This essay, written by Ms. Pooja Khati, a first year student at Asian University for Women, Bangladesh, won the nation-wide essay competition “Aspirations for Free Enterprise” announced by Gari Khana Deu! in association with Bichar Dabali.
This paper “Establishing the supremacy of Rule of Law in Nepal” is about how legal laws are far from being implemented well and what can be done to solve this issue. Socially constructed ideas and the relatively unknown, lengthy and expensive legal processes have increased the lack of implementation of laws. These ideas that link victims of violence to constructs of shame cause lesser reporting of crimes. Therefore, crimes like rapes and domestic violence, are rarely reported and thus, the chance of associated laws being implemented becomes close to non-existent. Similarly, most victims lack basic understanding when it comes to the process of the law, for instance, on where they have to report the crime and whom to approach for justice. Moreover, it is a time and money consuming process that aids in reducing the victim’s strength of stance. To address these problems, use of media and communication can support in advertising and informing people about laws and their processes. Social networking sites, newspapers, radio stations and television, all contribute to a big role in faster conveyance of the message to the public. Therefore, media and communication help to address problems like hesitancy in reporting crimes and holding back due to lack of knowledge about the law, its cost and time consuming process.
Most people agree that the crimes, and injustice that occur around us, are due to lack of implementation of law. However, we rarely mull over the reasons as to why laws are not effectively implemented. People tend to blame each other for not implementing laws, but they rarely want to be the first one to do so. Laws govern the workings of almost everything, everywhere; but they are rarely followed in their entirety. When a person presumably suffers injustice, it is rare for them to look to their own possible faults and they largely blame external circumstances or other people. But when it comes to other people, we’d rather fault their character than anything else. If we take rape as an example, people who haven’t gone through the trauma of rape or are least empathetic, are most likely to attribute rape to the woman’s clothing or her late hours, rather than the perpetrator’s psyche. This act of not being empathetic also leads to a lack of implementation of law. People look to law-following only when they are under its direct radar, but don’t tend to think the same way when it comes to other people. (McLeod, n.d.).
At times, it is even seen that the armed forces in a country, such as the police, are also seen violating constitutional laws. The police department, a responsible system that should help implement laws, tends to act according to social norms and rules of the society, rather than following the rules of law. For example, in India, it has been proven that kissing is not an illegal act, as described in their penal code, section 294 but still, most police officers try and arrest couples who hold hands, hug and kiss in most parts of India (“Indian Kanoon, 2014”). Similarly, prostitution is legal in Bangladesh, but practically, being a prostitute is a no less than a taboo and police are found to raid legal brothels and ignore the legal act of the country (C.A.D., 2000). It is because their social norms and legal laws fail to address each other. The police force is not sent out to engage in moral policing. I believe that this lack of implementation of law is because of socially constructed ideas linking various crimes to honor and shame in the society and the long, expensive and relatively unknown process of the law. However, media and other communication channels can play an important role in such vital information dissemination.
The first cause of lack of implementation of rule of law is social norm that links victims of crime to stigma and shame in society. For example, the dowry system and discrimination based on caste has been banned since 2009 in Nepal, but it has barely been implemented as people refrain from complaining about it. . Radha Mehata, 20, of Chitiha VDC – Sunsari, who was seven months pregnant, was killed by her husband Santosh Kumar Mehata, 25 and father-in-law Shiva Ram Mehata, 55, alleging her of not having brought dowry, on February 2, 2013. Later, however, the criminals were released (Karki, 2014). Although many women suffer violence inside their homes, they still hesitate to go to a police station for help. It is commonly perceived that such action would spoil the image of both the woman and her family. The crimes related to women victimization and the honor of the family are thus, less likely to be reported in the police station because customarily, it is perceived that the honor of a family depends on the character and deeds of their daughter (Ruggi, 1998). All these socially constructed ideas have remained extremely powerful for decades which inhibits implementation of the rule of law.
Unreported crimes result in less crime records and ultimately, those laws that are to ensure security will not work until our society deconstructs social norms and inspects the negative effects of these criminal-cultural acts. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report states, “A combination of immense social stigma attached to sexual assault and fear of retaliation prevented many women from reporting these crimes during the conflict, and that it still inhibits many others from speaking of the assaults” (Nepal: Conflict Era Rapes Go Unpunished, 2014). To implement criminal laws and punish criminals, first we need to move out of the bubble of our conservative society which teaches women to sacrifice and be sacrificed and refrains us from critically analyzing these acts. If the people of the country threaten women from speaking up because the act will ruin the family name and the prestige, the pain and suffering of victims will go unheard. Reporting of crimes like rape and domestic violence is rare if not impossible to find. Not only do social norms shape people’s minds, that generally prohibits the reporting of crimes, but most of the time, lack of knowledge of the law as well as its long and expensive process stresses out people, which decreases the chances of fighting for their own or other peoples’ rights.
The second cause of lack of implementation of rule of law is lack of awareness of the associated law; its lengthy and expensive process discourages victims from fighting for their rights. About 40 percent of Nepalese live below the poverty line in Nepal, making it difficult for them to hire a private lawyer (BBC: Nepal Profile, 2014). A rape victim, firstly, may not have enough money to hire a legal consultant, and subsequently, to go through all other required procedures to get her case into court. As Amber Raut, a Human Rights activist and advocate is quoted talking on a specific rape case, “We had taken several war time rape cases to court and after being rejected multiple times, we had taken a case to the Supreme Court just to exhaust national options, and like we thought, there too we were denied justice so now we are taking the case to the international court of justice.” A victim will already begin to feel isolated from larger society, and by filing a case, he/she might feel that they are further announcing their victimization. Around thirty five percent of the population is uneducated in Nepal and for these uneducated victims, it is challenging enough to approach different legal offices without having any prior knowledge of its workings.
Many of these crimes remain unreported, with survivors isolated and unable to find ways to access justice and redress (“Nepal: Conflict Era Rapes Go Unpunished, 2014”).
Why should money dictate justice obtainment? Often, victims do not want to proceed because they do not have enough money to support their case; a matter that should be given serious deliberation. To improve the status of laws and its implementation, media and communication can play a significant role by providing better knowledge about the process of law. They could also reward people who contribute significantly to reporting serious crimes that are often seen as taboos in our societies. Media is an influential mechanism that shapes minds and be used to convey information about legal processes and criminal punishments. Newspapers, television programs, radio shows and the internet are often cited as the most influential media tools. Access to media and communication can empower people to define, claim and give meaning to their voices (Pettit, Salazar and Dagron, 2009). Recently, the UN collaborated with Brandon Stanton, a blogger of the Humans of New York fame, to interview and photograph everyday stories of people from 11 countries (The Guardian, 05/09/2014). The effort was well received by his viewers all over the world, as they got to examine the diversity of cultures through the photos. Brandon, with the help of social media, has become successful in showing the world that every person has their own individual story and helped decrease prejudices attached to certain communities or countries. This is a good example of the power of new media.
Implementing laws is not an easy task. It requires, hard work and cooperation from both the state and its citizens. As previously explained, social constructs of right and wrong defy legal laws and subsequently their implementation. Another cause of lack of implementation of the law is lack of knowledge of the legal process and its lengthy and expensive methods. However, the situation may still be improved by use of media and communication to address these issues. Media is a powerful tool and can reach all kinds of audiences. When social norms overpower legal laws, these laws remain only on paper. People are supposed to uphold legal laws rather than be led astray by questionable social norms.
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Ms. Khati can be reached at email@example.com.