A 13-year-old girl, Nirmala Pant, was raped and subsequently murdered in Kanchanpur on July 26. In the two following months, the government has time and again fallen short in booking the culprit/s. Whether it is a complacent police force or outright false accusations in relation to the case, the government has, till now, failed to deliver any semblance of justice to Nirmala’s family. Nirmala’s is the latest in a string of events that paints a gloomy picture on justice and impunity. For too long now, impunity has become institutionalized in Nepal under the direct protection of political parties and their leaders, and despite big talk of majority, stability and prosperity, it looks like impunity is here to stay.
From day one, Nirmala’s case was mal-handled by the police. According to news reports, from the day Nirmala disappeared from her friends Roshani Bam and Babita Bam’s house where she had gone to study, the police were adamantly uncooperative with her parents and neighbors.
Nirmala disappeared on July 25 from her friends’ house and her dead body was found just a day later: half-naked, and tossed in a sugarcane field not far from the scene of the crime. According to the villagers, there was heavy rainfall the night of her disappearance but Nirmala’s books that were scattered nearby were found completely dry.
The vague story that follows hints that one after another, each police official in charge of the investigation took the liberty of erasing evidence related to the case. Before picking up the dead body from the sugarcane field, for example, the police team intentionally cleaned Nirmala’s private parts as well as her trousers. Further, Bam sisters, from whose home Nirmala disappeared, were given unusual protection by the police. Oddly, the police did not even allow Nirmala’s parents and neighbors to enter the Bam sisters’ house until police in plain uniform cut down a guava tree on their compound and re-painted all the rooms in the house.
Though an investigation team from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CIB) was sent to the spot, they seemed little different from the local police. By then, locals were already on the street protesting the mishandling of Nirmala’s investigation.
In a shroud of confusion and mystery, all of a sudden, 24 days after Nirmala’s murder, the police presented 41-year-old Dilip Singh Bista as the culprit. Bista is a mentally-ill middle- aged man, who the state figured would be the perfect scapegoat on which to pin blame. After DNA testing it was evident that Bista was not guilty. Worse still, the police has used physical and mental torture and offered a bribe to Bista to publicly accept the rape and murder, which he denied. The mala fide intent of the police organization and the larger state mechanism was starkly clear.
Justice and poverty
Nirmala’s has become a high-profile case. However, even in such a scenario, where protests have even reached as far as Kathmandu, the government and the police remain complacent. Prime Minister KP Oli seems either misinformed or ignorant on the matter. In his most recent statement from New York on the case, PM Oli said it “may take 12 years to find the culprit of Nirmala’s rape and murder.” That is both shocking and condemnable coming from the executive head of this state.
The truth about Nirmala’s case is as clear as day: the police—and thus the state and government leadership—know exactly who is/are behind the rape and murder of this innocent girl. But given the poor socio-economic status of Nirmala and her parents, the feeling seems to be that the latter can be silenced and that the state will continue to protect the wealthier and powerful culprits.
Apart from the negative public backlash the government will face, the emotional and psychological impact on families, girls and children from cases like Nirmala’s is colossal. Collective fear of insecurity and injustice is growing.
All of this is reminiscent of the hopelessness of the victim families of the decade-long conflict, who are still unheard and ignored after all these years. There have been many instances when justice has been denied: in the cases of Ujjain Shrestha, Maina Sunuwar, Nanda Prasad and Ganga Maya Adhikari, Sita Rai, and countless others. The latest addition to that list is Nirmala. The longer that list gets, Oli and his government must understand, the farther away from prosperity and happiness the Nepali people will be o