When the state maintains a deafening silence over rape crimes and police open fire on peaceful protesters, the writing is on the wall: we are on a slippery slope
On Saturday, people from various walks of life gathered at Maitighar Mandala, in the heart of the Capital, to demand justice for Nirmala Pant. Nirmala, 13, was raped and murdered exactly a month ago in Kanchanpur. Protests had continued in Kanchanpur since her body was found in a sugarcane field. Police investigation so far has drawn a blank. Fourteen-year-old Shani Khuna of Bhimdattanagar was killed and five others were injured when police opened fire on demonstrators in Bhimdattanagar on Friday. The administration has clamped a curfew, and it continued even on Sunday when people observed Janai Purnima and Raksha Bandhan. SP Dilliraj Bista, chief of Kanchanpur Police, has been suspended. Kanchanpur Chief District Officer Kumar Bahadur Khadka has been recalled. But justice still eludes Nirmala.
It’s a worrisome situation that the state seems to be oblivious to rape crimes. In the last one month as many as 22 investigating teams were said to be working on the Nirmala rape and murder case, but in vain. Police role in the entire investigation has become suspicious. Police seem to be working to protect the culprit(s) rather than ensuring justice to the victim. After 26 days, police made public 41-year-old Dilipsingh Bista, identifying him as the murder suspect but failed to provide enough proof. This move then added fuel to the fire. Locals have accused police of arresting a wrong person. Protests ensued and the law enforcement agency, which is meant for protecting the citizens, opened fire on demonstrators, resulting in the death of 14-year-old Shani Khuna.
It is disturbing that the government is too slow to act. It is ludicrous that the ruling party—the Nepal Communist Party—had to call an “emergency” meeting a month after the incident to condemn the crime and call for action. Why is it that the government has to wait for the party decision to act? Why did it take one long month for Prime Minister Oli to come up with a statement with regards to the incident? Why was Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa defending the police investigation initially? A series of actions involving police in the recent past have been questionable—be it the firing during Madhes protests last year or be it the recent so-called encounter in Bhaktapur, or be it a rape incident a few months ago in the Capital in which police tried “to settle” the case—and these are worrying signs. The government while must expedite the investigation and book the culprit(s) and deliver justice to Nirmala, it also must fix the police administration as well before its highhanded attitude spirals out of hand. When members of the public have to take to the streets to demand justice and arrest criminals, when the state maintains a deafening silence over heinous crimes like rape and when police arbitrarily open fire on peaceful protesters, the writing is on the wall: we as a society and as a nation are on a slippery slope. Citizens’ call for justice—like one in Maitighar Mandala—is hence rightly justified. It is incumbent on the government to ensure justice and safety to all its citizens.
Federal parliament last year enacted law banning Chhaupadi, terming it a “social evil”. But it is still widely practised in Karnali Province and some hilly districts of Province 7 because of long-held tradition and superstitions among men and women. The latest study conducted by Action Works Nepal has revealed that 77 per cent of women are forced to stay in Chhaupadi (a cramped shed) away from their homes for five days during their periods. It also revealed that 28 per cent of menstruating girls miss their school during the periods. All women know it very well that this is a social evil. But they have not been able to break this evil, thanks to prevailing superstitions in society.
Women and girls are deprived of dairy products; they are not allowed to enter the kitchen and perform religious acts as they are considered “impure, polluted and untouchable” during their periods. Law in itself cannot bring about social changes overnight. Men also should come forward to eradicate this evil. The role of all political parties is particularly crucial to end this practice as they have wider organisational networks all over the province. They should launch rigorous social campaigns against it. Chhaupadi should be the political agenda.
A version of this article appears in print on August 27, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.