Annual Analysis: Human Rights, Gender and Social Inclusion

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The year witnessed a series of protests against the government for misusing state machinery, possibly violating human rights of the citizens. Some of the areas of these protests included: dissolution of parliament; reform of judiciary; demands for gender equality; campaign for Proportional and Inclusive Representation in general convention of the political parties; draft rule issued by the Department of Immigration prohibiting women from travelling board; the Bhagirathi Rape and the demand to make sanitary napkins an essential item. While, Ruby Khan’s arduous battle for justice to end impunity for violence against women was the highlight of the year. This year also saw the voices raised en masse against cast-based discrimination in the Rupa Sunar and Bhim Bahadur Bishwakarma murder cases. This analysis also covers the impact of Covid-19 on marginalised communities. Authorities were seen appearing lackadaisical in implementation of the promises made and legal protection needed.

Timeline of Major Events in 2021

Date Events
25 JanRights activists protest HoR dissolution arrested at Baluwatar.
  7 FebCivil society protest on Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolution of the House of Representatives.
  12 FebHundreds rally in Nepalese capital for women’s rights protesting against proposed law banning women travelling abroad.
  14 FebDemonstration on Bhagirathi Bhatta’s rape and subsequent murder case in Baitadi for justice at the earliest.
  6 MayCovid-19 patients from low, middle income class can’t afford beds in private hospitals.
  28 JuneDalits and non-Dalits protest against state inaction and the minister’s unlawful action in Rupa Sunar’s Case.
17 SeptDelay in approval of ordinance results in lapse of the ordinance to tackle crime and punishment of sexual violence against women/girls
23 SeptA demonstration in Kathmandu demanding the government lift tax levied on sanitary pads.
19 SeptSimultaneous protests and celebrations mark the country’s Constitution Day.
8 Oct Ruby Khan and 13 Protesters from Nepalgunj walk for to Justice.
28 OctCivil Society and Human Rights Activist stage a demonstration demanding the government ensure social justice and take action against the person involved in Caste-based discrimination.
31 OctThe Nepal Bar Association and dissident justices of the Supreme Court continue to protest against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana
18 NovDemand raised for proportional and inclusive principles among the office-bearers in the general conventions of the political parties.
14 DecParliament’s winter session starts and the Ordinance to Tackle Crime against Women is discussed.

Police Brutality: Use of Excessive Force on Protesters and Targeting Activist

Protest against House Dissolution

President Bidyadevi Bhandari addressing an inauguration ceremony. Photo: RSS

On December 20, 2020, PM Oli’s cabinet recommended the president to dissolve the parliament and President Bidya Devi Bhandari endorsed it within a couple of hours, effectively pushing the country into a myriad uncertainties. Constitutional experts, advocates and civil right activists condemned the step, claiming it to be blatantly unconstitutional. The discontent groups – political parties, general public and civil society – came out in protest against PM KP Sharma Oli’s move and called upon him to “stop misuse of state machinery”. To disperse the agitating protesters, police used batons and water cannons, injuring, Narayan Wagle, Mohana Ansari and other human rights defenders. Journalist Narayan Wagle was arrested from outside the Prime Minister’s official residence in Baluwatar and released after four hours. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) urged the government to respect the citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assemblies.

Protest at Supreme Court

Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana was accused of disturbing the separation of powers and compromising with the independence of the judiciary because of his relationship with the executive branch. Inclined to redeem the dignity and credibility of the judiciary, the justices and lawyers launched their protest on 25 October demanding reform in the judiciary. As a part of the protest, the Nepal Bar Associations decided to stop Rana from entering the Supreme Court. During the protest, lawyers sustained injury when police used force. The NHRC called on the police to avoid unnecessary force in peaceful protests.

The protests effected the hearings in the court, effecting people’s right to justice. Concerned with the judicial deadlock, the International Human Rights Organizations and the Chiefs of eight constitutional commissions of Nepal appealed to the parties in the dispute to find a solution to the deadlock through mutual dialogue.

Ruby Khan and her March to Justice

Rights activist Ruby Khan, who was protesting against impunity for violence against women, was falsely charged with “polygamy” because she had criticized the conduct of police officers.  The Supreme Court did not find any evidence to substantiate the charge and said the police behaved with ‘mala fide’ intent.

Ruby Khan, along with 13 others protesters from Nepalgunj, led a protest demanding justice and truth, after the District Police Office of Banke refused to investigate the case of the suspicious death of Nakunni Dhobi and disappearance of Nirmala Kurmi. Both cases are linked to land acquisition.

On 19 October, an agreement was reached between Ruby and the government to immediately start an investigation. A six-member investigation committee led by the joint secretary of the Home Ministry was formed and submit an investigation report within a week. Following the investigation, the police arrested seven accused on the charge of abducting and killing Nirmala Kurmi, but Badshah Kurmi, a Nepali Congress leader.

On 28 November, the seven accused were released on bail. Ruby Khan was disappointed as the case was supposed to be taken to court instead the government prosecutor’s office released the culprits. Ruby Khan is apprehensive about the ongoing issue and fears justice will be denied, and claims that police did not arrest Badshah Kurmi, due to his political affiliation.

Nepal is a democratic nation founded on the basis of respect for the fundamental rights of the people. Freedom to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom to voice discontent are the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution and the protection of these rights is the responsibility of the state.

The National Human Rights Commission called upon the police and security forces several times not to use force against protesters. Despite such notice, the security forces have allegedly failed to comply with the request and the state stands charged for not holding security forces accountable for the alleged abuse.

When we refer to the State, it includes the judiciary, legislative and the executive organs of the governments. In certain cases the state itself may violate human rights through action or omission and such acts or omission by such organs when acting in official capacity may or may not be attributed to the state.

Violence and Discrimination against Woman

Political Deadlock Results in Expiry of Ordinance to Tackle Crime against Women

When PM Sher Bahadur Deuba took office in July, the discontent and turmoil between the opposition members led to a government shutdown. The deadlock in parliament led to delay in the approval of important ordinance to tackle punishment for rape and acid attack. The political deadlock also led to the ordinance lapsing in the parliament after it failed to be ratified within 60 days of being presented to the House.

Consensus between the political parties on democratic values is imperative for successful implementation of constitutional provisions. In Nepali politics, political expediency and powerplay has always superseded the rule of law exploring mockery of democracy.

December marks the winter session in the Parliament where the ordinances will be tabled by the ministers.  The Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Dilendra Badu will table the Ordinance to Amend Criminal Offences as well as Procedure Acts and the Ordinance to Amend the Sexual Violence Act. Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand will table the Acid and other Harmful Substances (Regulation) Ordinance in the House. It is in the best interest of the people of Nepal that there is no obstruction in the parliamentary proceedings again.

Discriminatory Laws against Women

Women’s rights activists and their supporters demonstrated a protest in Kathmandu calling for an end to discrimination against women and scrapping of proposal issued by the Department of Immigration (DoI)  imposing restriction on travel for women.  On Feb 10, the Department of Immigration (DoI) of Nepal submitted a notorious proposal to the Ministry of Home Affairs that states that a woman must obtain permit letters from their male counterpart or the head of the family as well as the ward office in order to travel abroad. The proposed rule was said to be applicable to first time woman travellers below 40 travelling to Gulf or African countries on visit visa.

According to the immigration department, the proposed rule is an initiative to reduce the risk of human trafficking. The proposed rule is aimed at providing protection to vulnerable women susceptible to human trafficking in Gulf and African nations which happens often due to limited economic opportunities, illiteracy, or low education.

Even though the idea and motivation behind this policy aims to provide protection to women, one may argue that such a move contradicts the constitutional provisions that guarantee equal and fair treatment of all citizens. However, the other perspective that one may consider is, that this policy may protect illicit trafficking of under-age girls and other women to foreign countries for the purposes of sex trade.

Demonstration Demanding- to Scrap Tax on Sanitary Pads

Civil Society and Woman staged a demonstration demanding the government to remove the tax levied on sanitary pads, claiming the pads are a basic need. The demonstrator used banners and placards with slogans such as: ‘don’t impose a tax on my period’, ‘think more than blood money’ and ‘period is taxing in itself’. The government stated that they did not increase tax on sanitary napkins. Nevertheless, the public outcry and protest has rekindled the public debate on the taxation of feminine hygiene products like sanitary napkins- which should be an essential product but are categorized as luxury items. Essential products including medicines, medical supplies, contraceptives, and condoms—that are exempt from VAT.

Exempting the taxes on menstrual products and making it an essential item may make it accessible to millions of rural women thereby possibly addressing the problem of menstrual hygiene including the social taboo surround menstruation. Furthermore, exempting the taxes on menstrual products will bring them under the umbrella of essential commodities thereby giving it the status of the medicine which may play a role in safeguarding the rights of women to safe motherhood and reproductive health stipulated under article 38 of the Constitution of Nepal 2015.

Bhagirathi Rape Case

On February 3, Bhagirathi Bhatta, 17, from Baitadi was raped and murdered brutally.  Her body was recovered from the Tawalek Community Forest on February 4. The alarming incident ignited a public outrage, wherein students and youths in the far western districts came out into the streets, in protest, seeking justice for Bhagirathi Bhatta.  The demonstrations continued in all the nine districts of Sudurpaschim Province – including Baitadi where the crime took place.

The government has been accused for turning a  blind eye to crimes against women in view of their responses to the previous rape case for examples; devastating incidents of Nirmala Panta’s and  Samjhana BK’s rape and murder cases. There was an increasing apprehension in the public that this case too would be left unresolved.  Nevertheless, it is relevant to note that the police carried out an investigation and arrested the alleged perpetrator on February 16. As per the 17-year-old perpetrator’s confession, the crime was committed as an ‘act of vengeance’.

Recorded Crime against Women

In the past five month, Nepal Police recorded 9,240 cases of crime against women. 7,329 cases of domestic violence.  A total number of 993 women above 18 and 104 minor girls were raped. A total of 331 rape attempt complaints were filed with the police during this period. 19 cases of child marriage, 76 cases of women trafficking, 12 cases of unnatural sex and 25 cases of witchcraft violence were registered with the police. The comparative study claims that the incidents of rape have decreased by almost 10 per cent this year compared to last year.

Caste Based Discrimination Cases

The two major cases in this behalf that gathered media attention were the murder of Bhim Bahadur Bishwakarma, a 58 years old Dalit man from Chitwan, wanting to enter a temple during festival season; and Rupa Sunar inability to rent a house owing to her caste.

Following the incident, supporters of the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) staged a demonstration at Maitighar Mandala, demanding that the government ensure social justice and take action against the murderers of Bhim Bahadur Bishwakarma which resulted in arrest being made in the case.

Civil Society and human rights activists demonstrated in the streets to protest the state inaction to conduct an impartial investigation into Rupa Sunar case.  When the case gained public attention a formal complaint was registered by the police and which resulted in the arrest of the accused Saraswati Pradhan.

It is when the former education Minister Krishna Gopal Shrestha went to the police station to receive Pradhan in his official car that this case gained political traction. What was an initial a case of caste based discrimination was escalated into a social rift issue.

The trend of involvement of ministers in high-profile cast-based discrimination case and taking the side of accused has sidelined the main issue by making it an issue of ethnic colour or religious debate. Furthermore, cases of alleged abuses by police and their refusal to register the FIR is becoming rampant. Trends indicates that when the case gets public attention only is when the case is registered.

Non-registration of a complaint by the police results in dereliction of the duty which may additionally result in the denial of human rights. Murder, disappearance and caste-based discrimination and untouchability is a crime committed against the state. Hence, in such cases it becomes important for the police to register the complaint and file the cases in court, investigate and defend them.

As per Nepal’s legal commitment towards effective implementation of the fundamental right against untouchability and discrimination specified in Article 24 of the Constitution of Nepal; the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a direction to all district administration offices, district police offices and all police units to set up and operate Dalit-targeted help desks in all Nepal Police offices.

Demonstration on the Constitution Day

The Constitution Amendment March was organised by civil society activists calling themselves the ‘Brihat Nagarik Andolan’ (People’s Movement) on the anniversary of the Constitution, which falls on 19 September.Historically marginalized groups, including Madhesis, Janajatis, women’s activists, Dalits and religious minorities led the Amendment March. The protesters who were found burning the copies of the constitution were arrested. Indigenous people, women, Madhesi, Dalits and other marginalized communities wanted an inclusive state through its restructuring along the line of federalism on the basis of national regional autonomy. According to them, the constitution is flawed and serves the interests of the people from the dominant ruling class, which has been in power for a long time. Referred as black day; 19 September is viewed as a violation of repeated commitments to inclusive and progressive state, made during Nepal’s peace-building process.

Proportional and Inclusive Representation in Politics

Over the year, political parties, feminist associations and human rights activists launched a discussion and hosted several programs on various occasion advocating mandatory 33% seat for woman including proportional and inclusive principles in the central committee and office-bearers.  

CPN (UML): The number of women in office has increased while the presence of Dalits and Madhesis has also increased in the tenth general convention. 53 women have been elected unopposed as CPN-UML’s central members from the women’s category.

2 women, 1 Dalit and 1 Madhesi community leaders were elected as an office bearer. Ashtalakshmi Shakya, elected as the vice president and Padma Aryal as the secretary. Similarly, Chhavilal Bishwakarma of Dalit community and Raghuvir Mahaseth of Madhesi community were elected.

Nepali Congress:  The Congress has elected 13 office bearers, of which only one is woman- Mahalakshmi Upadhyaya ‘Dina’. Jeevan Pariyar was appointed as the union joint general minister. He is the only leader from Dalit community to become an official in the last 64 years. Bhishmaraj Aangdembe has been elected as the joint general minister of the Congress Adivasi Janajati. The convention failed to give a strong message of inclusion, as no Madhesi or Tharu were elected as either vice-president or general secretary.

Appointment of Billionaire Binod as a central committee member of the Nepali Congress (NC) under the Madhesi cluster in the 14th General Convention of the party has raised a moral and legal question on his win.

Maoist Center: 35 percent women and 20 percent youth- under the age of 40, of the total number of 299- member central committees have been made mandatory in the ongoing convention.  Maoist will elect 15-member office- bearers.

Challenges

Prime Minister and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has claimed that Nepal is the only country to ensure 33% representation of women in every body of the state. Furthermore, Nepal has represented Dalits, Janajatis and Adivasis at every level of the state and party.

Despite mandatory 33% women’s representation and the inclusive principle; minority form only a small percentage in the top leadership roles and are purported discriminated against even at work.

The presence of women does not necessarily guarantee that women’s interests are protected. Furthermore, the ‘substantive representation’ of women requires not only the presence of women representatives but requires commitment and action to uphold their position. It has been observed that, Women representatives from province and local level (Deputy Chief and Vice-Chair-person) have expressed their grievance stating that women are treated as second class citizens in the office and are not taken seriously. Throughout their term, they did receive any support or encouragement from any people’s representative and their official term came to an end without fully discharging their responsibility.

Similarly, Dalit people’s representatives have complained about social discrimination at their office. People don’t accept them as leaders, they are not taken seriously and are assaulted while discharging their duty. Tara Devi Paswan, the Ward Member of Kalaiya 27, was tied to a pole and assaulted by a gang of local people who accused her helping a woman elope rather than discouraging her.

Impact of Covid-19 on Marginalised Communities

Social commentator and Professor Sanjeev Upreti states “the crisis revealed the real status of socialism, the status of humanity and democratic practices which have been talked about for long”

Aside from loss of lives, jobs, and social security, the second wave of Covid-19 turned out to be even more disastrous; impacting the hospital industry- with the shortage of oxygen, ICU beds, and ventilators. Resource scarcity and accessibility to health services deprived people their right to emergency health services from the state, guaranteed under article 35 of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015. Vulnerable populations and marginalized communities who could not afford private hospitals, were forced to return to their homes due to lack of beds and oxygen in the government hospital. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed the marginalised community even further into the vulnerability. Caste based discrimination continued even in the government quarantine, where a man in Saptari died of starvation. A man named Raju Sada died in isolation after not receiving medication for diarrhoea. Food material and medication did not reach many Dalits, even though it was distributed through ward offices.

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