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A 17-Year-Old Rape Victim's Demand for Justice Gains Momentum in Nepal

Categories: South Asia, Nepal, Citizen Media, Governance, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Women & Gender
The students of National Medical College at Birgunj (Nepal) participating in a candlelight rally showing their solidarity in the on going agitation against the gang rape in Birgunj, Nepal & New Delhi, India. Image by Manish PAudel. Copyright Demotix (24/12/2012) [1]

The students of National Medical College at Birgunj (Nepal) participating in a candlelight rally showing their solidarity in the ongoing agitation against gang rape in Birgunj, Nepal & New Delhi, India. Image by Manish Paudel. Copyright Demotix (24/12/2012)

A recent op-ed by a gang rape victim in Nepal has caused a stir in the mountainous country. Rape and other kinds of violence against women are prevalent in Nepal [2] and many of the perpetrators get away.

Puja Bohara, a student in her final year of school, says she was drugged and raped [3] by Sagar Bhatta, a book shop owner, and Amar Awasthi, a photographer, in March 2012 when she visited Bhatta's store to buy some papers. The two men were sentenced [4] to 13 years in prison and fined Rs 50,000 (about 500 US dollars) each by the Baitadi District Court for the crime. But the following year on April 28, 2014, the Mahendranagar Appellate Court overturned the decision and acquitted them.

On December 16, 2014, Nepali-language newspaper Kantipur Daily published [5] a touching open letter to Nepal's Law Minister Narahari Acharya by Puja, requesting that the men who raped her be punished:

अन्त्यमा माननीय मन्त्रीज्यू, मेरो किटानी जाहेरीले पक्राउ परी दोषी सावित भई १३ वर्षका लागि जेल चलान भएका ती बलात्कारीहरू छुट्नु भनेको के उनीहरू निर्दोष अनि मचाहिँ दोषी हुँ त ? यदि म दोषी हुँ भने मलाई तुरुन्तै कारबाही गरियोस्, हैन भने ती बलात्कारीहरूलाई पुनः पक्राउ गरी सजाय सुनाइयोस् ।

पूजा बोहरा

Before I end this letter, I would like to ask the law minister about those convicted who were sentenced to 13 years in prison and again set free into society. Are they innocent, those who ruined my life? It raises a moral question for society regarding the crime, and society is unsure of who is innocent and who is guilty. If you are convinced and have got enough evidence, than you can arrest me under the law. If not, then those rapists should face the consequences of the law and be rearrested — give me justice.
Regards,
Puja Bohara

17-year-old Puja comes from Baitadi district [6], the farthest western regional district of Nepal adjacent to Jhulaghat, India. Puja’s father, who is a farmer, doesn't have enough farmland on his own, so he has been working the farmlands of a rich man house to maintain his family. Puja struggled much to be in school, walking more than an hour and half to get to class, and was one of the brightest students of the school, securing first place in class every year. 

Puja’s open letter became the talk of the town this week as people started raising questions about the appellate court's decision and voicing their support for her. 

In an interview [7] with Nepali-language Himalaya TV earlier this month, Puja asked, “Those who had raped me, are they deemed innocent after the court verdict?”

Puja also urged the law minister to make harsher laws for convicted rapists, including the death penalty. In current Nepalese law, there is no death penalty.

On December 17, 2014, Law Minister Narahari Acharya [8] commented on the issue, assuring justice for Puja. Prominent politician and former Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai [9] commented [10], “Puja’s letter made me cry.”

Menuka Thapa, chairperson of Raksha Nepal [11], the NGO which is providing shelter for Puja, is also speaking out [12] to demand justice for Puja.

People are using Twitter to voice their support as well:

Why the government is silent? Quick justice needed # #JusticeForPuja

After publishing of the open letter, civil society, rights organisations and media have escalated pressure on the government to act. The law minister has assured that Puja will get justice. Now Puja has hope, at least for now.