In late August every year, we have special day for women called Teej. This is a cultural festival for women all over Nepal. Because many of the ladies of Samunnat are not fasting for their husband’s long life, we celebrate Teej by making a variety of special dishes and we invite each other for lunch or dinner. Women wear red sari, go to the temple and we exchange red bangles and Tikka as a symbol of a happy married life. After this day of celebrating, many women fast as part of the celebration. For ladies who are in situations of domestic violence, Teej is a time when we celebrate our friendship and being like sisters because we share our sorrow and happiness.
While we were preparing our Teej celebrations, we heard that a lady in our town named Ganga Maya Thapa was murdered. Ganga Maya was the mother of 4 children and a victim of regular violence from her husband and his family. The reason of the torture was polygamy. While bigamy and polygamy have been illegal in Nepal for over 50 years, they still occur and are often ignored. To charge a man with bigamy or polygamy is complicated and an “old” wife is often very poorly treated when a new wife is married. A second wife may not even know of the existence of the first wife until she is bought to the husband’s family. Polygamous marriages often occur because the first wife has been unable to have children or if she has only borne daughters. “Old” wives are often pressured by their own family to simply put up with the situation instead of seeking a divorce and getting the rights she and her children are entitled to. The wife’s family may fear the shame of divorce, and the stigma creates for them when they try to find husbands for other daughters. They may feel they cannot afford to look after their daughter and her chidlren if she leaves her husband.
Two days before her murder Ganga Maya had approached her neighbours for help and asked them to rescue her from her increasingly untenable situation. Unfortunately, instead of going to the police, the neighbours went straight to the in-laws and tried to bring about reconciliation. The result was that she was tortured and not taken to hospital until she was about to die. She died on the evening of the next day.
The next morning after her death, the local women’s groups and the neighbours were so angry they came to the police station to put the charges against the in-laws and husband but the police didn`t register the case nor did they arrest them. The police said the husband and family were claiming she committed suicide. No-one believed this police statement and women’s groups protested against the police and again called a meeting with the Press. The news was published in the local news paper. The women went to the District Police Office, the Prosecutor and Chief District Officer but there was no-one would listen and give a positive response. The high ups went away from town rather than listen. Eventually we put the application to Human Rights Commission in Nepal.
Thirteen days after the death of death of Ganga Maya the police have finally arrested the in-laws and husband on suspicion of murder. Now the case is under the jury. This is entirely due to the power of the groups of women. We had more reasons to celebrate the power of women and their connection in this year’s Teej festival. This is only one step in the journey to bring justice to the killers of Ganga Maya and we still have to see what the jury`s decision will be.
We will let you know what happens.
(Please note that the second photo comes from The Independent newspaper in UK and shows women protesting against a government policy to provide an incentive payment to men who marry widows – a humiliating notion that was very open to abuse.)