House Speaker of the Nepali Parliament Arrested Following Accusation of Rape
Krishna Bahadura Mahara, house speaker of the Nepali House of Representatives, has been arrested after being accused of rape by Roshani Shahi, a nurse working at the Parliament Secretariat. Shahi claimed Mahara had come to her apartment earlier this week, forced her to consume alcohol, assaulted and then raped her while his bodyguards waited outside.
Mahara’s arrest comes just a few days after he resigned from his parliamentary post in order “to facilitate an impartial and fair investigation into the allegations.” Mahara, a high-ranking and longstanding member of the ruling Nepali Communist Party (NCP), nevertheless denied the claims.
“[Shahi] sought my help to make her post a permanent one so that she could work without having to worry about getting transferred from the Parliament Secretariat. I told her that I cannot help her in that regard. She was angry with me for that and levelled the allegation of rape against me,” claimed the ex-speaker.
Events on Tuesday seemed to confirm Mahara’s version of events after Shahi claimed that the media had lied about her accusations and that, in fact, she had never been raped, leading members of Nepali society to speculate her accusations had been cajoled by opposition parties seeking to undermine the NCP.
Since Friday, however, the situation has changed drastically once more, as Shahi filed a first information report (FIR), formally beginning the investigation process and leading to Mahara being placed into custody by local police.
Many critics, however, are suspicious of the proceedings, arguing that the police have not done enough and that the NCP may use its political power to subvert the justice process. Bishwo Prakash Sharma, spokesperson of the main opposition party in Nepal, Nepali Congress (NC), argued that the, “onus lies on the ruling party, the government and the investigating agency to seriously pursue Mahara’s case.”
Not everyone is as critical. Various womens’ rights advocates have actually seen the current proceedings as a victory.
Mohna Ansari, a member of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Commissioner of Nepal’s National Women Commission (NWC) argues that “his immediate resignation is a good move.”
Indeed, it is easy to argue that the NCP’s response to the accusation has been refreshingly progressive. Historically, very few campaigns to hold sexual harassers in power accountable in Nepal have successfully reached fruition. Instead, accusations of sexual harassment have resulted more often in counter-accusations and harassment of accusers, rather than in resignations and investigations.
A striking example is that of Keshav Sthapit, mayor of Kathmandu and a high-ranking member of Nepali Congress. After being accused of sexual harassment in 2017, he argued that one of his accusers was “fake” and that the accusations were a “rape of men’s rights.” Since the allegations, Sthapit has only moved up in the political world, becoming Physical Infrastructure Minister for Province 3 of Nepal.
Since the birth of the Democratic Republic of Nepal in 2006, this is the first case of such a high-ranking member of any political party being accused of rape. The response of the NCP to an accusation against one of the members of its upper echelons, therefore, will be definitive – and the answer to the question of whether they will live up to their promise to fight “social malpractices” against women, as they vowed in the 2015 constitution, has yet to be seen.