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Test case

Test case

The handling of the rape charge against the speaker of the federal house Krishna Bahadur Mahara has been appalling. First, the woman, the supposed rape victim, reportedly called the police emergency number ‘100’ to report the rape on the evening of September 29. She subsequently texted several high-ranking government officials informing them of the same. In addition, she gave a video interview to an online news portal where she details physical abuse she suffered at the hands of Mahara and shows his text messages, including one asking her to ‘forget about yesterday’ (referring to the night of the alleged rape.)

Apparently, fearful of filing a case against someone as powerful as Mahara, the police did not collect vital evidence from the woman’s residence immediately. They did so only a day later, after the Nepal Communist Party had asked Mahara to resign from his post of the speaker and an MP. This smacks of the subservience of the Nepali Police to their current political masters. The police, which is yet to recover from the Nirmala Panta-fiasco, blundered once again, but so did other supposedly responsible state organs.

One online news portal interviewed the concerned woman, blurring her face to hide her identity. But the blurring technique was so clumsy, her full face was clearly visible a number of times. Another online portal published her phone number. The Nepali media, and especially the headline-chasing online media, seems unaware of even basic norms of journalism.

The NCP, to its credit, asked Mahara to step down. But, curiously, a day later, the woman withdrew her accusation against Mahara. If her intent was to defame the speaker, she deserves to be punished. If she recanted because she was threatened, that too is a jail-worthy offense. The public also deserves to know if there was some kind of out-of-court settlement between the two parties. In any case, now that it has been established that Mahara, the holder of one of the country’s highest offices, had actually gone to the woman’s residence that night, drunk, that alone makes him unfit to hold any public office in the future.

People these days have so little faith in the state mechanism that even if the truth were reveled tomorrow, few may believe it. Yet that does not absolve the NCP, which voters have overwhelmingly trusted to run the country, of a moral responsibility of getting to the bottom of the incident and making the findings public. Relieving Mahara of his twin responsibilities is only a partial, temporary solution. More important is for people to believe that justice has been done, whoever may be culpable.