We just erased two prominent Nepali feminists without knowing that we actually erased them consciously. We erased them without naming them. We erased them without knowing them. We erased our desire in looking for feminism in the spaces where it is visible. We erased them with our sense of patriarchal invisibility.
These two feminist prodigies are Nirmala Pant and Susmita Regmi.
Nirmala Panta, a 13-years young girl was raped and murdered in July of 2018 in Western Nepal. The incident raised huge public attention among feminists and activists in Nepal. Despite the gruesomeness of her death, the post-incident was significant given that it exposed the vacantness of the Nepali legal system, hypocrisy in the political commitment, and more so staging ethical stances in Nepali politicians.
More recently, Susmita Regmi shattered the lives of a handful of people including Bhakti Thapa, an organizer of a pageant contest, Shreedhar Poudel, a photojournalist, Malvika Subba, a Miss Nepal and so many others by her accusations of rape and involvement in the rape.
In both of these incidents, these two ladies stood out differently. They were not like feminists who would advocate in street for other women or the ones who would like to spend their whole life determined to help other women like themselves. These two ladies were one-time advocates, who spoke truth to the power—but while speaking, they did some radical work of change that had expanded the feminist paradigm of Nepal.
So, do you want to call Nirmala Panta and Susmita Regmi a feminist in Nepal? Do you want them to be listed in the broader history of Nepali feminism where the great names would be written?
I would like to.
I am writing this article aiming to not let these feminist figures be erased from history the way others did. Let us not erase them by minimizing them, and squeezing their contributions. Let us not make them media friendly–only to erase them from our memory.
As Saidiya Hartman, in her book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiment: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval says, “The singular life of this particular girl becomes interwoven with those of other young women who crossed her path, shared her circumstances, danced with her in the chorus,…Without a name, there is the risk that she might never escape the oblivion that is the fate of minor lives and be condemned to the pose for the rest of her existence….”(p.36)
Nirmala Panta, who died in July 2018, unknown to most of us about the real circumstances that she went through expanded the horizon of Nepali feminism. She was raped and murdered near her family home in Pokhara, the western part of Nepal. After her death, for the first time, Nepali feminists realized the corruption and misogyny of the political system and legal rules were the first battles that they have to fight.
The prime example is how justice has been delayed for her and her family. Her perpetrator has not yet been identified, rather her case is being manipulated by staging the false perpetrator. The case of Nirmala is reckoning in the history of Nepali feminism for it showcased that not only the legal rules for the rape victims are weak the investigation itself is a grueling process that could be made contingent as required by people in power.
For example, when the police personnel first attended the murder scene of Panta, one of the police personnel washed her trouser which is an intentional attempt to remove the proof. Nonetheless, the rape-kit tool that was used in her investigation was not the central tool for finding the perpetrator. The staging of her case, which prompts the public to protest for more than years showed Nepali feminists, nonetheless the Nepali public, that there needs to be a lot of work that is due. It cost the life of Pant to show the state of feminist rights in the country. In addition, she invited the feminist anthem-like, Rapist is your Path, where Nepali feminists joined with the global feminist to voice against femicide and injustices.
Susmita Regmi’s courage to speak the truth against power was no less a powerful endeavor. She expanded the existing feminist goals in the country in quite unique way. By accusing her perpetrator, Bhakti Thapa of rape, workplace harassment, and violence while she was young, she made it clear that victims can speak for themself.
The way she came forward through Tik Tok, where she named the perpetrator in the way #MeToo activists did in recent years. She used the global tool of feminism in a local fashion. Her voice amplified the feminist goals by giving power to victims allowing them to point out the perpetrator long after the incident.
In addition, she also accused former Miss Nepal Malvika Subba of involvement in the act. This gesture of hers points to the idea that it does not ensure that a female could be a feminist, more so, advocating for others in an organizational way does not ensure that goals of advocacy have been achieved. She questioned the idea of what makes a feminist is different from what required from an individual to be a feminist.
While writing this short interpretation of modern feminists in the country who came from a very marginalized background, more so, lacking the power to declare themself as feminists, it might come on the shoulder of academia, writers, activists, and scholars to name the feminist.
Nepali feminists are rewriting history in very unique ways. Moreover, they are being feminists by simply naming the perpetrator and the form of abuse. They are becoming brave in a way that we do not have a specific term for their braveness.
- Hartman, S. (2019). Wayward lives, beautiful experiments: Intimate histories of riotous Black girls, troublesome women, and queer radicals. WW Norton & Company.