KATHMANDU, NEPAL — Last year, Binu Yadav made a fateful decision. If her ex-husband — who she says kidnapped her, forcibly married her, and raped her while keeping her captive between 2019 and 2020 — wasn’t punished by a court of law, she would end her life. In April 2022, during a hearing for their divorce, she drank poison in court. She spent months in a hospital recovering.
Yadav’s story is one of a stream of cases bringing attention to the plight of people who have been raped in Nepal. They want to bring their perpetrators to justice, but face challenges in a country where sexual crimes can no longer be prosecuted after two years, or three years if the person raped is above age 70, a minor or has a disability.
Yadav says her former husband raped her in 2019 when they were still dating. She reported him to the police, but he compelled her to withdraw the complaint. Then, he asked her to marry him. It turned out the proposal was part of an elaborate plan that he and his family devised to avoid the rape charges, she says.
After a rushed wedding ceremony, he forcibly kept her in a hotel his family owned in Ramecchap, a town in Bagmati province. There, she was made to work as a maid. A few months later, he filed for divorce, alleging she was mentally disabled. He then took her to Kathmandu, she says, as if nothing had happened.
Sunita Neupane, GPJ Nepal
“After the statutory limitation passed, I have been discarded like a piece of paper,” she says. “But various organizations suggested that I not fight them.”
For many years, the statute of limitations when it came to rape was only 35 days. Then it was increased to six months in 2015 after much lobbying by rights activists. In 2017, the new Criminal Code further increased the statute of limitations to one year.
In 2022, legislators amended the criminal code again, rising the limit to two years, after a Nepali woman spoke out on TikTok about how she was drugged and raped eight years prior when she was 16 years old. The rapist, a prominent businessman, threatened to leak intimate photos of her if she ever filed a complaint, she said at that time. Social media exploded with discussion. An online petition gathered 18,000 signatures in three days, and legislators eventually picked up on it.
Cases like Yadav’s are drawing attention to the issue again, and some women’s rights activists continue to say the limit should be abolished altogether.
“Women become [traumatized] in cases of rape and heinous sexual violence. When they recover mentally, the time limitation has already passed,” says Sulochana Khanal, program coordinator at the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre, a local nongovernmental organization that advocates for women’s rights.
“There are male members of Parliament who said that if there was no statutory limitation, 50% of Nepali men would be in prison,” says Bimala Rai Paudyal, the member of Parliament who proposed the 2022 amendment. “From this we see how frightening the problem is.”
Those in favor of a statute of limitations argue that, without one, rape investigations become too difficult. “A person might not remember what has happened to them. It can be hard to describe exactly what went down,” says Sushma Gautam, a legal officer with Forum for Women, Law and Development, a civil society organization promoting the rights of women, children and marginalized groups. She adds that she is in favor of no time limit when the crime involves a minor.
Phanindra Gautam, spokesperson for the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, says that the matter is still under discussion between the judiciary and various stakeholders. “Laws are made frequently. This is a dynamic process,” he says.
For Mamta Siwakoti, the lawyer who started the 2022 online petition that led to the latest changes in the criminal code, the answer is to strengthen the investigation, not to punish those who have experienced the crimes. “The victim should not bear the burden of the government’s weaknesses,” she says.
Mohna Ansari, the lawyer who represented the woman who spoke out on TikTok in 2022, and a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, says that for sociocultural reasons it could take years for a person to muster the courage to file a complaint. She adds that looking for evidence only on a woman’s body is the old school of thought, and the woman’s testimony should also be considered. “Instead of putting women in the center, lawyers put their minds in the center,” she says.
Sunita Neupane, GPJ Nepal
In May, Yadav again resorted to an extreme measure in her pursuit of justice by going on a hunger strike at Maitighar Mandala, a major square in the center of Kathmandu and a popular protest site, vowing to break it only when her ex-husband was charged for rape, and when authorities involved in her forced marriage and divorce are investigated.
When her hunger strike made the news, Minister of Home Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha visited the square and told her personally that she would receive justice. “If [he] broke my hunger strike by making a false promise, then I will go to his office and set myself on fire,” she says.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, through its press office, says it forwarded Yadav’s case to the Office of the Attorney General and to the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens.
“If there was no statutory limitation, then I would have been able to file my complaint,” Yadav says. “At least in one case I would have received justice.”