Nepali society’s answer to recounting abuse
Feb 22, 2019-
With The Kathmandu Post’s February 7 report about decades-long sexual harassment at the reputed Lalitpur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya (LMV), the #MeToo movement in Nepal came a long way. With the active participation of dozens of survivors who were former students at LMV, the paper published heart-wrenching experiences of sexual abuse at a young age by teachers that they and their parents trusted.
A big applause to those who came forward after so many years and chose to speak up against the violation they experienced, with the sole motive of preventing any more kids from going through the same abuse. We can only hope that more voices gather the courage to come forward and help raise awareness, and also hope that others read the article and come face-to-face with their conscience by asking why these survivors had to wait for so long to give voice to assaults that happened to them such a long time ago. I also hope that parents will speak to their children about what is happening, not just in this school but at other institutions and what active role they could play in bringing such cases out in the open and stop it right then and there. Other schools too should start looking closely at what is happening and think of preventive measures to protect the children. Legal action must also be taken against those perpetrators who thought it was okay to violate these kids and traumatise them for life at such a tender age. The grave issue raised in that report should not be lost amidst conspiracy theories. Hope might not be the best strategy but realising how doomed we are, given the social, cultural, educational and legal context of Nepal, no better strategy comes to my mind. I cannot help but hope.
We are conditioned by our social and cultural context. We live in a society that blames girls for not being ‘careful’ enough if she is harassed or even raped but lets ‘boys be boys’. Our culture is full of examples where women are suppressed, undermined and enslaved by our values and traditions. Protesting any kind of oppression, let alone sexual, is considered a taboo. At an early age, women learn to normalise sexual harassment; they learn that they themselves need to be cautious instead of pointing to others, because they know nobody is going to listen to them or believe them, not even their own parents.
Our culture is also such that we see teachers as second only to our parents and that they can never do any wrong. Any harsh or uncomfortable treatment from teachers is seen as corrective. We are doomed by our educational system, where the curriculum might include sex education but does not teach what constitutes sexual harassment and what students should do if they experience it. Even if students do attempt to speak out, schools do not have independent bodies that will listen to students in confidence. Furthermore, there are no counselors who can specifically help students with the trauma they are undergoing, sexual or of any other sort. It’s on schools to ensure a harassment-free environment for kids.
We are also held back by our judiciary and law enforcement, both of which aren’t strong enough to ensure justice. Victims sometimes fear law enforcement more than culprits. If a child was sexually harassed at the age of six, it might take her a decade or two to realise what actually happened, and then it’s too late for her to take legal action. Her perpetrator roams free, denying everything, asking for proof instead.
Amid all this, some victims are at peace, choosing to suppress their abuse in a corner of their mind. If the incident resurfaces, they shun it again, like many times before. Parents console themselves saying that it was an isolated event. Schools defend their teachers to save their reputation. The accused demand proof, even putting forth a bizarre conspiracy claiming all those who came forward are embroiled in school politics. Even the media continues to propagate such conspiracies. Law enforcement demands a minor come forward to register an FIR against the culprit, but cannot take testimony from older victims because the statute of limitations has passed.
Society too points back at the ones who dare to speak up, asking why they didn’t speak up earlier. Why they didn’t slap their perpetrators? Why they did not shout, complain, run? As if a six-year-old or even a 15-year-old could respond like that.
Again, there is no better plan but to hope that the fight continues, hope that the government realises that this is not just a local issue but a global one, that it is an epidemic that has affected so many around us. Let’s hope that changes are brought at the policy level to bring reforms at schools. If kids today have to cite their harrowing stories of sexual harassment twenty years from now, we as a society will have failed yet another generation.
Published: 23-02-2019 07:18