Protesters in front of the prime minister's residence in Kathmandu on Thursday.
Mass protests over the gang rape of a young medical student in India have inspired a similar movement in neighbouring Nepal, where hundreds of protesters have been picketing outside the prime minister’s residence for the past week. They are furious over the alleged rape and robbery of a maid by government officials, just one of many cases they accuse the government of ignoring.
Sita Rai, a pseudonym used to protect the maid’s identity, says that she was robbed and raped by immigration officials as she returned from Saudi Arabia to Kathmandu’s international airport. The government gave her 1,700 dollars in compensation, which is 700 dollars less than she said she lost.
When news of this got out a week ago, angry citizens began picketing in front of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s residence, in the upscale Baluwatar neighbourhood of Kathmandu. The protest, dubbed #OccupyBaluwatar on Twitter, soon spread, peaking on January 1 with about 800 protesters, according to organisers. It has continued since, though in smaller numbers, as the government has made several arrests in Rai’s case.
Protesters in front of the prime minister's residence on January 1. The man lying on the ground is not injured - he is portraying a victim of violence. Video courtesy of Chhokila Ukyab
According to the National Women’s Committee, more than 15 percent of Nepalese women have suffered from some type of sexual abuse. The latest data from the United Nations, which dates back to 2006, shows only 69 cases of rape were reported to the police in Nepal that year, but activists say these are widely under-reported due to the stigma surrounding the issue.

“If we can make the system work for this single person, we can have some hope that it may work for us all one day”

Stuti Basnyet lives in Kathmandu. She has taken part in the protests.
This citizen-led campaign began with an open letter to the prime minister asking for justice for Sita Rai. It was posted on Facebook and Twitter, and people were urged to email it to the prime minister, as well as to physically drop the letter off at his residence on December 28. The idea was simple: if we can make the system work for this single person, Sita Rai, we the people can have some hope that it may work for us all one day.
Today [Thursday] is day 7 of our protest. Momentum is going strong. From what we hear, the prime minister and his team are relentlessly following up with investigators, bureaucrats, and the police to inquire about not only Rai’s case but several more that we have since picked up on. [These include the cases of Saraswati Subedi, a maid recently found dead at her employer’s home, and Chhorimaiya Maharjan, a woman who disappeared several months ago.] We plan to continue until the investigations’ results are made public.
The protests in India got the Nepalese media to pay more attention to stories of violence against women here. Over the past few weeks, so many horrific stories have come to the limelight, many of which would probably otherwise have gone unreported. And because people are starting to read about these stories, one after another, they’re realising just how bad the situation is for women across the country. This has made the population angrier, and more aware.
Protesters in front of the prime minister's residence on Thursday.