Nirmala Panta went missing on July 26, and her body was found thrown in a sugarcane field near her home. The inability of the Police and the Home Ministry to resolve the issue, their attempt to destroy evidence, frame an innocent person with the crime and what looked to many like a case of the Police trying to protect the criminals, has outraged her family and human rights activists. They said the mental strain was too much to bear for Yagya Raj Panta, and he snapped.
The deceased Nirmala’s family members are increasingly concerned that they are losing not just one but two persons to this tragedy. Yagya Raj’s sister Bhagirathi Bhatta says she has lost hope for her brother: “My niece is already dead and gone, but my brother is alive. And I doubt we will still have him if this stress continues.”
She has also been spending the cold nights at the sit-in in an open tent across the road from the District Headquarter building. There are some pillows, mattresses, blankets, and an electric line from which to charge mobiles and heat up water in kettles, and not much else. Photos of the deceased Nirmala line the ceiling, walls and surroundings.
“Ever since this protest started, he has not been himself. He sees photos of his daughter everywhere, a lot of people come and say many things, it was just too much for him to bear,” says Bhatta, whose brother no longer recognises her.
Yagya Raj’s wife Durga Devi looked harried not just from the struggle for justice for her daughter’s unsolved rape and murder, but now by her husband’s deteriorating mental health.
“I don’t think we will ever get justice,” Durga Devi told us last week, “If the government wanted to give us justice, it would not have destroyed the evidence. I had lost hope right then. But now, this long protest for justice is taking our remaining health and sanity as well.”
Justice for sale, Tufan Neupane
How does the Nepali media cover rape?, Bhrikuti Rai
Yagya Raj and Durga Devi are now in Kathmandu, but the protest vigil in Mahendranagar continues, and people from all over the country (including Hisila Yami and Govinda KC) have come to show solidarity. The media coverage and sustained protests have led to accusations that it is politically motivated rather being a campaign for justice.
Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, who had previously blamed capitalism for rapes, said recently: “Hundreds of women were raped before Nirmala and continue to be, but they do not attract so much notice. We solve 95% of those cases. The media coverage is politically motivated.” Actually, only 44% of rape cases last year resulted in convictions.
Here in Mahendranagar, it is clear that outrage is driving the protests more than politics. Yagya Raj’s second wife Laxmi Panta is at the sit-in at the District Headquarters, and says: “My husband wants justice. Now that he is not here, I cannot just pack up the tent and leave.”
With justice a distant dream, others have chosen to focus on more immediate concerns like Yagya Raj’s mental health and Durga Devi’s peace of mind. Activists helped take them to Kathmandu for treatment, and the group #rageagainstrape is attempting to shield them from the media glare.
Durga Devi is also worried about her two other daughters. The elder one is 15 and preparing for her SEE exams. She has had to divide her time between taking care of her daughters and joining the vigil in the day. Adding to the grief and bereavement of losing Nirmala is the burden of family responsibilities.
Her life was already upside down since Nirmala’s murder, but having her husband hospitalized has added to the strain. The fight for justice for Nirmala Panta has taken a heavy toll, and it looks set to derail the health and sanity of the family as well.
Four-fold increase in reported rape in 10 years, Sewa Bhattarai
Corrosive conduct, Editorial