Nepal | February 17, 2019

Milestone of disappointment: 100 Days of Nirmala Panta rape-murder mystery

Richa Thapa

A candle light vigil organised in memory of Nirmala Panta on the 100th day of the tragedy that befell on Panta family. Photo: Hima Bista

KATHMANDU: Today marks the hundredth day since 13-year-old Nirmala Panta of Bhimdattanagar went to her friend’s place, some two kilometres away from her house, to finish her homework. A hundred days since her mother first ‘tried’ to report her as missing. Hundred days since the local police did not register a restless, helpless mother’s complaint at her first approach.

Nirmala never made it home.

The next day, ninety-nine days ago on July 27, she was found raped and lifeless at a sugarcane field in Bhimdattanagar.

Over three months later, the culprit(s) who raped Nirmala, those who killed her and ‘left her’ at the sugarcane field are still at large. The administration, that began its task on a shaky foot, has not even showed any signs of zeroing in the perpetrator(s).

In between, many protests have been held. One teenager lost his life while several others were injured. People have been held, questioned, some tortured brutally and released in a bid to ‘produce a culprit’, one such attempt having had backfired miserably.

Multiple probe committees have been formed by the state and its agencies, but to no avail. The reports have failed to produce any concrete findings and can rather be understood as a collection of ‘out-there’ information.

Two police officers have been terminated from service and almost half a dozen suspended. The state is yet to achieve a breakthrough in this murky mystery.

Police negligence since Day-One of the incident has further complicated an already shady case.

The public wonder if justice will ever be delivered to Nirmala and her family as 100 days have passed by without any solid development to adhere hopes of finding the culprit to.

Timeline of events:

  • July 26: Nirmala leaves for her friend Roshani Bam’s house to do her homework at 11:00 am on her bicycle. She does not return till late. Her mother starts looking for her. She goes to Bam’s residence who tell her Nirmala left at 2:00 pm. Restless, she goes to the local police who do not register her request and ask her to return the next day.
  • July 27: Nirmala is discovered at a sugarcane field, dead. Police suspect rape.
  • July 29: Panta family refuses to claim the body demanding prosecution of culprit(s). Parliamentarians at the provincial assembly demand stern action against the perp.
  • July 30: Body cremated. Protests carried out investigations, police unable to identify culprits. Locals smell foulplay.
  • August 5: Post mortem reveals Nirmala was raped and also strangled to death, her vocal cord was reportedly broken.
  • August 20: Police arrests a 41-year-old man and makes him public as the perpetrator through a press-conference. Locals reject police claim citing the mental unsoundness of said accused, carry out stronger protests. SP accused of shielding murderers.
  • August 23: Police open fire at protesters injuring around a dozen.  SP Bista and CDO Kumar Khadka recalled by administration.
  • August 24: High level committee formed, situation under control. NCP senior leader Bhim Rawal makes controversial statement accusing the opponents of exaggerating matter. Locals agitated over statement. Strong protest launched. Police fire live rounds. One killed, half a dozen injured.
  • August 25: Suspected Bam sisters taken into custody for interrogation. SP Dilli Raj Bista suspended.
  • August 27: Curfew clamped in Bhimdattanagar following protests.
  • August 29: Arrested suspect taken to Kathmandu for health-check up.
  • September 7: Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sarbendra Khanal pledges to take action against the perpetrator(s).
  • September 10: Birendra Bahadur KC, a member of high-level investigation committee formed to probe the case, announces resignation stating the government’s decision to extend the panel’s tenure by 15 days had increased the chances of destruction of evidence and eventual escape of the culprit; he also cited threat to his life as a reason.
  • September 11: Main accused 41-year-old man’s DNA test report does not match Nirmala’s post-mortem profile, gets freed. Case gets murkier. Authorities say case would be investigated in new light.
  • September 15: Mass rally called out seeking #JusticeForNirmala across the country.
  • September 13: Nepal Police collects blood samples of suspended Kanchanpur district police chief Superintendent of Police Dilliraj Bista, his son Kiran Bista and another suspect, Aayush Bista, nephew of Bhimdutta Municipality Mayor Surendra Bista, for DNA profiling, to match with Nirmala Panta’s vaginal swab.
  • September 15: Four more cops suspended.
  • September 16: Nepal Police HQ forms a high-level probe committee under DIG Dhiru Basnet.
  • September 17: Nirmala Panta’s parents had a rare-meeting with PM KP Sharma Oli. PM assures guilty will be booked.
  • September 25: High level probe committe submits report to Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa.
  • September 30: DNA tests conducted on three suspects of Nirmala Panta’s rape and murder in Bhimdatta Municipality on July 26, reveals negative results.
  • October 3: Home Minister says Nirmala Panta case has been ‘unnecessarily’ politicised.
  • October 4: Home Minister assures the guilty will be identified and would be brought to book within a week. A month and a week have passed since this statement was made.
  • October 8: Two more cops suspended for gross negligence.
  • October 15: Nepal Police HQ writes to Home Ministry recommending dismissal of SP Dilli Raj Bista and Inspector Jagdish Bhatta.
  • October 25: Home Ministry sacks the two suspended officials. SP Bista claims innocence.
  • November 2: Day 100. Perpetrator(s) still at large. Justice, still at large. Activists, public gather to mourn 100 days of injustice.

Milestone of incompetence

While the state has been terribly incompetent in handling this issue, various groups of rights activists and public have been on their toes, ‘fighting’ to keep the momentum for justice alive.

The government has not been able to identify the right direction given the multiple lapses made in every stage of investigation, while the parties in opposition have failed to rightly take up this issue, which in itself is being hailed as the representative issue of all the crimes of similar nature and violence against women in general.

Today, marking the 100th day of the tragedy, absolute and symbolic protests were held in the capital by rights activists.

A rally participant donning Nirmala’s ‘mask’, implying oneness, at the protest programme organised today at New Baneshwar. Photo: Bijay Shiwakoti

A protest rally was held in New Baneshwar where the protesters wore ‘Nirmala masks’ while they held placards with ‘I Am Nirmala’ written on them. A street play was also staged at the protest programme.

“It is a shame that the state appears to be shielding the perpetrator(s) of the heinous crimes against Nirmala. The state machinery must work with the will to apprehend the culprits and only then they can be held accountable for their crimes. We will continue to pressurise the government to achieve justice for Nirmala,” said Bijay Shiwakoti, an activist and a youth leader.

Likewise, a candle light vigil was organised at Krishna Mandir premises at Patan remembering Nirmala. Over 200 hundred people had gathered at the vigil where they lit the ‘diyo’ while speaking out the words “We are Nirmala”.

Photo: Hima Bista

“We’ve put a question mark against the number hundred as a ‘where is justice’ question to the government,” rights activist Hima Bista said. “The way the state has handled this case is ridiculous and very insulting. The common people will not keep quiet, we will keep voicing our opinions,” added Bista.

Locals from around the area had also joined the group.

Moreover, people have taken to social media to express their disappointment, all the while urging the government to using hashtags #JusticeForNirmala, #JusticeForAllRapeVictims, #NoOneKilledNirmala, #100DaysOfInjustice, among others.

Nirmala stands today, not as an individual, but as a symbol of all those that have been wronged and those who await justice. As the hundredth day passes with clouds of uncertainty looming, we are left with questions – who raped Nirmala? Who killed Nirmala? Where is Justice for Nirmala?

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