KATHMANDU, Sept 9: Hira Ratna Bajracharya, a Kathmandu local, got divorced from his wife this month after five years of legal battle. The prolonged case has left him with a career and a life in disarray, as the 38-year-old auditor puts it.
While divorce cases have risen remarkably over time for various reasons and the litigation is generally initiated by the wives, males seeking divorce accuse ´gender-biased legal provisions regarding divorce´ of adding to their sufferings.
"The law is not fair. In fact, it has completely denied justice to males. Can´t males be victims also?" fumes Bajracharya.
"Our conjugal life was on track only for the first year of marriage. After four years of uneasy matrimony, I thought legal separation would be better. However, I no longer feel relieved as I have lost many productive years of my life, my personal and career growth and all peace and happiness because of the very lengthy legal process," he said.
The situation of Subir Mishra (name changed) of Baglung district, who recently gave up his long teaching career because of ´the distraction and tension´ due to a still unsettled divorce case, is not much different. He is quick to comment that "women can completely ruin the life of their husbands if they so intend" for lack of justifiable legal provisions regarding divorce.
"If the wife wants a divorce, the husband can hardly stop her. They have multiple governmental and non-government bodies to support them, apart from the law. But if the husband wants one, she can make him fall on his knees and go through any level of humiliation and torture and still not free him in the end, said Mishra, whose case has been pending at the municipality for over a year now.
Undoubtedly, the existing legal provisions have been made in view of the nature of Nepali society, where the males are rarely subjected to domestic violence, remarks Saraj Raj Thapa, legal expert at the National Women´s Commission.
Thapa states that the problem stems from the fact that the state has not yet given equal status to women, who are dependent on their husbands for several of their legal rights. “And when a situation arises for her to separate from her husband willingly or unwillingly, she naturally worries about property and status and sometimes it becomes a matter of ego as well," he said.
As per the law, a woman can choose to start life with another man without divorcing her first husband or without his consent. If she does that it only disqualifies her from continuing to be the wife of the former or the co-owner of his property.
However, in the case of a man, he can be jailed and fined a certain amount if he remarries without getting a divorce from his wife.
Likewise, a wife seeking justice can approach the courts directly while her spouse has to first go to the local administration, i.e. village development committee or municipality, which then keeps the case under probation at least for a year.
Only 10 divorce cases filed by men reached Kathmandu District Court last year as compared to 14,558 filed by women. And while 8,533 cases have been decided so far, these do not include any filed by husbands.
“And even after reaching the district court, the case makes very slow progress unless the wife cooperates," states advocate Shanta Sedhai, who has been handling a similar case for three years now.
Another advocate and human right activist, Meera Dhungana, admits that divorce cases filed by women are generally decided within a year, unlike those filed by men. “The court assumes that a woman is seeking divorce because she is a genuine victim while it fails or refuses to consider males as possisble victims also. This undoubtedly reflects a patriarchal mindset.”