People, at times even a few thousands of them, have come out to rally in support of an abused Nepali woman, galvanized by a series of videos detailing how she was raped as a minor. It is a howl for justice and changing existing laws.
On Wednesday, May 18, a string of videos posted by a young makeup artist went viral on the social media app, TikTok. In the videos, the woman shared distressing details of being raped by an organizer of Nepal’s Miss Global International 2014, a beauty pageant she had participated in. She was 16 years old at the time.
The videos have since been taken down by TikTok and now appear on Istagram. The unidentified woman, now 25, describes in detail how the much-older man drugged and raped her. She speaks of blackmail and repeated abuse over six months, her confronting the said rapist in public and the exploitation of her trauma over the years.
The videos detail the woman’s traumatic experiences with a psychologist she’d reached out to for help and rebuffs from a former Miss Nepal, considered an outspoken feminist with whom she shared her problem.
The videos have garnered thousands of views since they appeared online. The resulting discussions, online as well as in social gatherings and living rooms alike have brought into question the culture of silence regarding rape and sexual harassment, the lack of space for survivors and, of course, the rebuff by people who supposed to be natural allies.
People take to streets
Silence from those in power resulted in people spilling out on to the streets and protests close to the residence of the country’s Prime Minister.
“The protest was initiated to extend support to the survivor and express our outrage and desire for change,” Subin Mulmi, an advocate and researcher who has a long history of engagement with Nepal’s feminist movement told media.
The outpouring of solidarity from across Nepali society has been unprecedented. Many women said that the survivor’s testimony had brought them to tears while highlighting just how unsafe women remain in this country.
“I could not get past the fourth video. That was enough to bring me here, not because I’m feeling sorry for her but because I’m here to support her morally and to demand justice,” 21-year-old student Priyanka Shrestha told Record Nepal.
A demand is for a change in the country’s law that puts a year’s limit on victims filing rape charges with the police. The only exceptions are for minors, who may file their complaints with the police within a year past their eighteenth birthday.
It is a change many activists have demanded for a while, but their demand has so far fallen on deaf ears.
Activists in Nepal have drawn inspiration from the Nribhaya movement in neighbouring India, fired by a demand for police action after a young woman was brutally raped and murdered on a moving bus in the heart of the country’s capital, New Delhi.
But activists have not exactly witnessed crowds throng the protest site. Moreover, unlike the Nirbhaya movement in Delhi, there has been very little participation from men. Similarly, the voices coming out of the protests have belonged to the Baun and the Chhetri caste groups that have traditionally dominated Nepali politics and society.
Nepal’s #MeToo moment?
The only high protestors have seen thus far has been a sole Member of Parliament, Gagan Thapa, raise the issue briefly in the parliament of the former kingdom, only sufficient for the Speaker to direct the government to look into the matter of the law of limitation on rape complaints.
Thapa has also been joined by Arzu Rana Deuba, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s spouse.
There are already fingers pointing to the government, alleging its role in taking the videos dismantled from Tik-Tok.
Over a week since it began, the protest is now getting organised with committees formed to campaign on social media. Another committee has been formed to organise events. But there is little movement further – exposing large shortcomings of organisers being able to carry more people along.
Advocate Mulmi says that besides demanding legal action, the protestors want the government to remove the time limit for complainants from survivors of rape and sexual violence and the setting up of fast track courts besides providing survivors with support.
Organisers are realising that they need to make this protest more inclusive for the protest to gather steam and become a popular movement that builds solidarity and provides collective responses that can sustain the conversations.
Till such time, with a single woman coming out with her story, Nepal is way away from its version of neighbouring India’s Nirbhaya moment, leave aside something like the global #MeToo movement, though four other women have come out with cases of rape and sexual harassment so far.
As Mulmi says, “What the movement needs is sustained action. The first day was a spectacle of public support and outrage and we aim to keep it going.”
Image: Nishi Rungta via Record Nepal