KATHMANDU, May 30: It is already late in the evening; tired of the day’s work I take an overcrowded bus to home where the drama starts. I get poked with hands, legs, stomachs, backs and what not.
When I try requesting the fellow passenger to remove his elbow from my waist, I either get a stare or a remark, “Nachhoi kana basna lai ta taxi/car chadhey hunthyo ni.”
The other passengers then laugh at the remark and I sit quite soaking in the embarrassment, anger and feeling of disgust. Such behavior is not limited to public transports, there are market places, streets, public toilets and movie halls where groping, brushing, eve-teasing and flashing is common.
It is an irony that the people who want to protect their wives, daughters and nieces do not hesitate to do just the opposite to other women.
Here, let me clear that I am referring to the ones who have fun disregarding others and the other men are not to feel offended or defensive. It is not only me, I am certain that most of the girls and women have experienced that sense of helplessness, fear and anger inside them in public places one time or the other.
According to SAATHI’s survey conducted on “Sexual Harassment in public places in Kathmandu Valley” in 1994, women are vulnerable to various “street-harassments” in the Valley due to their sex. Discrimination and violence against women are just happening because they are ‘female human being’.
There is no specific law against it and when any help is sought, the issue is taken as a common incident that needs no care or intervention. Most of us do not seek help but those of us who dare are usually ridiculed and no helping hands are offered.
Hence, we have to stay mum with a fatalistic attitude that these problems have been occurring because we are there ‘in a wrong place’ ‘at the wrong time’ and to add more ‘wearing a wrong dress’.
Sometimes, we tend to keep quiet and do not want to share publicly because we have a fear of getting entwined in society’s blame game that will accuse us to have ‘provoked’ men or worse, a fear of getting more harassed.
However, under our current legal system of Nepal, police penalize those involved in sexual harassment, such as molestation, unwanted comments, staring from head to toe, touching sensitive parts of female body, under intentional rape and Public Offence Act.
Furthermore, according to Nepal Law Commission, if anyone harasses someone by sending pornography through emails the accused can be penalized as per Electronic Transaction Act 2063.
Under this Act, if a case is proven at court, the convict can face up to five-year prison sentence for the crime. Similarly, there are other legal acts like ´Libel and slander Act 2016´, and ´Public crime and punishment act 2027´.
I wonder whether these Acts act for the victims of public place harassment. I have not heard of the cases filed on the basis of any existing laws which leave me unsure about their existence. Due to this uncertainty women have to become their own saviors, sometimes succeeding at it and sometimes not.
This ignored part of our reality has gradually started unfolding itself among the public mass. We have just become audience, spectators or part of the rallies and protests against harassments in public spaces.
The recent example is “Walk for respect” rally inspired by the famous ‘Slut-walk’. The better part was that it was not only a rally of women; solidarity was shown by men and boys too.
Such events as this, I think, will help women and girls to be open about what they have been going through and be united to act against it or make government accountable to do so.
I believe, this is just a beginning and more cases will be compiled, more women and girls along with men and boys will join hands together against harassments in public places.
I am positive that there will be a time when I will not have to think a million times before walking a road. I will not have to be humiliated by insulting remarks and gestures.
I will walk around my city freely, in daylight and during nights without having to fear about worse happenings. After all it’s my city too whether it’s a night or a day.
The writer is a second year Master’s student of Gender Studies.