April 11, 2013
DUNHAM: The last time we met was in Gorkha, several months after the 2008 elections. That interview covered your life from early childhood to becoming Gorkha’s first female Deputy Police Superintendent. Basically, I’d like to pick up from where that interview left off, because you have done many interesting things since then. [CLICK HERE for First Interview with Gita Upreti.] Where did you go after your transfer from Gorkha?
UPRETI: I came back here, to Kathmandu headquarters in the training department. Specifically, I returned to the Women and Children Service Center.
DUNHAM: Did you believe that improvements had been made for women, since you left Kathmandu?
UPRETI: After the election there was a period of great hope for women. Women were expecting more improvement. They were looking for opportunity. They felt that the door was open. Social awareness of women’s issues, among women, had also improved. They were more aware of their rights. It was really encouraging. 197 women parliamentarians had become members of the CA [Constituent Assembly]. And in the early months after the election, we were all excited. The CA brought forward many issues about women. They talked about social inclusion. They were talking about women representation within the leadership and the decision-making level. The CA even brought a few women into the leadership.
Even within the police, they brought a few women into the decision-making level. Based on positive discrimination, they got promoted.
All of that was good. But you know, the continuation of sustainable development is more important. And the continuation of development wasn’t forthcoming. I mean, OK, just having a few women in positions of importance in the CA really didn’t add up to a significant change. That was my personal feeling.
DUNHAM: A lot of talk but no action?
UPRETI: Yes. It was like the male leaders were saying, “We’ve given you some good positions now don’t interfere – be happy what we have given you.”
DUNHAM: And what about the police department?
UPRETI: Yes, if you are talking about within the police department, the answer is yes: There were significant changes for the better. When I first worked at the Women and Children Center, the men could and would say, “Hey, you and your women’s rights are talking rubbish.” Now, everybody likes to talk about gender issues, gender-based violence. If the high-ranking officer doesn’t know about the issue, they will look ignorant. So now they think, “I need to talk about gender issues to look professional.” That’s how it is now. It is qualified improvement. But we still have a long way to go.
As I said, when I came back from Gorkha, I was involved with developing training programs. I said, “Why don’t we change the curriculum? The times have changed.”
DUNHAM: What specific changes were you advocating?
UPRETI: There are three different levels of training curriculum in our department. One is for police constables, one for assistant sub-inspectors and one is for inspectors. I was stationed at the training directorate so I did have access to decision-making. And I advocated a new comprehensive curriculum that talked about how to deal with the female and child victims of gender-based violence, like domestic violence, sexual abuse, child exploitation and juvenile justice.
Under my direction, a team was formed to review that curriculum. And finally the issue of women and children was included. And I’m happy to say that that’s now in the curriculum. It’s quite extensive.
DUNHAM: What about the number of policewomen? Has it increased in Nepal? Female victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse need to have woman officers to help them. In Gorkha, I remember you talking about how awful it was for victims to have to report their abuse cases to male officers, who did not sympathize, who did not believe and who often made the women feel shame.
UPRETI: Yes, at that time, the Women and Children Service Center was not incorporated into the structure of the police system. But now it is included. Now it is a permanent part of the system. I also trained male officers, which is very important, in order to sensitize them to women’s issues. But to answer your question, out of the entire new recruitment within the police force, 45% of the positions are reserved for various marginalized groups. Within that 45%, 20% are women. That’s the mandate. But when you break it down, still only 9% of the new recruits are women.
It’s a big change, but…..
DUNHAM: Today, how many women inspectors are in the police force?
UPRETI: Not more than twenty. And most of them are in the Kathmandu Valley. We have 75 districts in Nepal. So you can see that women are not properly represented in the higher ranks.
DUNHAM: How long were you here in Kathmandu with the Women and Children Service Center??
UPRETI: One year. After that, I went to Darfur, Sadan. It was 2009-2010.
DUNHAM: You went as a Deputy Superintendent of Police under the umbrella of the United Nations?
DUNHAM: What was it like being a woman officer in Darfur?
UPRETI: (Laughing). It was quite a shock in the beginning. I was assigned as a gender officer. We used to conduct “confidence-building patrols”.
DUNHAM: What did that mean?
UPRETI: Basically, we were there to explain to the locals why we were there as UN police. Later, I got a new job as Reform and Restructuring officer. It was about restructuring or changing what the local police thought about police work.
You have to understand: The people of Darfur have fought their whole lives. Even the local police had no idea what real police work was. What does rule of law mean? They didn’t know. What about human rights? They didn’t know. What is community policing? They don’t know. Even, what is investigation? They didn’t know. The local police were in an extremely preliminary stage of development.
I was in charge of four branches: human rights, the community policing section, the gender section and coordination and cooperation between the local police and the UN force. It allowed us to have meetings, trainings, conferences, and things like that.
DUNHAM: Was it a challenge between the two groups in terms of sharing information with one another?
UPRETI: Oh! In the beginning, the people would not talk to you! You are a police officer! They saw the UN police as the enemy. It was as if they thought we were going in there to destroy their entire culture, the religion and the entire system within which they operated in daily life. Live there is ordered around the teachings of the Koran. That is the real law.
And it was part of our duty to bridge that gap of understanding – to build trust. Obviously, without trust, you can’t do anything. We were strangers trying not to be strangers.
But, again, the most important challenge for us was that Darfur was and is totally under Sharia Law [the moral code and religious law of Islam].
DUNHAM: A foreign female police officer dealing with Muslims: That must have been doubly or triply challenging.
UPRETI: Exactly. Oh my god. I have never had to work so hard to build rapport with other people. I went with my fellow UN police officers to the community so that I could talk to the locals. But the community refused to talk to me because I was a woman. I was embarrassed. At that time, I was the only female officer among the group. And in that group, the men were from many different countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Gambia, and Kenya. And they, my fellow officers, hesitated to talk to me, too, because I was a female.
But I kept going back to the communities and, eventually, I was able to build some rapport. And after one or two months, it was really nice to work with them. They welcomed me at their training academy. And finally I said, “Can we now conduct some training that you like?” And their answer was, “Well, maybe yes, maybe no. We have to talk the training director.”
Another obstacle was that they were very conscious about rank and file. Higher-ranking officers would not talk to lower-ranking officers. It was very rigid. If there was a female officer, they would not speak to you. They were very concerned about protocol. And we had to maintain that protocol.
Later, we conduct a human rights training. Also, we spoke about investigation, community policing and gender policing.
Eventually, though, we were able to coordinate with them. We were able to form a women’s police network. At every one of those training, we brought with us women police officers. In the beginning, at the academy, they said, “Oh, our women officers are not that interested in having a training.” But we told them to bring in the women anyway. As it turned out, the female officers were so smart and they, the Sudanese policewomen connected with the UN policewomen network quite well. We finally could talk to them informally as well as formally. It was really, really nice at the end.
DUNHAM: Did you visit the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps?
UPRETI: Oh yes. The women in the camps used to come up to us and feel our arms to see if we were really women. Oh my god, they couldn’t believe that we were female officers. It really excited them. On the other hand, if there were males around they wouldn’t speak to us. Even if you were a male officer with the UN, the men in the IDPs would not allow the women to speak. At first we didn’t understand. When we came, they would go inside and wouldn’t come out.
So we told them, “We are females, like you. You can tell us the problems you are having here in the camps.” So we women police officers went in a group, without men, to talk to the women in the camps.
And eventually, we made real headway. I was able to train the women in the camps to become community volunteers. They could wear jackets, patrol at night. If something happened they would call us and we would send help to address the problem.
DUNHAM: The women were the ones policing the camps?
UPRETI: Most of the volunteers were men but there were also a few women volunteers. Still, just having a few women involved was really something.
DUNHAM: You were in Sudan for two years?
UPRETI: Fourteen months. I returned to Kathmandu and was posted at headquarters, this time in the legal section, which looks after the code of conduct. Then I got promoted to Superintendent of Police (SP) and became the first woman SP to head a district.
DUNHAM: The Kavre District.
UPRETI: That’s right.
DUNHAM: Just this week in the local papers was a story about several rape cases in Kavre. Is the violence against women in Kavre any greater than cases in other districts, or is it more or less typical of other districts?
UPRETI: Kavre is not typical. It has two highways and a higher rate of criminality than most other districts. Also, because of the highways, the criminals use Kavre as a transit point. They can go to Tibet-China to the north using the Araniko highway. And to the south is the Dhulikhel-Sindhuli highway, which leads into the Terai and the Indian Border
DUNHAM: When you say transit point, are you talking about the movement of drugs, or sex trafficking or other illegal products?
UPRETI: I’m talking about illegal trade in wildlife, red sandalwood, even gold. When I was transferred to Kavre, no one but me believed that gold was being moved through the district. Nobody believed that gold was coming illegally from China. But under my watch, I caught nine kilos of gold, coming from China to Kathmandu. It was an historic seizure that I made.
DUNHAM: Was it gold bullion?
UPRETI: Yes. And I got into a lot of trouble – a lot of pressure – for capturing that gold…as if I had made a mistake. But my procedure was totally correct, thorough and I was very personally involved in making that arrest and confiscation.
DUNHAM: How? How did you go about that?
UPRETI: I personally checked hundreds of vehicles on the highway at night, myself. It was very unusual for a Superintendent of Police to go out into the field and do that kind of work. But I did. I got some information that something was coming from China into Nepal. So I stood in the middle of the road at night with my colleagues. A male SP would have just sent someone else to go and check. But I didn’t trust anyone and I said, “I have to go there myself.” I started checking cars at midnight. At the checkpoint, I stopped and searched every car, until I found the car with gold in. The driver was Nepali
DUNHAM: I hope the driver is now behind bars.
UPRETI: Yes, he must be. But this in Nepal: You never know.
DUNHAM: You don’t know where he is?
UPRETI: You never know.
DUNHAM: Let’s talk about other contraband: the wildlife and the sandalwood. It is going in the opposite direction: from Nepal to China. Right?
UPRETI: Right. After I took over in Kavre I was really surprised. It was not just tigers and sandalwood. Everything was going to China. You can’t imagine. Wildlife, human hair, sunakhari [rare orchids] , many kinds of herbs…I confiscated 25 kilos of rare orchids one time!
DUNHAM: What about sex trafficking?
UPRETI: You would be surprised. You always hear about girls being trafficked to India. But it’s not just India. It’s also in China. Have you heard about it?
DUNHAM: Yeh, I’ve heard about it. There’s a big market for girls in China because of the “one-child” policy, which has been in place in China for many years. Since parents can only have one child, they often abort female fetuses until they get a son. So now, many years later, there are all these young men who don’t have any women to marry. When I was working undercover in Cambodia in 2004, raiding brothels that housed under-aged girls, many of those girls were actually on their way to China to be sold to men there. I know all about it. But I didn’t know they were being move through Nepal to China. [For the story of my undercover work in Cambodia, CLICK HERE.
UPRETI: I see.
DUNHAM: Is Kavre district an origin district or simply a transit district for illegally trafficked girls?
UPRETI: Both. Girls do originate from Kavre and Sindhupalchowk districts. Some of the girls come from the Tamang community…not all, but they are certainly an easy target for traffickers. Girls are a very big market in Khasa [Nepali-Tibetan border town just inside the China border.] Once the girls are transported to China, they are not allowed to return to Nepal.
DUNHAM: As SP, have you caught traffickers in action in Kavre?
DUNHAM: What about domestic violence in Kavre?
UPRETI: It’s very high – much higher than most other districts. Kavre is developed and adjacent to Kathmandu. The people are educated. The land is fertile. 50% of the vegetables coming to Kathmandu come from Kavre.
Still, the domestic violence and suicide rate is very high.
DUNHAM: Are the rates going up because there is an actually increase, or is it more a matter of the incidents being reported at a high rate?
UPRETI: Exactly. The cases were always there but they weren’t reported…until recently. There was no system or access for women. Now there is a Woman and Children Service Center. Now, there is an actual physical location where women can go to report. That makes a big difference.
DUNHAM: Are the women committing suicide in Kavre of reproductive age or does suicide occur in all ages?
UPRETI: All ages, even seventy-five-year old women.
DUNHAM: What’s the most common way for a woman in Nepal to commit suicide?
UPRETI: Poison is the most common and hanging is in second place. Oh my god, when I went to Kavre and saw the data, I was shocked. There were certain villages in which the suicide rate was much higher than in other villages. So I targeted these villages and conducted an awareness campaign. And the communities were so happy when they realized that they had a Women and Children Service Center available to them. They said, “There is someone who will listen to us, now. Instead of people just blaming us for being victims of abuse.”
DUNHAM: It’s nice to have a place to go to where you won’t be judged.
DUNHAM: Are there drop-in centers in Kavre, where women will be safe from their abusers?
UPRETI: Yes, there are safe houses.
DUNHAM: How long are the women allowed to stay there?
UPRETI: Initially they can stay for one month and then they can extend it for another fifteen days. But it’s still not enough. The Domestic Violence Act is not a strong enough law to truly protect the women.
DUNHAM: Especially if the woman has to leave the safe house after only one month – with no place to go but back to the house where her husband, who beat her in the first place, is waiting for her.
UPRETI: Yes, it’s very sad. We all agree that the Domestic Violence Act was a good first step, but it is not enough.
DUNHAM: I’ve heard that one of the problems is the judicial system, once the case has been filed. The women go to court, time and again, only to be told that the hearing has been postponed again and again. And eventually the postponements simply wear the women down and they drop the case. The legal system lets them down.
UPETRI: Yes, and I’ll give you an example. A nine-year-old girl was raped in Kavre. The case was filed. The police took all the proper statements and followed proper proceedure. Then we sent those documents to the court. But, still that case has not gone to trial.
DUNHAM: When was the case filed?
UPETRI: Two or three years! Now, she doesn’t understand what has happened to her. When her case finally goes to trial, she will be thirteen or fourteen, and it will be very painful for her. She will be stigmatized. It’s terrible. If her case could have been heard immediately, when she was still nine, it would have been much easier on her. But, no, she’s had to go back to court, time and time again.
Think about it! Let’s say that it finally comes to trial after four years, what effect will than have on her? She’ll be fourteen. A teenager! And she’ll have to go through the entire rape incident again. To relive her rape victimization! She will be re-victimized! She might decide that “the rape was my mistake.” And think what it will do to her, as a teenager, to have to expose herself in front of the court. Wouldn’t it have been much easier on her if she had had the trial at nine? By now, all of that would be in the past.
DUNHAM: What about incest cases?
UPRETI: There are now many more cases reported. Now, the child abuse cases and the resultant punishment of the perpetrator are very high.
In terms of punishment, if it is a rape case, the man is sentenced for seven years. But if he rapes a child, the prison term is at least ten years. Maybe the increase in punishment is one of the reasons that child abuse cases have risen.
DUNHAM: How long will you remain in Kavre?
UPRETI: I retired last week!
DUNHAM: No one told me. Wow.
UPRETI: I’m now free. After 30 years in the police force, there is compulsory retirement. So now I’m jumping into social work.
DUNHAM: Here in the Valley?
UPRETI: Yes, probably. I’ll be working in the jail system with the prisoners. I have already registered an NGO.
DUNHAM: What made you decide to go into that line of work?
UPRETI: As a police chief, I saw the conditions of the prisoners, how they were treated and when they are released, how low their expectations are. Where will they go? The families might blame them, they might blame themselves. If someone is inside a prison for twenty years, where is there family when they finally get out? Who will accept them? Once again, they must face the stigma society places on them.
There are already services available inside the prisons. But I don’t believe that their services are adequate.
DUNHAM: You will be concentrating on re-habilitation?
UPRETI: Well, some of the existing organizations provide skill training, but it is not comprehensive. You also need counseling on life skills to be able to face the outside world. That’s what I want to concentrate on.