People who were demonstrating were ordinary people who empathised with the rape and murder victim
The government on Thursday recalled chief district officer and district police chief of Kanchanpur after protests launched by locals to exert pressure on authorities to arrest the ‘real culprit(s)’ behind the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl turned violent. The government has also formed a five-member committee under a joint secretary to probe into the rape and murder case. The latest moves made by the government are noteworthy but the interventions came too late. The government must realise that it could have avoided today’s violence, in which as many as eight people were injured, had it taken these measures earlier. It is a pity that the government could not foresee the consequences of delaying the investigation into the case, which prompted local authorities to clamp curfew today after the situation got out of hand. One of the weaknesses of the authorities in this incident was a failure to acknowledge that the protests were spontaneous since Day One. People who were demonstrating on the streets of Kanchanpur were ordinary people who empathised with the rape and murder victim because they feared anyone of them could meet the fate of the 13-year-old if they did not raise the voice now. Had the government taken note of this public sentiment earlier, it would not have to clamp curfew, recall senior district officers and form a separate committee.
The 13-year-old girl, Nirmala Panta, a resident of Bhimdattanagar, was raped and killed on July 26. Her body was found in a sugarcane field near a road in Ward No 12 of the municipality the next day. Since then, locals have been demanding a fair investigation into this case. But police kept the investigation under wraps for a long time and could not arrest the culprits. That’s when locals started protesting. Under public pressure, police on August 20 arrested one “mentally unstable” middle-aged local with known criminal history, Dilipsingh Bista and paraded him before the media stating he was the one who had committed the crime. This step was expected to pacify the protesters but it boomeranged, intensifying the protests because the public were not convinced by the police’s narrative that led to Bista’s arrest. After Bista’s arrest, police said they had recovered a condom from the crime scene. But locals asked, “How did the police fail to collect that piece of evidence right after the sixth grader’s rape and murder?” Because of these flimsy descriptions, many saw Bista as a scapegoat for police’s inability to “arrest the real culprit(s)” or “to protect someone influential who had committed the crime”. What was also suspicious was alleged pressure exerted by the police on Nirmala’s father, Ekraj Panta, to file an FIR against the arrested person. Locals were even more convinced that this was only a move to “shut down the case by framing an innocent”.
Since the rape and murder of the 13-year-old, police have formed as many as 22 different investigation teams. A separate team comprising police officials of the Central Investigation Bureau has also been mobilised to identify the real culprit(s). Now another committee has been formed which has been given a 15-day deadline to submit a report. Till that time the civil society should remain vigilant. Last but not the least, the Parliament should also take up the issue with utmost seriousness. Rapists and murderers must not go unpunished.
Don’t ignore dalits
Over 700 dalit children of Naraha Rural Municipality in Siraha district were bereft of nutritional food allowance of Rs 400 per month in the last fiscal year due to the government’s failure to release the budget. This makes clear the priority that the government has placed on children of one of the country’s most marginalised and excluded groups, which accounts for 13.6 per cent of the country’s population. Many Nepalis still consider dalits as ‘untouchables’ although the constitution has barred discrimination on the basis of caste.
This has prevented many from tapping opportunities, forcing many to remain in the traps of poverty. Also, literacy level of dalits stands at only 52 per cent. Considering these facts, it is the government’s responsibility to expand social safety net for them. And timely distribution of nutritional food allowance, which the government has been providing since 2009-10, is one of the measures that can help keep the dalit children in school. The future of dalit children cannot be secured unless they are educated.
A version of this article appears in print on August 24, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.