Kathmandu: Carrying her 21-month-old child, a young mother is pleading for justice through a peaceful protest. She claims that she was raped at the age of 17, and is now fighting for justice for her and her baby.
Niharika Rajput, an unmarried teen mom, has been demanding action against her alleged rapist Shiva Raj Shrestha. Rajput has taken to hunger strike at Basantapur, Kathmandu for justice, and is refusing to withdraw the strike so long as her demands are met. But the authorities have made no visible efforts to bring the culprit to justice.
Niharika was allegedly drugged and raped by Shrestha, who was her friend’s brother. According to her, Shrestha had taken inappropriate pictures and videos of her which he used to intimidate her.
When Rajput informed her family about the heart-wrenching incident, she was treated as a persona non grata. Her family was more concerned with their reputation than her well-being.
Then she took her case to the police 14 days following the incident but received blame, hatred, and accusation of dressing inappropriately in return.
“They judged me from my clothes,” she said in a statement on social media. She was wearing jeans and a shirt. “That is why they were indifferent to my case.”
She did a medical test to prove she had indeed been raped. The result shook her up when she found out that she was pregnant. Rajput demanded a DNA test of her baby to prove that the alleged rapist was indeed the father of her child, but her demand is as-yet-unheard by the authorities.
Rajput reportedly faced recurrent and immense pressure from her family to abort the child as well as death threats from Shrestha. “Even my family tried to force me—but for the sake of justice—I refused to comply,” she said. “My child is innocent. The real culprit is the rapist. This pregnancy has provided me with more strength and resilience.”
The case was taken to the Dhanusha District court but had to be pushed again and again given the Covid-19 lockdown. Even after she delivered her baby, the case was still delayed. And, when the court gave the verdict in February 2022, Shrestha was declared innocent.
The case is still not heard in the Janakpur High Court. Rajput then arrived in the capital after she sensed risks at home and decided to conduct a peaceful protest in Maitighar. But, she says, some police personnel handcuffed her from the premises at night. Police did not stop there, she adds. She and her child were also abused by the police, compelling her to shift the protest to Basantapur.
For the last three years, Rajput has been continuously demanding legal action against the culprit but to no avail. But her hopes have not died. “Until and unless I get justice, I will not leave the street,” she said.
The case of Niharika is not one of its kind. Many young women giving birth to children as a result of sexual assault are treated like pariahs and they have to fight on their own.
Proper legal aid should be made available, proper investigations should be done and the culprits must not be spared.