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Lack of Awareness, Stigma Fuels Marital Rape in Nepal

As the warm winter sun blankets Kathmandu, people are making the most of it and soaking up its rays. But not Devaki Poudel, 39, who lives across the river from Nepal’s capital in the neighboring district of Lalitpur.Inside an old, three-story house, Poudel, who requested her first name be changed for safety reasons, has been busy all morning. At 11 a.m., she has finished sending her children to school and husband to work and has completed her household chores for the morning. She sits down with a sigh. “Now, the entire day is mine,” she says. “I hope it doesn’t get dark.” Poudel comes from Syangja, a district west of Kathmandu. She is slender and has long, black hair. She wears red bangles and vermillion – a red powder – on her head, which are Hindu symbols of marriage. She dons a red sweater over her kurta surwal, a traditional dress.Poudel’s nerves are visible. She has a sweet voice, but it seems it’s been suppressed.“My husband doesn’t like me talking and socializing with others,” she says. “If he finds out that I’m talking to someone …”She stops before completing her sentence.Poudel and her family have been living in a rented apartment in Lalitpur for 15 years. Her husband works as a security guard at a private company. On the surface, they look like a happy family. But Poudel says that their home is far from harmonious.Poudel got married when she was 15. Her parents didn’t allow her to go to school because they believed she would become a prostitute if she gained an education.So they instead married her to 25-year-old Ramesh Poudel, whose first name has been changed to protect his identity, from a neighboring village. She says that her friends teased her for having a tall and handsome husband. “But if only looks were everything,” she says.Poudel says she had been used to living an independent life, but her marriage destroyed this freedom.“From the second day of marriage, my life has been like hell,” Poudel says.She says her husband began to fondle her private parts in ways that hurt her. He also forcefully had sexual intercourse with her. Marred by bruises and her husband’s teeth marks, her skin bore testament to the nightly scuffles. The abuse was so severe that it hurt her genitals, but she says she kept quiet about it.“Sometimes, I use[d] to have fever because I couldn’t bear it,” she says. “But I couldn’t tell anyone.”A few days after her wedding, Poudel says she went to her parents’ house and told her mother that she didn’t want to return to her husband’s home. But her mother told her that this would be wrong because women had to stay with their husbands, no matter how hard it was.And life had quickly become hard for Poudel. Following a tiring day of work at the farm and in the house, she says she wanted to enjoy a peaceful night. But despite her desire to rest, her husband forced her to have sex with him.When Poudel tried to shout in pain, he closed her mouth. When she refused to have sex with him, he kicked and hit her.“There was no option than to be living as a walking dead,” she says.Even when she suffered pain during menstruation, he had anal sex with her. Three years after her marriage, she got pregnant with her first child. Even during pregnancy, she says he forced her to have sex with him.“Even before a day earlier that the child was born, he didn’t spare me,” she says, with surprise spreading across her face. “How was I bearing that?”