More Than 16 Days: Domestic Violence in Nepal
The murmurs in the crowd slowly faded away as, Bibek Koirala, the presenter for the day, stepped up to the podium and cleared his throat at the mike. “Hello everyone. If you all are settled in, we would like to begin the press conference now.” Saying that he gave a quick glance to Mamta, his close friend and co-organizer of this press conference. She gave him a nervous nod as a signal to start the program.
“First of all, I would like to thank you all for being present here on such short notice”, he said to the crowd. The room was almost packed with paparazzi. “As you all may know, today we have gathered you here to address the well-publicized issue of domestic violence involving Miss Mamta Thapa and her in-laws, who also happen to be one of the most politically active families of this country. So now without further ado, I would like to invite Miss Mamta up to the podium”.
The crowd’s excitement was tangible as the room erupted with whispers and murmurs. All eyes in the room were focused on a rather fragile looking figure on stage.
She swallowed hard. She wasn’t ready for this. However, she had to do this and she reminded herself why. That thought bought a strange feeling of determination accompanied by confidence. She got up from the chair and went to the podium. Before handing the mike over to Mamta, Bibek gave her a reassuring nod and whispered to her “You can do this. I know you can”.
She gave him a smile and stepped up to face the crowd. The crowd grew silent once again; ready to hear what this one insignificant woman had to say about one of the most powerful families of the country. Whatever it was it would make one hell of a headline.
She cleared her throat. “Hello everyone. “Her voice shone with confidence. The crowd hadn’t expected that.”I’m Mamta. Mamta Thapa. I am one of the thousands of victims of domestic violence-a crime so horrible, yet too common to be taken seriously in our country.” She let that sentence hang in the air before speaking again. “I know most of you are here today not out of pity for a woman who was almost murdered by her own husband’s family but to pick on one of the spiciest gossip stories of the country.” The people in the audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats as she continued. “I was born into an upper middle class family. I was raised in a good environment, provided with everything I needed and more. My parents married me into a rich family, the Rajbanshis, in the hope that they would treat me as well and even better than them. Imagine their disappointment when they had to come see me at the hospital a week ago, almost beaten to death.” She let out a small laugh – a sad one.
“As every bride’s first few months in their in-laws home, I was very happy. It felt like I had just shifted from one family to another. My husband treated me with respect and his patents were very supportive.” Her voice broke a little at the end. The reporters were scribbling furiously into their notebooks. “And then came the time when they started hinting they needed their grandchildren. I was more than happy to fulfill their wish. However, no matter how hard my husband and I tried, it just wasn’t happening. We got worried and went to the clinic to get checked up. The doctor told my husband that he was infertile.” There was a small gasp from the crowd. She continued, “He didn’t know what to tell his parents. It would be a great shame to his family if they found out their son was incapable of producing children. So he asked me to take the fall. My husband asked me to tell his parents that it was me who was infertile”. A much louder gasp escaped the crowd this time. “Being the loyal wife I was, I agreed to it and told my in-laws about it. They were furious. They called me all types of names and words that would be enough for your ears to bleed. But I took all of that silently, because I was a good wife.” she said with a small snort. The crowd was hanging onto her every word. “My husband didn’t say a word in my defense. From the next day, it was like I was in a different house. My usual loving mother in law had turned into this cruel, mean person overnight. And my always supportive father in law had now turned into this scary, horrible man who couldn’t go a day without shouting at me. But I took it all silently, because I was a good wife. My husband still didn’t say a word.”
Bibek had never seen a crowd of reporters this attentive before. He didn’t know whether it was her story or the way she delivered it, but whatever it was, Mamta had the crowd’s undivided attention. He shifted his focus to Mamta again. “It was Friday of last week. My husband had to go to Pokhara for the weekend to attend a political program on his father’s behalf. Little did I know that my in laws had been waiting for this moment for a long time. It was almost 10 o’clock and I was getting ready for bed after finishing another hectic day of housework. My mother in law called me from downstairs. I ran down the stairs not wanting to keep her waiting. However, she was not alone. Her younger son and her husband were there too waiting for me. I was scared. She slowly got up and started calling me and my family all sorts of names. She called me “banjh” over and over again. By the time she had finished I could see that my father in law’s face was red with anger. He got up from his seat and asked his son to fetch his walking stick from the corner. I took a step back, realizing what he was about to do. After his son handed him the stick he advanced towards me. His eyes were full of anger and disgust. My screams filled the whole house as the pain of every hit of the stick travelled through my body. But I took it all silently, because I was a good wife”.
You could practically feel the tension and the anger in the crowd. Bibek could swear he heard some of the female reporters mention some rather inappropriate words towards one of the most successful politicians of the country.
“And as if the stick wasn’t enough, my mother-in law started pulling my hair and slapping me across the cheeks. I cried. I screamed. I begged. But they didn’t stop. They hit me and slapped me until they were eventually worn out. Then they threw my almost lifeless body out on the road.” Her voice wavered as tears threatened to spill from her eyes. Bibek found himself holding back his own tears. “I woke up in a hospital, barely breathing. One of the passers- by had been kind enough to bring me to the hospital and inform my family.
After I was feeling better, my family and I tried to file a complaint in every single police station. But all of them dismissed my case saying there wasn’t enough evidence, as if my body full of scars and blue marks wasn’t evidence enough for them. But the truth was they were scared. They were scared that if they listened to a woman’s rambling then they would be going up against a very powerful family. I had nowhere else to go. That is when I met my friend here, Bibek Koirala” she said nodding in Bibek’s direction. He returned her nod and gave a nervous smile towards the audience. “I was all ready to give up my hopes and spend the rest of my life locked up somewhere. But he didn’t let me. He made me believe that there was still hope. That I could still find justice for myself. He said that if I gave up now, this culture of domestic violence would never end and I would just be one of the many victims of this crime. That’s when I decided to stop becoming a good wife. That’s when I decide to take a stand and become a woman instead. I decided it was about time this country and its people be aware about the dire consequence of domestic violence.” she said wiping a streak of tear from her cheek.
You could hear a few quiet sniffles from the audience too. “That is why I’m here today. I know this is just another job for all of you-to come here, listen to a story and publish it. But for me this is a life-changing decision. The fact that I have made this decision to stand up to the Rajbanshis is probably the bravest thing I have ever done. And I am proud of myself for this. I know you all are going to go home and forget about all of this. But if you go home today and even give a minute of your time to think about this, then I will consider my this little effort towards a better society, successful. I will consider that all the things that I have been through has been for a reason-to bring this beacon of hope against this ugly prevalence of domestic violence in our society.” She took a pause to compose herself. “Thank you”.
Saying that she got down from the podium. The room was silent for a few moments before it erupted into a marvelous sound of applause. The reporters actually stood up and gave her a standing ovation. By the look of many of their eyes, it seemed like they had had their own few share of tears. Bibek also stood up from his chair applauding. He went and stood beside Mamta, patting her on the back. She mouthed him a thank you, her eyes full of tears. He nodded his head and whispered to her, “You had it in you all this time, Mamta. All you needed was a little awakening”.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.