KATHMANDU: Rather than confront her husband or act on the million emotions that would surge through her when she suffered at his hands, she kept silent. Married off in her late twenties, Sujata Rai, 39 year-old mother of three, held her silence out of fear of being labeled as arrogant. “I wanted to be a modest, dedicated wife,” says Rai, who cannot move without crutches due to her alcoholic husband’s beating. “But that turned out to be suicidal.”
Born in Thidinkha VDC–5 in Bhojpur district, Sujata and her husband had a rented apartment in the district headquarters. Most evenings since her marriage were horrific. But one night stood out as the worst. “I remember nothing else than him hitting my head with an iron road,” she recalls of the evening in mid-July, 2006.
Sujata regained consciousness in BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences hospital, later coming to realize it was her husband himself who admitted her, and that the police were after him.
However, the serious injuries she sustained to her head resulted in temporary amnesia of the nightmarish event, as well as right-body paralysis. Once discharged from the hospital, she and her family, including her abusive husband, began to live in a rented room in Dharan, by which time she had conceived another baby.
After a few days stay in Dharan, Sujata’s husband said he would take her to Kathmandu. She was more than happy when her husband came with a van to collect her. She was so happy, in fact, that she did not even care that he had a second wife inside the vehicle, whom he had married few months ago.
It turned out her husband had planned to shift her to another rented room in Apganchhi and abandon her forever. “He did succeed in doing that,” she says, tears rolling down her cheeks. “He left the place with two children and his second wife never to return.”
However, she was helped by a local mothers’ group after being abandoned, provided with food and accommodation. She revealed her pregnancy after a few days, divulging her inability to care for the baby she was carrying.
The house owner informed one of her relatives, who came to adopt the baby girl once Sujata had given birth.
Sujata returned to Bhojpur expecting to start a new life, but instead found all of her belongings had disappeared, and the mill she ran sold by her husband. He had also sold the chickens and pigs she had farmed.
As Sujata required further medication, locals collected donations and brought her to Bir hospital. Though slowly recovering, she is still under medication and being sheltered in a home run by non-governmental organization SAATHI (the Nepali word for ‘friend’).
SAATHI has two homes which provide support for around 15–20 women who have suffered from sexual abuse and battering for a period of six months.
“My future is dark, but still I aspire to start my life in Bhojpur by establishing a small shop if I can gather some financial support,” she said.
She has no idea where her husband and children are.
Sujata feels most domestic violence cases unfortunately resembled hers, in which the culprit remains unpunished because it is the wife who protects him.
No law and national level studies
Although Sujata’s story is just the tip of the iceberg, there is a lack of authentic studies done at a national level that can accurately depict the true extent of violence against women. Even the Ministry for Women Children and Social Welfare have not conducted any surveys or studies.
“We work on the basis of studies carried out by non-governmental organizations,” says Ritu Raj Bhandari, assistant spokesperson at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.
In the meantime, no laws exist to deal with domestic violence. A draft bill on domestic violence proposed at the Constituent Assembly, which also functions as legislative parliament, has not yet passed.
Nevertheless, there are several small surveys and records held by non-governmental institutions, including the United Nations.
An annual record made public by Nepal Police on Thursday, said that 881 cases of domestic violence and 122 cases of polygamy were recorded in 42 Women and Children’s Service Centers across the country during the 2007/2008 fiscal year.
In a study entitled ‘Onbesi’, prepared by the Women’s Rehabilitation Center, 7,236 incidents of gender-based violence were recorded between mid-July 2007 and mid-June 2008.
Of the total, 73 percent of cases were classified as domestic violence. The study included incidents reported to the police, as well as the National Human Rights Commission, district women’s development offices, and national daily newspapers. The study attributed the biggest contributor of violence to cultural reasons, which stands at 65 percent.
The latest National Demographic Health Survey says men’s attitudes towards wife-beating is a good indicator for their attitude towards domestic violence.
According to a survey of 3,853 men aged between 15 and 49 years, 20 percent of urban and 22 percent of rural men believe justify beating their wives for one of five reasons: if their wife burns the food; argues with him; goes out without asking; neglects the children; and/or refuses to have sexual relations with him.
The results broken down further, 14.68 percent of these believe the abuse is warranted if she goes out without telling him or neglects the children, 9.12 percent if she argues with him, and 5.67 percent if she burns food.
The most horrifying fact revealed by the demographic survey is that despite the fact a Supreme Court verdict exists which states that forced sexual relations between a husband and wife is considered a crime, 3.11 percent of total respondents said beating or hitting their wife is valid if she refuses to have sex.
Around 15 percent of cases related to violence against women recorded by the Community Based Reproductive Health Care and Counseling Center (Kirtipur Hospital), run by the Public Health Concerned Trust Nepal in Kirtipur municipality, is marital rape.
Between January and September this year, the trust recorded 1,909 cases. The record shows the trust recorded 35 cases of marital rape in 2007 alone.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said in a reproductive health camp held in Mahottari district, 86 of 111 women (77 percent) were confirmed as victims of different forms of gender-based violence due to causes such as alcohol abuse, son preference, infertility, unwanted sexual relations, property disputes and their husband’s extra-marital affairs.
A report entitled ’Gender equality and empowerment of women in Nepal’, prepared by UNFPA said although polygamy is illegal, 559,250 women in the country were recorded to be living in polygamous marriages.