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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Women Break Silence About Sexual Harassment on Nepali Buses

This is common matter

Women Break Silence About Sexual Harassment on Nepali Buses

   KATHMANDU, NEPAL Sapana Acharya, 18, a college student, moved more than 300 miles from her home district of Morang to get an education in Kathmandu, Nepals capital.
But the more difficult journey has been the daily bus ride to get to Ratna Rajya Laxmi College, a constituent campus of Tribhuvan University.
Its not because the buses are often crowded and uncomfortable. Rather, its the attitude and behavior of the male passengers. Acharya says they either push or inappropriately touch her usually intentionally during her 30- to 45-minute bus ride every day to and from school.
I am frustrated by being touched in my private parts in a crowded bus, she says.
The public transportation around Kathmandu is always crowded with throngs of people waiting to board already packed buses. The mobs are worst during peak hours, when working adults and students are traveling for their jobs and school. This allows more opportunity for perpetrators, Acharya says.
But she has no other option for getting to school.
I have to use the bus even if it is crowded, she says dejectedly. Otherwise, I will miss my classes.
But she refrains from reporting the sexual harassment because of the fear of what would happen if nobody believed her, she says.
Where do I go and report against such behavior? she asks. Is there any law against harassment? Even if there is one, how do I prove that I was harassed? There is no evidence.
Nepali women say they face constant sexual harassment on public buses, their main means of transportation to get to work and school. Double victimization deters them from reporting incidents, as society often blames the victims of sexual abuse here and evidence and witnesses are difficult to secure. Laws are in place to protect women from abuse, but reports and enforcement of penalties are rare.
There were more than 1.28 million public vehicles registered in Nepal during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, according to the Department of Transport Management. One million people use public transport daily in the70 of Nepal's 75 districts that are connected with a roadway, making this industry a major player in the Nepali economy.
Public buses are the main means of transportation for the majority of the population, especially women, children and people with disabilities, says Kathmandu traffic inspector Sitaram Hachhethu.
They are also the most common places for girls and women to suffer sexual harassment.
Manima Shubba, a homemaker living in central Kathmandu , stresses that women of all walks of life have faced abuse in public vehicles including her. The only difference is the number of times they have been victims.
Ganga Mishra, a 19-year-old student who attends the same college as Acharya, is one of those victims. Residing in the north of Kathmandu, she must take a 20-minute bus ride to get to school in the central part of Kathmandu. Like Acharya, she also faces constant sexual harassment on the bus.
As the bus started to move, the middle-aged guy moved towards me, Mishra says, recalling a particularly disturbing incidence. I didnt say anything when he bumped on me every time the driver hit the brake. I had to rebuke him when he moved his hand towards my chest.
Mishra says she felt lonely and humiliated when the perpetrator denied any wrongdoing. Instead of helping her, other travelers glared at her accusatorily. Even the females on the bus offered no help, she adds.
Mohan Mani Pokharel, an associate professor of educational psychology
at Tribhuvan University, says this amounts to sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is not limited to sexual intercourse, he says. Touching the body parts, staring and even using obscene language is sexual abuse.
The perpetrator is often a middle-aged man who thinks he is secure in committing such a crime, Pokharel says. When confronted, he will put on a fatherly act, citing that he was just being protective.
Mishras experience left her wondering whether it is right to protest against harassment. But because of the other travelers response, she lost her confidence in speaking out against it.
Lawyer Shashi Adhikari, chairwoman of Legal Aid and Consultancy Centre, a nongovernmental organization that provides free legal services to women, says that womens low self-esteem and inability to speak in front of a crowd prevent them from seeking justice. Society blames the victim in cases of sexual abuse, so women fear stigma. Instead of speaking out, they keep quiet and endure the violence.
Parbati Thapa Magar, the deputy inspector general of Nepal Polices Midwestern Regional Police Office, says that women are the victims because they have lower self-esteem. She also cites the societal stigma attached to women who are abused for their reluctance to speak out.
The victims cannot utter things that the perpetrator[s] do to them, Magar says. The perpetrator should be ashamed of his behavior, not the victim who suffers.
Women, therefore, face double victimization when they have to fear the repercussions of speaking out against abuse, Magar says. Instead of confronting the perpetrators, most victims flee with self-shame.
Sexual abuse hurts girls and womens self-esteem and confidence, says Laxmi Pariyar, a former Constituent Assembly member and youth activist.
Pariyar, who has also been a victim of verbal sexual harassment on public transportation, says its difficult to report because of the lack of tangible evidence.
When I was traveling to my hometown, Udaypur, eastern part of Nepal, in an overnight bus, a few men said offensive things that I cannot repeat here to me, she says. I warned them, but they didnt back down. I ended up fighting with them and reported them to the police.
But Pariyar later withdrew her complaint because of difficulties in providing proof of the harassment.
Tara Maharjan, legal counselor for the National Women Commission, an independent commission established by the government for the promotion and protection of womens rights, confirms this challenge.
The commission receives complaints against domestic violence, but never have we received any on sexual abuse in public places, she says. It is so because of difficulty in proving the perpetrator guilty.
There is not a single written report filed under sexual abuse in public vehicles at the Midwestern Regional Police Office, Magar says.
The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2006 ensures the right of all citizens to freely travel around the country. Various rules and bylaws regulate the transportation sector.
Nepali law penalizes sexual abuse with three months in prison for the perpetrator and a fine of 25,000 rupees ($300) to compensate the victim, Maharjan says. But the reporting system is not victim-friendly, as its difficult to collect evidence and find witnesses to testify in court.
Due to all these reasons, the victims do not take legal action, Maharjan says.
Hachhethu says that the traffic police intervene if they witness sexual abuse even if there is no formal complaint.
I saw a bus staff trying to molest a girl while helping her board the bus, Hacchethu says. Although the girl didnt complain, I took him
in custody.
But police dont always uphold the penalties outlined by the law.
I left him after he signed a commitment saying he would not repeat such behavior, Hacchethu says.
For victims, he encourages them to report incidents.
Women do not show courage to complain against sexual abuse, Hachhethu says disappointedly.
Prahlad Karki, section officer in the Department of Transport Management, encourages girls and women to report sexual harassment.
We can intervene if the bus staff commit such crime, he says. But then the crime should be reported, and we have not received any complaints to date.
Pariyar asks police to be better enforce the law.
The guidelines of the Ministry of Labour and Transport should be strictly enforced with regard to the use of impolite language, touching the bodies of women unnecessarily while demanding the fares by the public transport conductors and pasting of obscene advertisements inside the vehicle, she says.
Mishra suggests stationing undercover policewomen on public buses to catch perpetrators.
The Ministry of Physical Planning, Works and Transport Management formed the Public Transport Code of Conduct in 2010 to regulate the transportation sector, Adhikari says. The code includes reserving seats for women, the elderly and the disabled.
But able-bodied men often disregard the law and occupy these seats, saysArjun Shrestha, abus driver in Kathmandu.
Society needs to address the culture of violence against women, as sexual harassment toward women is not limited to crowded buses and marketplaces, Magar says.