Uma K.C., 26, has seen the worst of Nepal’s patriarchal system. Originally from a small village, she fled during the Maoist insurgency when she was only 16 years old. At the height of the civil war, women were frequently tortured and raped. Afraid that she might fall victim to the same fate, she sought a better life in Kathmandu.
It wasn’t long before she found herself on the street, hungry. She didn’t have the skill set to obtain a proper job, so she found work in a dance bar. Dance bars, frequented mostly by local men, would be classified in the U.S. as strip clubs. Unlike the U.S., however, sex can often be found on the menu.
Within a year, she met a 52-year-old widower named Lakshmi. He was kind and frequented the dance bar. He told her that he was lonely. He had been married before, but his wife had died, leaving him without any children to care for. He didn’t have anyone to live with and he needed a wife to give him hot water. He wanted to marry her; he could provide for her, and she would be able to quit the dance bar. Believing that she had met a good man, Uma married Lakshmi in 2001.
Soon after, the torture began. He often abused her, using a kukri or grinding stone typically used for grain. He told her that he was not getting the sexual satisfaction he needed and forced her to perform oral sex, something that she was not comfortable doing. He told her he needed to share his bed with other women and continued to visit dance bars. He refused to wear protection and forbid Uma from using contraception. During their marriage, she was pregnant four times. Each time, he made her get an abortion.
She later learned that he was still married; in fact, he had never been widowed at all. His first wife, and grandchildren of theirs, lived with him in the city. His wife was unaware that he had married Uma. Later investigations would uncover that he used his job as an excuse to get away. A driver who was sometimes required him to spend nights away from home, he often told his wife that he was working late and would stay with Uma.
A friend told Uma about Raksha Nepal, an NGO that helps victims of prostitution, human trafficking, and domestic abuse. They advised her to speak up and seek justice, but first she would need to prove they were married. The law at the time did not provide protection to women who were victims of unmarried domestic abuse. She would need to produce a marriage certificate in order to file charges.
Uma knew what she had to do. One night in December 2007, she decided that she would request a copy of their marriage certificate from Lakshmi. To soften the mood, she prepared a meal made up of meats and large dishes. At the end of the night, she requested a copy of their marriage certificate and her citizenship, something husbands are required to sign in Nepal.
Lakshmi was skeptical. Realizing Uma was up to something, he grew angry. In the midst of an argument, he doused her body with gasoline and set her on fire. A neighbor overhead her screams and saved her.
Her hands and body, badly scarred, are daily reminders of the abuse she endured. Raksha Nepal is helping her to file a case, but it is difficult since there is no marriage certificate and Lakshmi burned all of their wedding photos. In a creative attempt to get around the law, they have produced copies of her abortion certificates as evidence. In order to get an abortion, a husband is required give permission. All four times, Lakshmi came to the hospital and signed his name.
Since the investigation began, the police have told Raksha Nepal and Uma that Lakshmi is missing. Witnesses, however, have seen him riding his motorbike in the city with other women. They suspect that he paid off the police. The neighbor who helped Uma is also nowhere to be found. In their own investigation, sources have told Raksha Nepal that he was paid 10,000 rupees to disappear, approximately $133 U.S. dollars.
Uma’s story highlights the difficulty in fighting domestic violence in Nepal, but it also provides one example of courage. Although she has not been awarded justice in the legal system, she is bright eyed, laughed during much of our interview, and is learning new skills. She now lives with other survivors, who are also being helped by Raksha Nepal.
Posted By Isha Mehmood
Posted Aug 2nd, 2009