we could count the stars in the clear sky. I felt I was star struck!
The Hurra dance carried on till late night but Krishnaji insisted that my host was waiting with my dinner.
“They will now dance throughout the night,” said Krishnaji, who too hails from the village.

We reached the house of Yubaraj Rai around 11 pm. But the entire family was awake to welcome me and my friend from Kolkata.
“Dinner is ready. Let me first show you your rooms,” said Rai.

Since Dandabazar is around 2,500 metres above sea level, our beds had two blankets and two quilts each. The room had a huge portrait of Jesus Christ.
“I am the local pastor,” Rai said proudly.
The Rai family kitchen was on the terrace.
His wife Deepa served us hot rice with black lentil soup, fried local spinach, a vegetable made out of local herbs and potato, chicken curry and fried “papad”. But along with it came a mouth watering pickle made out of pork paste, green and red chillies and curd.

“Try a little first. It might too hot for your tongue,” warned our host.
But for my Bengali palate it was perfect and I took an extra helping of rice and chicken curry with the oil floating on top!

We gulped down the hot and delicious meal within minutes and then were served black tea flavoured with a local herb.
“This tea will give you a good night’s sleep,” said the pastor.

The next morning was our day to begin the trek to a mountain top from where one could see the entire Himalayan range with 14 peaks including the Mount Everest.
The breakfast consisted of fried noodles, boiled eggs and the same black tea.

By 7 am our trekking guide Tula Ram Rai of Tuwachung Travel and Tours arrived with his assistant, Samjana Gurung, a petite young woman studying B.B.A from Dharan. We had driven up from Dharan only the evening before in a Bolero jeep.
Our four-member team set out for Basantapur, from where our trek would start.

Though we left early, it took us three-and-a-half hours to reach as the mountain road was steep and winding.
On way at Bhedetar in Dhankuta district we watched with awe the sight of Dharan from the top as our driver maneuvered the vehicle deftly on the narrow mountain road.
We left our luggage in the vehicle and tied up our rucksacks on our backs.
I had put on leather boots, armed with inner thermal wear, a pair of loose trousers, corduroy shirt, full-sleeve sweater and on top of all this a Korean sleeveless jacket padded with foam.

In our rucksacks we carried more woolens and monkey caps to ward off the chilly wind blowing down from the mighty Himalayas and wore sun glasses.
It took us 30 minutes to reach Tutey Deurali, which is 2475 mts above sea level. The topography kept changing and also the flora and fauna.

“These green plants are called Oregali and the Japanese import them to turn them into paper which is used in printing their currency notes, Yen,” Tula Ram, informed us.
Though the trek was getting steeper, the air was fresh and we felt we were breathing straight from an oxygen cylinder!

It took us an hour to reach Ghurbise, 2900 mts above sea level which is said to be the “Capital of Rhodedendrons.”
“Of a total 32 varieties in the world, 28 are found here. We Nepalis call it Gurans. In March and April it blankets the hills with great beauty, heralding the coming of spring with warmer days and the promise of bountiful harvests to come.

“Red is also a most auspicious color commonly used for “tikas” and women’s saris during weddings and major festivals such as Dashain and Teej. Due to its special qualities and widespread distribution in the country’s hills, Lali Gurans is the national flower of Nepal,” Tula Ram added to our knowledge.

We climbed 50 metres uphill to a breathtaking scene at Panchpokhari – the place of five lakes!
The water was blue, sky was clear, and everything under the sun was harmonious. It was like paradise on earth.
Unused to walking, by that time our legs were aching, we rested for a while. But we were already hooked to the beautiful sights and could not wait to climb up to Tinjure, which meant three humps, at 3034 mts above sea level.
It was a little cloudy, so we waited till the clouds drifted away and here it was!

It was a clear view of the Mount Everest and the rest of the 13 peaks of the Himalayan range. We could see the snow peaked mountains and it was a dazzling view, an experience one would never forget in one’s life.
Our next stop was Chauki, a village located a kilometer below. Climbing down hill was pretty tough.
By the time we reached Chauki, the sun was about to set and it felt we were embraced with orange light.
Tula Ram had arranged for our stay in a village “tea house”. These tea houses usually cater to trekkers and once upon a time were mere road side tea stalls.

Now all of them have rooms furnished with beds and heavy quilts. They also serve food and beverages to trekkers. But the catch is that most of the tea houses do not charge for accommodation if you are having your meals there.
Our trek of 9.5 kms for the day was over but it felt as if we had walked a hundred miles.

We first dipped our feet in warm salt water as they were aching. Tula ram ordered fried “Bangroo” – wild boar meat and “Rakshi”, Nepal’s traditional national drink.
“Rakshi is considered second only to Vodka and with the meat it will warm you up,” said Tula Ram.
We said, “Three cheers to Rakshi,” and celebrated out successful trek!

How to reach: You can avail the 13159 Kolkata-Chitpur Jogbani Express which runs thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. While returning t leaves Jogbani on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. From Jogbani you cross the border and you are in Biratnagar in Nepal. Dharan is only an hour’s drive. There are innumerable buses which go to Dharan. Jeeps and cars on hire are also available.

If you want to avail a flight, then you can fly to Bagdogra and reserve a jeep. Cross the Indo-Nepal border at Kakarbhitta and straight proceed to Dharan, which will take around two hours only. You can also avail a bus from Siliguri and reach Panitanki on the Indian side and cross the border. From Kakarbhitta many local buses are available for Dharan, which will take you 3 hours.