One fine Friday evening, as I was scrolling down my Facebook page, a video caught my attention. Someone had shared a post that showed a woman being beaten and dragged on to the floor in accusation for practicing witchcraft. This video was from the far west Nepal, and people were sharing it all over the social media.
The video also showed a group of villagers witnessing the incident, but was not bothering to intervene in. These kinds of incidences are not new to Nepal, and many such incidences of violence against women are being reported on social networking sites of late, which shows how people could be mere on-lookers, taking the video but not doing anything to stop it?
The Nepal National Demographic Health Survey (2016) data reveals that 28.5% of women aged 15-49 years believe that the beating of wives by husbands is justified. This reflects how, in Nepali society, beating of a wife is accepted and seen as normal. This, I see, is a result of patriarchal mindset that is predominant in the Nepali society. From the religious scripts like Manusmriti and mythical stories like Ramayana or Mahabharata, the status of women is always projected as lower to men, and perceived as someone to be controlled and disciplined. The character like “Sita” in Ramayana is portrayed as an “ideal” form of a woman who supports her husband in good and bad times, however, she herself was asked to prove her purity because she was abducted by Ravana. We have been hearing these stories while growing up, that have contributed to shaping the mindsets of many girls and boys in our society.
While growing up, I used to hear stories from my grandmother who used to advise me that women have to be like the mother earth, tolerant of all the cruelty people bestows upon the mother earth, and be patient in life. Likewise, I remember how girls and women are often told to control their anger, not to be loud in expressing their feelings, and more so, instructed on how to walk, talk or behave. On the other hand, boys are told to react, be loud, exert their masculinity if needed, and are told to control their wives and girls. The notion of what is it to be “feminine” in opposition to what it means to be “masculine” have eventually shaped our thoughts, that over time have made these behavior normal and acceptable in our society. Moreover, girls and women often face character assassination in case they ever attempt to oppose the stereotypical behavior, and therefore, are made to feel guilty if they shout, show anger or retaliate.
However, the time has come to show the anger, there is a growing global outrage to put a stop to VAW, millions of solidarity seen on social media for the “# me too” campaign. From the famous Hollywood celebrity Oprah Winfrey speaking about it in the 2018 global gold award in US, to an unknown simple girl in the country like Nepal who supported the campaign by writing “#me too” on their social media pages. It made me feel that the whole world is speaking up. Like the Oprah Winfrey said in her speech, I felt that “the time is up” and actually appreciated the courage of all women who choose to speak up. From the response that campaign received, I would say that there aren’t any girls and women in the world, who in their lifetime have not faced any single incidence of harassment in their lives.
The whole world seems to be expressing anger, and I want to ask if it is easy to speak up for yourself? In Nepal, 22% percent of women (15-49) experience violence in their life time, and every 1 in 10 girls (15-19) faces violence during pregnancy (MoH, 2016). However, this is not a true picture as violence against women in Nepal is heavily underreported, as the perpetrators are often their own intimate partners and husbands. When the whole world is speaking up, it makes me think are we doing the same? Are we speaking enough?
In the midst of the solidarity and support to stop violence against women, I saw another video on the Facebook again, this time a woman in Dang was being mercilessly dragged on the floor, slapped, and her clothes torn in public. The difference was, it was done by two women, and there was someone taking a video but not trying to intervene in. This act of violence against woman was done by women themselves, and it makes me think how we are enslaved with our patriarchal mindsets. When I assess the situation of violence, I see that the victims are those who are vulnerable, have lower status, poor or marginalized. The perpetrators are often men, husbands, or people who have power and position to act in a certain way.
The exertion of power and control remains prevalent in our society and often seen as a normal act, to discipline and control women by men behind the closed doors, or in the privacy of a home. However, now as I see these acts captured on a video, in public, and increasingly been posted on social media, it makes me think what the person taking the video must be thinking? Are these people enjoying the scene rather than stopping such inhuman act? How acceptable is this? Have we lost all our humanity in the name of gaining popularity through the social media and internet posts? This makes me think again, is this a “new normal”? I feel raged and angry about these posts, we should stop making this a “new normal” and choose not to encourage, rather stop the violence against women and girls.
(The author is pursuing her M.Phil in Development Studies at Kathmandu University, Hattiban.)