International Development

A Voice For Justice

October 11, 2016  • Mikka Macdonald

Key Points

  • New Voices Fellow Dr. Kusum Thapa shares her experience of having to choose between her ethics and her career.


The Aspen Institute  New Voices Fellowship is a groundbreaking initiative designed to bring more expert voices from the developing world into the global development discussion. Fellows engage in a year-long communications and media development program. Below is just one of their stories. To nominate a 2017 Fellow, click here.

When she was still in her early days of being a doctor, New Voices Fellow Kusum Thapa was in the high mountains of Nepal when she received a call about a young female patient. The girl in question had been the victim of a sexual assault, and Thapa’s records had led to the jailing of her attacker. The man on the phone ordered the doctor to take back her claims, and ensure that the attacker was let free. When Thapa refused, the man threatened her, informed her that he was a member of an armed rebel group, and told her that she “knew the consequences” if she didn’t comply with his order.

The doctor did know the reputation of the rebels. In Nepal, they were known for extortion, for kidnapping and even, at times, for killing. Frightened but resolute, Thapa held her ground.

“In a fraction of a second, my credibility was gone.”
— Dr. Kusum Thapa

When she returned from the mountains, Thapa entered her hospital to find a group of men sitting on the couch in the lobby, and the medical superintendent waiting for her by the door. When her supervisor told her that the men were there to make sure that Thapa revisited the report of the girl, she asked to speak to the superintendent alone.

“I would rather die once now, than die over and over again if I changed the report to be untrue,” Thapa told her supervisor.

Despite her efforts, the proof of the sexual assault had disappeared.

When Thapa returned home, she received a call from the clinic. Despite her efforts, the findings of her examination of the girl had been changed, and the proof of the assault disappeared.

The girl’s story had been erased from the records. “In a fraction of a second, my credibility was gone,” she said.

Angry and betrayed, Thapa resigned her position.

“I was not sure where I was going. I was treading into the unknown. I was not sure what the future had in store for me, but … what was known was that these girls who were sexually assaulted deserved justice. They deserved the right to live with dignity. I decided that I would be their voice.”

Now, a decade later, Thapa has used her energy and her drive to help others. The New Voices Fellow works to train and empower frontline workers serving in Nepal, giving them the tools to ensure that fewer victims go unheard, and fewer stories are forgotten in the future.

New Voices Fellow Dr. Kusum Thapa is a Nepali obstetrician and gynecologist, a sexual assault victim’s advocate, and an Asia Near East Regional Technical Advisor for Jhpiego.