How long the sexual violence affected to remain mum before breaking the silence?
Pabitra Guragain, KATHMANDU: “I am carrying a life set on fire.” These words reverberated in a hall making the audience emotional.
Last Thursday, there was a gathering in the Kupandole-based Hotel Himalaya in Lalitpur. Digital storytelling, theatrical performance and art exhibition were the parts of the event. But no fun in listening to such stories, no laughter in watching drama and no amusement was there in finding the meaning of art works.
In contrary, tears were there. The sentence in the lead cited collectively was not created out of the imagination by a play writer, but was taken from original expressions by women surviving the conflict.
Stories of pain, sufferings and lived experiences of those Nepali women who faced gender-based violence during the armed conflict that plagued the nation almost ten years (1996-2006) were presented through the means of technology and artistic expressions in the event jointly organized by The Story Kitchen (TSK) and Conflict Victims’ Common Platform (CVCP).
It has been over 12 years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord that formally ended the conflict and brought the then rebelling Maoist cadres to the mainstream of politics. The country recorded many historic changes since then. The situation has changed now, but the conflict affected women are living with wounded hearts and disturbed psyche. Though, experiences of conflict affected women are more or less similar, in case of those women subjected to sexual harassment and violence the situation is relatively tougher because they are carrying burnt bodies caused by the ‘invisible flames’ set on their life.
“I was thrown in the cold floor of a dark room, blind folded. Hearing abusive words and going through sexual abuse frequently, my mind stopped working properly. I would constantly lose and gain conscience.” These dialogues cited by one of the characters of theatrical performance were real experiences of a teen girl during the armed conflict. She does knows that it was not her fault to be subjected to such inhumane treatment, wants guilty to be punished and can speak about it in public as well. But, fears of social stigma attached to it and other sorts of security threats have forced her to take the help of other means of expression to break the silence.
But how long the situation goes like this? She questions herself frequently.
TSK chair Ms Jaya Luitel says experiences of women, especially those who suffered sexual violence, have not been fully acknowledged as part of Nepal’s armed conflict. Too often women survivors and victims are silenced, disbelieved, stigmatized or punished when they come forward to share their horrible past. As she claims, such events and workshops which provide a ‘safe place’ for survivors of war-era sexual violence to break the silence are in calendar of the organization. They are voiceless in the open, but this does not mean that they do not want to tell abhorring moments of life they had to tolerate for no reason at all.
“Breaking the silence is a must for ending impunity,” asserted CVCP treasurer Srijana Sing.
According to Surya Kiran Gurung, chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the transitional justice mechanism formed to establish truth about conflict-related cases of human rights violations, it has registered above 60 thousand complaints and only a few of them are about sexual violence and challenges are there how to address them in a sensitive way .
It may be noted that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli during his meeting with chiefs of diplomatic missions in Nepal and its development partners Tuesday said the government was serious to ensure the transitional justice in a free and fair manner, avoiding undue pressure and influences- both from within and outside the country. He ruled out the possibility of blanket amnesty to serious violations of human rights and humanitarian laws.
Hope that voices of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence will not be continued to fall on pachyderm ear of the authorities concerned, so that the guilty in the wartime sexual violence would be brought to book and one day the survivors will be given a ‘safe place’ for sharing lived experiences and a ground to restore self-esteem and achieve dignity with the guarantee of both legal and social justice for them.