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Where even Buddhist nun isn't spared

by SURENDRA PHUYAL, Republica, Aug 8, 2011

Kathmandu, Nepal -- They get leered at and even harassed publicly. They continue to get abused and attacked. Everybody knows that violence against women is very common in this part of the world: Nepal doesn’t look better than India, which, according to a recent survey, is amongst the world’s "five worst places" for women.

But what happened in eastern Nepal in the last week of June was very uncommon, very rare and very shocking: A Buddhist nun who was returning home on a public bus was forced to spend the night inside it. There, she was assaulted and gang-raped.

After the attack was reported, all the five perpetrators--including the bus driver, his two helpers and two other men--were arrested. As the 21-year-old nun lay semi-conscious receiving treatment at different hospitals--from Siliguri in West Bengal, India, to the TU Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu-- the news spread far and wide, shocking Buddhists and non-Buddhists the world over.

Last week, popular singer-cum-nun Ani Choying Drolma came to her help, whereupon the shocked and semi-conscious the nun received shelter at Arya Tara School in Pharping. In the remote eastern hills, where the nun was attacked, the Sankhuwasava district court is currently dealing with the case.


But the big question is this: Will the Buddhist nun get justice? Will she be compensated and integrated back into the society? As Nepal´s Buddhist community debates whether or not she should be allowed to remain a nun the big question is this: Will she be reinstated as the Buddhist nun?

Nobody knows what´s in store for her. Nepal´s Buddhist and indigenous people´s organizations have deplored the attack, yet they haven´t ensured that the nun will be reinstalled in her monastery. The local Buddhist community looks confused; it´s in dilemma.

"Such a thing never happened in the Buddha´s lifetime," Norbu Sherpa, an official of Nepal Buddhist Federation told The Times of India. "So he did not leave instructions about how to deal with the situation. Buddhists all over the world adhere to what he had laid down: That a person can no longer be considered ordained in case of having a physical relationship. It´s applicable to both men and women."

Right now, the nun is in safe hands, at the Arya Tara School. But in the face of ongoing court trial and indecision by the country´s Buddhist chieftains, she has no choice but to remain deeply troubled, deeply stigmatized. "She is mentally disturbed still … and complains of extreme pain in her lower abdomen," Ani Choying told me one recent evening.

In a society where even a Buddhist nun isn´t spared, imagine the plight of women in general. The big question right now is: Will the nun get social and legal justice?

In a society where even a nun isn´t spared, imagine the plight of women in general. Day in and day out, reports of individual- and societal-led assaults and violence against women continue to make headlines. They narrate tales of girls and women sexually assaulted and even murdered; of women beaten to death for not getting enough dowries; of women beaten black and blue and fed human feces for "practicing witchcraft."


Reality bites. A latest count by a Kathmandu non-governmental organization, Women´s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) says violence claimed the lives of 22 women in various districts of Nepal in the past three months—mid-April to mid-July. The deaths—most of which were recorded in Tarai districts--were related to dowry, witchcraft charges, and domestic and sexual violence.

Trend of sexual violence appears no less appalling. The latest trend of which can be gauged from a three year old Informal Sector Services (INSEC) study which recorded 225 cases of attempted or executed rape registered in 2008 in the country. There were seven cases of murder after rape, and 31 cases of gang rapes.

And the woes don´t end there. Nepali girls and women are also vulnerable to trafficking: Between 10,000-to-15,000 women are trafficked to India, with which Nepal shares an open border, and around 7,500 are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation, according to studies.

In recent years, thanks to conflict, instability and the resultant economic hardships, many Nepali women have been flown away to the bustling markets of the Middle East and East Asia. There, too, as the numerous news reports say, they have been tricked into exploitations—including sexual.

And there are discriminations. In a society where women are assaulted, attacked and even traded like commodities, the gender-based discriminations they face in everyday life is anybody´s guess. As the activists point out, the discriminations are widespread, and widows—numbering around 800,000—and the Dalit (the so-called untouchable) women are more vulnerable to "societal attacks."

If a country is to develop, they must end.


The recent UN Women´s report lauded Nepal as a pioneer in South Asia for making legislative provisions to ensure 33 percent quota for women in the parliament. Yet that sense of empowerment has yet to trickle down to the ground level: To houses and workplaces where women continue to face discriminations; to the rural pathways and urban sidewalks where girls fear walking alone; and to the public vehicles where girls and women fear traveling alone.

The nun rape story will not be easily forgotten. But whether or not she will get justice—both legal and social—remains a mystery. Nepal´s archaic laws don´t have clear provisions to protect a female victim of rape—and safeguard her from social stigma and ostracism—one reason why victims don´t come forward to report about the crime against them.

Nepal’s Buddhist institution, too, isn´t clear as far as the gang-raped nun´s case is concerned. Nepal Buddhist Federation´s Norbu Sherpa told The Times of India: "A vessel that is damaged once can no longer be used to keep water … Buddhism all over the world says this. Even the Dalai Lama says you can´t be a monk or nun after marriage."

That´s there. But here in the worldly world, ´women cover half the sky.´ No society can develop unless women develop, and unless women are empowered culturally, educationally and economically. It´s high time the sense of empowerment trickled down to the bottom, to the grassroots and every corner of the country.

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