An open letter to Ram Narayan Bidari

Published On: September 29, 2020 06:57 AM NPT By: Andrea Upadhya

Andrea Upadhya

Andrea Upadhya

The contributor for Republica.

Instead of instilling the fear of the judicial system in sexual offenders, your comments have left scores of fellow citizens feeling enraged and unsettled.

Dear Mr Bidari,

Your rather inflammatory remarks during a televised interview on September 19 have been making the rounds on social media. I’m sure you’ve been met with derision and scorn and perhaps even some praise from certain people. While I admit I had a strong reaction at first, I’ve decided to approach this with some semblance of compassion and patience. You see, after the initial shock over your claim that almost 90 percent of adult rape allegations are fabricated or a result of post-consensual intercourse regret, I felt a cool numbness take over. As I navigated the social media, reactions spanned the entire spectrum, from vehement anger to unflinching agreement and support. I identified with the former; the latter confounded my liberal, “modern,” feminist sensibilities.

First, I think some pesky statistics would help contextualize the problem. The Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (2016) reported that seven percent of women between the age of 15 and 49 experience some form of sexual violence, which is described as “forcing someone to have sexual intercourse or engage in sexual activity without consent.” Of course, this figure is still a conservative one. A lot of rape and sexual assault cases go unreported because of societal stigma and shame. Additionally, these are Nepal’s stats. Global sexual violence data only gets increasingly bleaker. Many women I know have confided their experiences with sexual violence to me and have spoken about their reluctance to seek justice. Reporting it would invite more troubles, some say. Others just want to put the attack behind them and move on. In some cases, the women, in their shock and confusion, didn’t know to call it rape or assault until they confided to a third party. Our reluctance to talk about sex, the stigma attached to sexuality (particularly female sexuality), the absence of comprehensive sex education on the basis of consent have created a culture where even mentioning these matters makes one an immoral, bigreko manchhe.

The misogynistic nature of your comments also failed to take into account the far-reaching impacts of sexual violence. Queer people, disabled folks, senior citizens, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and men, particularly from poor communities, continue to be overlooked while discussing sexual violence. Individuals with those intersecting identities, often the most vulnerable, fall through the cracks when it comes to sexual violence and trafficking. Legal rights and protections do not often translate into real progress. Where do your comments leave the already vulnerable members of our society?

Do people manipulate the system and take advantage of the law to falsely accuse others? Yes, they do. Unfortunately, that will always be a risk and there’s no way to screen such deceit. However, these false cases should not distract thousands of real cases of real people seeking justice. As an MP and a lawyer, you, Mr Bidari, have an even greater responsibility to the very people you disparaged through your callous remarks. It’s on you and your ilk to set a better example and create an environment that encourages more people to come forward to expose their rapists and assaulters. Instead of instilling the fear of the judicial system in sexual offenders, your comments have left scores of fellow citizens feeling enraged and unsettled. In reality, the definition of sexual violence in the Demographic and Health Survey fails to take into account the implicit acts of everyday sexual harassment. I wish there was a way, beyond rhetoric and metaphors, to truly explain the female experience to cis-gendered heterosexual (cis-het) men. If you experienced the constant stares, the nauseating comments, the discomfort, the heart-stopping fear because of everything from acid attacks to rape and even death that women endure on a near-daily basis, maybe you’d be little more empathetic. Women don’t want to trick you, MP Bidari. We’d rather be getting work done and meeting our goals.

MP Bidari, I’ll be honest. It wasn’t just your comments that caused that chill of fear down my spine. You are but one, albeit powerful, man. No, the thing that left me horrified was knowing you’re not alone in thinking this way. Most men, particularly cis-het men, have made it abundantly clear that they are largely unbothered by the objectification and dehumanization of women. I know many would like to revert to the age old “imagine if this happened to your mother/daughter/sister” argument. However, I reject that. You shouldn’t have to be related to a woman to care about women.

That said, I implore you, MP Bidari, to listen to the women in your life: family members, colleagues, friends, neighbors, acquaintances. Every woman I’ve encountered, regardless of race, ethnicity, wealth, education status, age, has had at least one experience where they were made uncomfortable by unwanted attention or touch. These experiences are universal. Be it on a public bus, in the store, on the street, at a temple, at home, at work, at school, in a tempo. The vitriol and backlash that women who come forward with legitimate allegations receive aren’t accompanied by anything other than victim blaming, slut shaming, and being ostracized. I’m sorry, MP Bidari, but far too many women have been denied justice for your comments to be given a free pass.

This mistrust is born out of rape culture. To battle the mistrust, we must actively wage war on rape culture. For this, comprehensive sex education is essential. An education model that demystifies sex, gender, sexuality stands a chance to change the way we see women and sexual minorities. Consent is everything—not merely implicit consent, but explicit, enthusiastic consent. We need to teach this version of consent to children and adults. Stop forcing kids to hug relatives/acquaintances they don’t want to hug. Not only does this give them bodily autonomy, it protects them from falling prey to sexual violence. Working professionals shouldn’t have to endure inappropriate behavior in the workplace to placate their bosses. Consent, when taught right, empowers people to reject physical touch they’re uncomfortable with and teaches them that they have the power to say no. Teach people, kids and adults alike, to ask for consent and vocally give consent when appropriate.

Unsurprisingly, education and empathy must guide us forward. We must go beyond rhetoric and legal protections on paper to create a more equitable and safe society for those often targeted by sexual violence. I don’t doubt your commitment to justice, MP Bidari. My hope is that you recognize the shortsighted nature of your comments and take the necessary steps to check your biases. Survivors of sexual violence and their allies are waiting. And we’ll be voting according to what you do next.

The author is a Political Science graduate from Texas Wesleyan University.

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