No different from in many developing countries and conservative societies around the world, social ills abound in Nepal.
Some of the worst ones affect girls and women considerably more than boys and men, oppressing and persecuting them! Conveniently, pretty much every social ill that brings suffering to our females, there is a stigma against AND their open discussion is taboo. Some examples are the caste system, domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual harassment — and abuse — at home, in schools, in offices, in public places, and in public transportation etc.
One of the worst indirect ways girls and women in Nepal suffer gravely from, as a consequence of our conservative society’s practice of associating stigma with — and treating it a taboo subject — is rape! As if being the victim of the atrocity were not enough, associating stigma with rape (also interpreted as the girl/woman having “brought” dishonor to the family) punishes the victim even more.
The first step to addressing many of the social ills (including rape) is acknowledgement of their existence and having public discourses about them, and in the process removing the veil over our societal taboo, as it were. Then we can work towards eliminating the twisted sense of shame and guilt our society heaps on victims of atrocities, such as rape and domestic violence!
The first personal account I read, by a fellow Nepali women, of sexual abuse was the vivid and poetic blog post Kathmandu Girls.
Reproduced below is only the second one. A Facebook Note published about a month ago, it’s by a courageous Nepali lady Aastha Kumari Karki.
Firstly, the story is of being a rape victim for six years as a child, one of the worst — if not THE worst — ways a young girl-child can suffer from. Secondly, it’s a story of triumph over personal demons. Thirdly, having suffered gravely, it’s a story with a very powerful and touching message.
I have said this before, but I’ll say it again: if you have suffered gravely, you view — and live — life a certain way. I can see that in her note!
I reproduce this brave lady’s story with her permission.
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Shatter the Silence
I recently shared a secret that I’ve kept all my life with my father, my brother and few of my loved ones. I was scared to share this with my dad because I have huge respect for him and I didn’t want to lose the respect that I have for him if he asked me to be quiet or forget about it. I feel grateful and very proud that my dad has been understanding and supportive of this. But not many have the same understanding parent that I do.
In choosing to tell my story, I hope to shatter the silence. The paralyzing feelings of guilt and shame that accompany being raped last far longer than the assault itself. I realize that this might come off as a shock to many people here especially my family and relatives but I’m confident that this is the right thing to do. I don’t seek any revenge but an open door for us all to heal.
Few weeks ago a friend of mine shared her rape story, which made me realize so many of us go through the horrific experience in silence. It is not fair. It is not fair that the perpetrator keep doing what they do without fear as if raping someone is their right. It is not fair that women in our society are taught to be tolerant for the sake of false pride of the family and our blinded view of our beloved culture. We are always expected to think about everyone else first. This is probably why I kept this secret for so long from everyone.
My cousin raped me from age 6 up until 12. I was too young to understand what was going on even though I knew it was not right. He made me feel like I had to keep it as a secret and would instill fear in me. I thought it was all happening because I was a girl. So, I would try to disguise myself as a boy, cutting my hair short by myself. But it didn’t stop. I would pray to the god above asking it to stop. But no one came to save me. I had to be my own savior. The perception that I had of the world as a 7 year old was completely different than any of my peers.
His family moved out of the house when I was 12, then it stopped. When I realized what had happened it was too late. I chose not to tell anyone, not even my mom. I thought this was my secret and I shouldn’t create problems in our family. I tried to forget about what happened but then I would have to see his face then and again. And I would again feel paralyzed, hurt, and shameful.
I had created a world of my own to get through all this. I learnt to be self-reliant. Music and art has continuously saved me. I would read about people who went through the same incidents. I always disguised myself as a guy wearing a hoodie and would attend metal concerts. Sometimes I would escape from my balcony and go on walk for hours in the dark streets of Kathmandu; I would feel free, safe and secure outside of my house than inside of it. I would lash out in anger at times and my mom would say “As a human being your first response to anything should be being kind, if you can’t then there’s something inside of you that is bothering you.”
I finished my high school and I couldn’t wait to get out of Kathmandu. I moved to USA as a student in 2009. Even though I had many people who loved me and cared about me, all I wanted was to be free. Just as rapists often tell their victims to shut their mouths, society can do something similar to victims. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help others who’ve been raped, as well as their family members, friends, gain a new and better perspective from someone who was there and is now here. The silence does not have to linger forever. I’m fortunate that I was able to utilize many of the skills and traits that I had developed over the years to aid my healing.
We don’t need new laws in Nepal but an understanding that we should not put our false pride of a family or preserving a culture before anyone’s human right. I waited for years in hoping something would change. But nothing changes unless we decide to change ourselves first.
For those who have struggled with adversity, who have experienced things that they wish they could undo or leave behind, those who are haunted by their past, I want to say that there is a way through. We will all face it; we will refuse to allow those feelings of guilt and shame to hold us back or to victimize us again. We can use those experiences, as horrible as they might have been, to make us stronger than we ever dreamed possible. I hope that in reading my story we can all find some keys to unlocking your own strengths and abilities. You may not deal with life the same as I do, but you can begin to move more freely in your world and in your own way.
I was victimized, but I refuse to be called a victim. I’ve been sad, but I won’t let anyone feel sorry for me anymore. I’ve been raped, but I will never let that define who I am.
If you are going through something similar, please reach out. We can share each other’s story and make each other stronger.
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What do you think?
Aug. 2, 2017 Update
Southasia.com.au, an online new magazine out of Australia, has done a story about this: If getting robbed can be shared publicly then why not rape, questions rape victim Aastha Kumari Karki.
Aug. 1, 2018 Update
I should have included the following links when the blog was published but I didn’t. Anyway, these are links to follow-up Facebook status updates to the above note that Ms. Karki shared.
July 5 follow-up. This is a short one in which she mentions that there has been some “backlash” to her sharing the note. She doesn’t however go into the details of what they entailed.
July 10 follow-up. This is a long one. “I’m disappointed in so many of you. I’ve heard from so many of women but less than 10 men. Among the stories that many girls shared with me, some of them tried to tell their family and their family asked them to be quiet, some were sent off to get married. What does it say about our society? I know so many who are considered “important” people; social workers, politicians, doctors, engineers, PhD holders, journalists…they all have chosen to look away and are living, breathing statues. What does your degree even mean when you cannot even be a human being first and stand up for what is right.”
July 12 follow-up. This is also a longish one.