A model’s account of gang-rape at the age of 16 has pushed Nepal’s women to hit the streets to demand change in the country’s rape law, Rituparna Chatterjee reports
A young and popular model in Nepal was 16 years old when she was called to an after-party of a beauty pageant, given a soft drink spiked with sedatives, raped allegedly by the organiser of the event, and filmed naked. She woke up with blood on herself and on the sheets.
The six months that followed were a nightmare.
“I wanted to die,” the model says in a series of TikTok videos on 18 May, describing the months of trauma she endured in 2014 when the owner of an education consultancy allegedly spiked her lemonade, raped and injured her in a hotel room, took nude photos of her and then went on to blackmail her into sex with him, and as well as with his friend as he watched.
“He told me he had taken some of my pictures… and he will expose it,” she says in her videos, with pauses to compose herself as her voice falters and she tears up. “I was really scared,” she says. She alleges that she was also gaslighted by the man.
“He said: ‘You were asking for it, you wanted money that’s why we did it.’
“I felt really helpless … I couldn’t even shed a tear … my body completely froze.”
The horrific story of the 24-year-old has sparked a fresh wave of the “Me Too” movement and pushed women to take to the streets to demand judicial and legislative reform to the country’s rape law.
Her story has also led to the arrest of Manoj Pandey, the owner of Model Global Visas Consultancy, on 21 May by the Metropolitan Crime Division from the Swayambhu area of Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu. Pandey was at that time the organiser of a pageant called Miss Global International 2014. The model says she finally broke down and told a friend about her rape when she could not take it any more, six months after the incident.
Nepal’s #MeToo moment, once again
Ever since her story came out, women-led protests have rocked Nepal; they have taken to the streets, lawmakers have registered a motion in parliament and lawyers have petitioned the top court to pressure the government into scrapping the country’s one-year statute of limitation on rape – one of the shortest in south Asia.
Under Nepal’s law, complaints of rape must be filed within one year from the date of the crime, causing hurdles for hundreds of victims, many of whom do not have access to counselling, financial, legal or familial support post-sexual violence.
The case led to a resolution motion being registered at Nepal’s National Assembly and on 30 May four Nepali Congress lawmakers – Dila Sangroula Panta, Pramila Rai, Sujata Pariyar and Rangamati Shahi – registered a similar motion at the House of Representatives to change the statute of limitation on rape, saying there are many cultural and social reasons why victims are unable to report these crimes when they happen.
Six women lawyers – Mamta Siwakoti, Ojaswi KC, Ranjeeta Silwal, Dikshya Khadgi, Dikchya Raut and Salina Kafle – also filed a petition at Nepal’s Supreme Court demanding the removal of the statute of limitations on rape under Section 292(2) of the National Penal Code, saying “it is in violation of constitutional provisions of Article 21 of the ‘right of victims of crime’ and Article 38(3) under the ‘rights of women’”.
The legislators ask that the government provide “free health treatment, compensation, and counselling to the victims, besides scrapping the statute of limitations for rape against minors, and increasing the existing one-year limit in cases of adults.”
The model accuses Pandey of raping her in a hotel room after he invited her to a “success party” for the beauty pageant in which she had participated. After her videos went viral, women have come out in her support and recounted similar experiences using the #MeToo hashtag.
Human rights lawyer Dechen Lama who is associated with the nonprofit Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), tells The Independent that the survivor is “psychologically traumatised since coming out”. FWLD helped the model file the police complaint.
“Our lawyers are in touch with her. She was continuously raped for six months, tortured … and she was heartbroken when she found out about the one-year limit to reporting rape. She did not know the law,” Lama says.
Because of the statute of limitation on rape, police had to arrest Pandey under the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act of 2007.
“Even though the statute of limitation on rape has expired, we hope that rape is also included as one of the charges. This is a landmark case and a new moment in Nepal’s #MeToo movement. After this case, so many women started coming out with their stories. We are hopeful this will bring a change in Nepal’s rape law and expand it to fix the loopholes in the definition of rape, to make the law more gender-inclusive, and comply with international best practices,” she says.
Police official Dinesh Raj Mainali, spokesperson for the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Range, told the Kathmandu Post newspaper that “an investigation into the case is under way”. Mainali says police received another complaint against Pandey from a minor.
There’s a reason why victims don’t report rape in this part of the world, says Julie Thekkudan, NGO Equality Now’s South Asian consultant.
“We have always been taught that we are the ones at fault on some level – ‘why did you go there?’, ‘why did you wear that?’, ‘why did you even talk to the guy?’,” coupled with a lack of family support. There are also the financial costs to consider.
“You have to have the financial resources to fight a case and women from already marginalised communities suffering from discrimination, coupled with poverty, despite something like this happening they do not have the money to fight their cases. There are a lot of reasons why victims don’t report,” Thekkudan says.
Anger on social media
Social media, meanwhile, is awash with hashtags demanding justice for the model and other women who find themselves unable to report sexual crimes because the time limit has lapsed.
“I didn’t realise there should’ve been a timeline to process your abuse so you could get justice,” says a blogger.
“This is clearly an ignorance towards the problem with the patriarchal society which is reflected in the law of Nepal. Hope justice prevails,” says Niha Pandey, assistant professor at the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy at the Tribhuvan University in Nepal.
The FWLD, in collaboration with Equality Now, organised a discussion with members of parliament on 29 May, chaired by the president of the Women and Social Committee of the House of Representatives. Nepali Congress general secretary and lawmaker Gagan Thapa subsequently raised the issue at the House of Representatives, saying “there should be no deadline” for the registration of rape.
“We and our partners in Nepal – FWLD – presented the reforms required to sexual violence laws, including: eliminating the statute of limitations, expanding the definition of rape, clearly defining situations when persons are unable to consent to sexual intercourse, increasing the penalty for marital rape, and ensuring that character evidence relating to the victim is not introduced in rape cases,” Thekkudan says.
They are hopeful that the new push will bring about change.
“Like a torch in a tunnel,” as Lama puts it.