Murder No Crime If Victim A Woman
by Dr Stephen Mikesell




Sarita Adhikari disappeared at one on Sunday afternoon. Tokha villages heard her screams about half past one in the afternoon below Tokha, but fearing the cries to be the ghost of a woman who had died in the same location earlier this year, they did not investigate. Early Sunday afternoon, a farmer found Sarita's strangled body, fresh blood dribbling from her nose.

Arriving to investigate, Sub-inspector Gopal Prasad Dhakal - recently jailed in connection with the December 15th rape in the Budhanilkanta police station - immediately handled Sarita's body and freely trampled the area. The Local Development Committee warned him that the body should not be touched, but Dhakal said, "I am the Sub-inspector; there is nothing wrong in me handling the body."

The daughter in law of Gaju Raj Joshi then told Dhakal, "Do not bring the dogs, they will come to our house." Dhakal answered, "As so many people have been coming and going there is no sense bringing the dogs anyway." Joshi is reported to have previously threatened the lives of several other women for their activism, and after the murder villagers were so terrified by his threats that most refused to speak about the murder.

The Teaching Hospital doctor who handled the autopsy is said to have initially announced that Sarita had been both raped and strangled. On Monday morning the Office of the District Superintendent of Police announced that she had not been raped and forced her family to cremate the remains as fast as possible.

Sub-inspector A.B. Khadkha had called the victim of the alleged rape by Sub-inspector Dhakal in the Budhanilkanta police station on December 15th a "pross" with a "bad character". However, in her public testimony in the 22 December town meeting in Budhanilkanta, Savitri Gurung, a police sergeant's wife who had given the victim lodging, stated the victim was not a prostitute but had taken lodging with her.

This victim originally approached the police to recompense unpaid wages from the owner of the carpet factory. In obvious difficulty, alone, and making demands on powerful businessmen, she was evidently perceived as an easy target by Sub-inspector Dhakal. Insinuation of immoral behavior to rape victims shifts scrutiny from the suspect's crime and reputation - as a boozer and woman abuser in Dhakal's case.

On 14th December Dhakal made sexually explicit jokes to the victim and told her to return in the evening. Justifiably frightened, she did not go. At 8.45 the next night, on pretext of "investigation", several policemen, claiming that Dhakal had ordered them to fetch her forcibly, pulled the victim from under the bed where she was hiding and dragged her away. To Savitri Gurung's request that they take her the next morning, they answered, "She must be reported to the D.S.P.'s office tonight itself."

On the morning of the 16th, the police told Savitri Gurung to fetch the victim not from the D.S.P.'s Office, where she had never reached, but from the police station. Savitri Gurung found the victim sitting, clothes torn, face scratched. Sobbing, she said, "I have been raped. That Inspector [Dhakal] kicked me twice in the stomach, beat me, then raped me."

The police description of the large crowd that then came, as " 'communist hooligans' who sought to embarrass the local government," begs the question of why the local government members themselves spearheaded the complaint against the police or why they were prevented from accompanying or gaining further access to the victim once they brought her to the D.S.P.'s office. The D.S.P.'s office told the committee members that in lieu of next of kin the committee members must submit an official request from their office to receive the victim back into their custody. Meanwhile she was spirited "back home to her parents" says the D.S.P.'s office, without evidence that she arrived alive.

The police arrested and beat the two men who first released the information on the Budhanilkanta case. According to Dr Mathura Shrestha of the Forum for the Protection of Human Rights, the police issued warrants for seven others who delivered information. According to Nepali Patra, Rajeesh Kardka, Prakash Thakuri, Lal Bahadur Tamang, and Dev Man Gurung, (who photographed the abduction) have been arrested and tortured in the Mahendra Police Club. Savitri Gurung's husband was also transferred to shut up his wife.

The suspect Sub-inspector Dhakal is reported to have said, "Nothing will happen to me because I am -'s man." (He referred to a high elected official.) "At most, I will be transferred."

Although rapes are perpetrated against women in all situations, both these victims in particular were challenging the power structure. Sarita Adhiraki as a member of the All Nepal Women's Association and the Budhanilkanta victim by asking for unpaid wages.

In both cases, as generally characterizes rape and other forms of violence against women (wife beating, dowry murders, child-rearing and career discrimination, harassment, the lucrative business of amniocentesis and prenatal "femicide" by doctors' etc.) there is collusion among the police and justice systems, doctors, political leadership and a cowed, self-censured press.

The D.S.P.'s office was obsessed to demonstrate that rape, as sexual intercourse, had not occurred, particularly one in which they not only have been immediately complicit but which seems to reflect more general policy and practice. Women only gain citizenship rights - property, marital residence, maternity - through men. Violence against women, including forced marital intercourse, is a personal matter between women and men. If rape can be shown not to have occurred and, in the second case, the victim was a prostitute, the D.S.P.'s office gets off the hook.

In the movement against rape growing world-wide over the last two decades, women have found that political leaders are more interested in rape as "just something to be used in their political maneuvers." Violence against women underlies the same institutions upon which political power as such is based. Women's representation in party leadership and the parliament is negligible; they are constitutionally excluded by birth from inheritance, marriage residence and maternal citizenship rights; they do 66% to 80% of all the manual labor, but receive less than 10% of the income; they make up two-thirds of the poor and 90% of refugees. How else will such a large proportion of any population universally submit to such degradation except through institutional beating, rape and sexual intercourse on demand, psychological harassment, social devaluation and murder?

As this violence underlies all institutions, no party can build a mass constituency without supporting it, unless its members proceed from the start to build their organization by challenging and changing the institutions which base themselves on violence against women, including parties and middle class women's N.G.O.'s as they now stand.

Such activist organization constitutes the world-wide anti-rape movement. In Nepal, it first took form in the shape of the Women's Defense Pressure group, which has brought about 58 urban women's groups in response to the growing incidence of rapes in the last year. However, the Group has still not begun to confront rape as necessary for society in its existing form, possibly because the leadership are themselves relatively privileged or have raised to prominence due to the status of their husbands. Indeed the political constituency of one of the Pressure Group's leaders includes the suspects in Sarita's murder!

Thus so far, without diminishing the group's potential, its leadership has oriented itself to delivering petitions to ministers and garnering television shots, while disregarding the concerns, demands and potential of the women they claim to represent.

Much more significant, in my mind, is the town meeting organized on 22nd December in Budhanilkanta to discuss the recent rape there, in which the Group was notable by its virtual absence. Though this meeting was oriented toward a particular rape, the inevitable inability to gain redress through government and parties, the subsequent warrants and arrests of its organizers, and the police action presently being taken, will encourage expansion of such direct actions to changing more and more aspects of the society itself; values, family, police, government, parties, Non-Governmental Organizations, even the role of international organizations and agencies.

This is a slow and agonizing process, with many set-backs. I do not foresee the suspects in the rapes of either Sarita Adhikari or the Budhanilkanta victim being soon brought to justice, despite the seriousness of their crimes - all the actors involved have too much to lose, and women and conscious men are just beginning to educate themselves and organize.

However, each such confrontation will lead more and more numbers of women and men to increasingly see that women's personal experiences of violence are tied up with the entire arrangement of society and to learn more and more how to organize themselves and change it for the better for all.

(First published in The Independent, Nepal, on 6th January 1993.)
The writer, Dr Stephen Mikesell, an American scholar, lived in Kathmandu for some years.


Footnote.
Shahana Pradhan, the MP whose constituency sheltered the suspects of Sarita Adhikari's murder, is President of the All Nepal Women's Association and leader of the Nepalese Women's delegation to the World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995. She figures in Rape No Crime if Victim A Westerner.

Note that Sarita was apparently murdered for belonging to the All Nepal Women's Association. When I met her brother, no action whatsoever was being taken to pursue justice, so little is the official concern about violence against women in Nepal. I promised him I would do whatever I could, one reason for the inclusion of this article.


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