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Nepal sees growing custodial torture of women

While a 10-year civil war saw women suffer atrocities like gangrape and torture in Nepal, both by the state and the Maoist guerrillas, their ordeal continues even after the signing of a peace accord with growing cases of torture and rape in custody.

world Updated: Jun 26, 2011 12:49 IST

While a 10-year civil war saw women suffer atrocities like gangrape and torture in Nepal, both by the state and the Maoist guerrillas, their ordeal continues even after the signing of a peace accord with growing cases of torture and rape in custody.

Advocacy Forum, a leading human rights organisation that has been monitoring prisons since 2001, released a report- "Torture of women in detention: Nepal's failure to prevent and protect" - on the occasion of UN International Day in support of torture victims on Sunday, warning that in 2010, one out of every 10 women detainees in 67 prisons had complained of torture or ill treatment.

Between July and December, custodial torture of women shot up to nearly 14 % while it had been seven % in the earlier months.

The situation was the worst in the capital with more than 20 % of women detainees having undergone torture, a level as high as reported during the Maoist insurgency.

Besides district police offices, security forces have also been using private houses as secret detention centres, especially in Kathmandu.

Women from the Dalit community, regarded as untouchables, and women from the Terai plains, bore the brunt of custodial torture, the report found.

In October, Hermin Ratu Lama, arrested on suspicion of theft and drug-smuggling, was taken to such a private house in Lalitpur district, where the UN and many other INGO offices are located. She was forced to lie down on the floor and stripped with policemen stepping on her knees and beating her on the soles of her feet in the presence of her husband.

Desperate to stop the torture, her husband said he was ready to make any confession the police wanted.

The most common charges against tortured women detainees were committing a public offence, drugs and murder. The most common methods are beating, sexual molestation, forcible stripping, and even giving electric shocks and rape.

Ironically, most tortured women detainees were released after police failed to bring any charge against them.

In March 2010, a young couple from India eloped to Nepal's Dhanusha district in the Terai plains from Bihar. While the young man was a Hindu, the 18-year-old girl was a Muslim and their families were against their marriage.

The pair planned to tie the knot in Nepal's famous Janaki temple. However, they were spotted in the railway station by policemen and taken to a hotel where the teen was tied up, gagged and raped by a sub-inspector.

"In 1996, Nepal's government pledged to bring a law to punish torture as the existing law is not sufficient," says Mandira Sharma, Advocacy Forum chief. "Though 11 organisations working in the field sent their recommendations, we are still waiting for it."

The current Torture Compensation Act, victims say, provides for maximum NRS 100,000 as compensation but it is hard to get the money even when recommended by courts due to evasiveness by the state and security forces.

Also, it doesn't get the perpetrator punished.

Sharma says torture will continue as long as there is no accountability and impunity flourishes.

Besides the lacunae in law, victims' sufferings have been aggravated by a succession of ruling parties withdrawing cases against their leaders and cadres.

Currently, the Maoists, the largest party in the ruling alliance, are pushing to withdraw over 300 cases, saying they were political in nature and the peace accord indicated they would be dropped.

The cases include robbery, torture, unlawful detention and murder.

Ironically, 2010 was celebrated by Nepal's government as the year of zero violence against women and a hot line was set up in the prime minister's office to give justice to those victims who were turned away by police and courts.