As the year 2023 ended, one of the best news that emerged in Nepal was the judgement that the 23-year-old famous cricketer of Nepal, Sandeep Lamichhane, was found guilty of raping a girl Gaushala-26 (name of victim not revealed). His sentencing has been fixed for 10th January 2024, and he can face up to 10 years in prison. The relief expressed by the victim was worth all the suffering she faced, but she is determined to prove that she was a minor when the crime against her took place.
Nepal has witnessed a series of accusations by girls and women of different ages of being raped by men of high profile. Unfortunately, most of these cases get dissipated over the years and the victims do not get justice when they face one of the most heinous crimes against them because of their gender. In this case, after a year, the never tiring Gaushala-26 has received justice but has said she will continue to raise the case until it is proven that she is a minor. Due to some discrepancy in her birth date, her claim of being a minor when she was raped, could not be establish in the court. Nevertheless, the court said that as there was no consent, Lamichhane has been proven to be guilty of committing rape by taking advantage of her weak financial condition.
Nepal has a system of fast-track court judgments when crimes like rape happens and victims seek justice. However, in this case, there were repeated delays in the trial. Lamichhane was arrested in 2022 after he was accused and was imprisoned. He was then granted bail and released. The international cricket fraternity disowned him and the Nepal Cricket team removed him as the captain of the team. This step was welcomed by rights activists. However, after he received a bail, he also got a court ruling that he could continue to play for Nepal during several international cricket competitions including the last world cup.
There were several feats claimed by the Nepal cricket team and Lamichhane was part of the achievements. This has raised a serious question on the intention of allowing an accused player to represent Nepal in international tournaments. Scotland’s cricketers refused to shake hands with him after a match and there has been a lot of anger against him together with surprise that he was actually allowed to participate in international matches by the bench of Judge Sapana Malla Pradhan, who has been crucial in amending and promulgating several gender favourable laws in the country.
On 29th December 2023, a bench of District Court Judge Shishirraj Dhakal pronounced Lamichhane guilty. This has given a message that just because some people have talents of being good sportsperson does not give them the license of taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of girls. The cricket fans who cheered Lamichhane even after knowing that he had been accused of rape by a minor, need to reflect on their value system. The celebrity men who have become achievers in the field of sports, music, art or movies should not be given a power to suppress people.
Nepal now has laws that support the rights of the minorities and marginalised populations together with victims of gender-based violence. Unfortunately, accessing and asserting these rights are still a far-fetched reality because most of the times the perpetrators happen to be influential and the victims vulnerable.
After the recent justice given by the court, the victim Gaushala-26 said that she had to live like a criminal just because she decided to be courageous enough to seek justice, while the perpetrator was being applauded. Like most girls and women who come out in the open after they have been raped or even molested and sexually abused, fingers start getting pointed at them as if they were the “bad girls and women” and the perpetrators are given the benefit of the doubt. The victims bear verbal and physical abuses to make them feel as if they are at fault rather than them getting love, support and justice. The mental trauma that victims like Gaushala-26 face while the crime happens point to the facts that only the victims know what it is like. In the majority of such cases, justice is denied, therefore the victims and their family refuse to go to the court.
It is important not only for the government to bring laws to safeguard daughters of Nepal, but for the Nepali society to make sure the streets are safe for them and not a place for men to make it a place where they can commit crimes and walk scot-free.
(Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate and can be reached at email@example.com X handle: @NamrataSharmaP)