Violence on women
Twenty-year-old Amrita Kumari of Murtiya, Saptari, epitomizes the kind of indirect, structural violence on women that is common in Tarai-Madhesh. Last year, her parents had arranged for her to get married to the family of Sagar Mahato of Lalbandi of the same district. Along with dowry and other expenses, the marriage cost Kumari’s family over Rs 800,000, the sum the family managed put together with great difficulty. But only a few months later, the young bride was sent back to her ancestral home. Neither the bride nor her family knows why she was kicked out of her husband’s home. Later, after unmitigated public pressure, the groom’s family was forced to take her back. But life has not been the same for Kumari as her husband no longer talks to her and she fears that she could be thrown out of the house again. And when that happens, she will have no legal basis to ask for reparations from the groom’s family, or to ask for a divorce, if that is what it comes to. Her repeated requests that her marriage be registered have been declined each time by her husband’s family. Nor does Kumari have her citizenship papers.
Women rights activists working in Tarai-Madhesh recount many such tales of the victimization of women. For instance, rarely does a Madheshi wife get her share of the ancestral property of her husband when he dies, something she is legally entitled to. This happens because married women often don’t have legal papers to establish their marriage. Activists in the region rue the fact that ongoing campaigns to empower women and reduce violence against them have largely proven ineffective since they are mostly aimed at changing people’s attitudes. For there to be meaningful change in the lives of Madheshi women, the focus, along with bringing greater awareness, should be on helping Madheshi women get legal papers which make it easier for them to seek legal recourse should their marriages go wrong. The laws should be tightened too. It is clear that appeals to people’s good side are inadequate to curb this kind of structural violence on women. The perpetrators of violence on women must be seen to get appropriate punishment for their crimes—only then will our women and girls be truly empowered.
According to Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) Nepal, a third of all married women experience some form of (emotional, physical, sexual, or social and economic) violence. The patriarchal culture is partly to blame. A recent government survey found that an astonishing 55 percent of the surveyed women said that a husband is justified in beating his wife if he thinks she has been unfaithful. The bitter reality is that still far too many Nepali families believe while sons are the family’s assets daughters are liabilities. These attitudes are so ingrained that greater awareness or education alone won’t change them. Only when our laws are given teeth and rigorously imposed will we see progress. We suspect the fear of the long hand of the law will also make families take the awareness programs over the local radio and TV more seriously.