Nepal | May 28, 2020

No justice in sight for rape, murder victim Nirmala

Ujjwal Satyal
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Kathmandu, June 25

It will be exactly 11 months tomorrow since 13-year-old Nirmala Panta of Kanchanpur district was raped and murdered, but police are still clueless about the perpetrator(s). If a recent remark of Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa is anything to go by, the chance of rounding up the perpetrator(s) is very slim.

Responding to a query by lawmakers in the House of Representatives yesterday, Thapa said that the government was still searching for the perpetrator(s). Nirmala was raped and murdered while ‘returning home from her friend’s house’ on July 26. Her body was found at 9:00am the next day, in a water-logged sugarcane field, the lower half of her body submerged in water.

Her rape and murder agitated the entire nation, and right activists and general people organised a series of protests to exert pressure on the government to arrest and initiate action against the  culprit(s) to deliver justice to Nirmala and her grieving family.

Family members, neighbours and friends of Nirmala, who staged protest in front of the District Police Office, Kanchanpur, during initial days had said that police had destroyed criminal evidences while recovering the body of Nirmala and botched up the investigation. Durga Devi, Nirmala’s mother, has accused police of not taking immediate action to search for her daughter, after she had filed a ‘missing complaint’ with the local police station, on July 26.

In the subsequent days, Kanchanpur District Police Office colluded with officials at the District Administration Office to use threats, intimidation and inducement on the parents of the deceased to perform her final rites. Due to pressure from the police, Nirmala’s father Yagya Raj Panta and mother Durga Devi had agreed to perform the final rites on July 30, four days after her death.

After the funereal, the protest was on the wane until August 20 when the police made public a ‘mentally disturbed’ Dillip Singh Bista as the ‘culprit’.

Suspicious of the police action, the locals and supporters of Nirmala from started protesting against the police. The protest escalated with each passing day and 14-year-old Sunny Khuna  was killed in police firing on August 23. Another teenager, Arjun Bhandari,  was shot at and injured. He has been on comatose at TU Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj, since.

Wave of protests swept across the nation. It continued for months in the capital but the perpetrator/s still remain at large. On September 12, Nirmala’s parents came to Kathmandu seeking justice. Thousands of people took to the street expressing solidarity with them. The protest is virtually over these days, but right activists have been claiming that the campaign of justice for Nirmala continues.

On October 7, a high-level probe committee led by Joint Secretary Hari Prasad Mainali, submitted its report on her rape and murder to the government. The report failed to give any clue about the culprit(s). Many activists had alleged that the report was meant to ‘mislead the public and protect those who destroyed evidences’.

In January, a report of the National Human Rights Commission stated that additional investigation was required to identify those responsible for the crime.

The government also sacked Superintendent of Police Dilli Raj Bista, Kanchanpur police chief, and Inspector Jagadish Bhatta for botching up the investigation. Three  police personnel, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Angur GC,  were also suspended on the same charge.

Multiple police sources said that police arrested and released over 400 persons in the course of investigation. Almost a dozen suspects were allegedly subjected to torture. Police also collected DNA samples of more than 30 persons. They claimed that DNA samples of only 11 persons were collected but none of them matched Nirmala’s vaginal swab.

Parents of Nirmala, who are still struggling to come to terms with the situation said that they were not hopeful of getting justice.

Nirmala’s mother Durga Devi told THT, “I don’t think the culprit(s) will be arrested and brought to book. Had the police wanted, they would have done it a long ago. I think it’s too late now. I feel sad at the thought that my daughter’s soul will never rest in peace.”

Durga Devi has recently started working as an office assistant at Bhimdatta Municipality after local authorities offered her the job. Manisha, elder sister of Nirmala,  who appeared for the Secondary Education Examination this year, is also looking for a bright future ahead. “I hope to join nursing or pharmacy classes if my results come as expected despite passing through lots of stress this year,” she said.

Father Yagya Raj also said that he had little hope that the police would nab the criminal(s).

A version of this article appears in print on June 26, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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