Any move to cloak the report on Nirmala’s rape and murder in secrecy would mean there’s a game going on to protect the criminals
A high-level investigation committee formed to investigate into the rape and murder of 13-year-old Nirmala Panta of Bhimdutta Municipality in Kanchanpur district, led by Hari Prasad Mainali, joint-secretary and director general of the Department of Prison Management, submitted its report to Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa on Tuesday. The Home Ministry had formed the five-member panel on August 23 to investigate into Nirmala’s rape and murder after Kanchanpur locals took to the streets protesting the botched investigation of the then Kanchanpur District Police Office led by SP Dilli Raj Bista. Nirmala’s body was found on July 26 in a sugarcane field. The panel was given 15 days’ time to investigate and submit the report. But its deadline was extended by 15 more days, following which a member had quit—which too had created some furore—only to rejoin the panel a day after. The public outrage demanding justice for Nirmala was justified, as the police had badly mishandled the case and the state had failed to take cognizance of the gravity of the matter.
There were fears that this rape and murder of this 13-year-old girl would also be forgotten, but thanks to the general public’s continued pressure, Nirmala’s parents have not lost all hopes of their daughter getting justice. But still, uncertainty looms whether justice will be delivered. General public first got suspicious because there were attempts by police personnel to remove the evidence from the body of Nirmala and the sugarcane field where the body was found. Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa who had earlier defended the police investigation had to eat words after it became public that the law enforcement officials, led by then Kanchanpur SP Dilli Raj Bista, had made a bungle of the case.
Then Home Minister Thapa once again addressed Parliament regarding Nirmala’s rape and murder case. But it was not satisfactory; rather it looked like he was misleading the House. To give misleading statements before the sovereign Parliament is akin to protecting someone from trial. As the Mainali-led panel has now submitted the report, the onus lies on the home minister to initiate action accordingly. But first, Home Minister Thapa should make the report public pronto. Parliament, general public, Nirmala’s parents and the media have every right to know what went wrong, who is responsible for the botched investigation and who the culprits are. Then only will Nirmala get justice. It will be a disaster if this report too gathers dust in the ministry shelf—just like many other inquiry reports have in the past. Going by the actions of Home Minister in this particular case, there is enough ground to suspect that there is something wrong and some attempts are being made to cover up the case. If the home minister tries to cloak this report in secrecy, he will again give enough ground to suspect that there is a game going on to protect the perpetrators who could be having powerful political clout. In a democracy nobody is above the law. If this case is not solved, people will lose faith on rule of law and the government they elected.
We have in recent years seen a good growth of built environment and rapid urbanisation. As the country expects to experience more infrastructure development, there is a danger of people with disabilities being left out—only because such structures might not be disabled-friendly. Many public structures including toilets today have been built in such a way that differently-able people can’t access them. In this context, Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration’s circular to all local levels, directing them to strictly enforce the existing building code to ensure construction of disabled-friendly physical infrastructures is welcome news.
Accessible Physical Structure and Communication Service Directive for Persons with Disabilities 2013 has made a provision for arrangement of appropriate ramp, door, window, tactile block and Braille in public physical structures. The state must create opportunities to include and all other concerned, including the private sector, must do their bit to construct disabled-friendly structures. Making disabled-friendly buildings and structures would ensure inclusion and help nation grow. The ministry directive is a starting point; strict enforcement will be the key.
A version of this article appears in print on September 26, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.