Fighting crime and gaining public trustThe government can show its sincerity by conducting a fair probe into Mahara's case.
The Nepali people have demonstrated their avid interest, and fairly so, in the events that unfolded since rape allegations were made against the then speaker of the House of Representatives, Krishna Bahadur Mahara. It all began on September 30 when news of the accusation of rape against Mahara spread like wildfire on social media and online news portals. The news garnered more attention when the accuser, a staffer at the Parliament Secretariat, told one of the lawmakers on the phone that she had been raped by Mahara in her rented room at Tinkune.
Mahara has refuted the allegation. Amid the ensuing blame game, Mahara said that the accuser was trying to take revenge for not helping her become a permanent employee at the Parliament Secretariat which would ensure that she would not get transferred. What is important here is whether the state agencies will conduct a fair investigation by following the principles of the criminal justice system. As the case is a high profile one and has political attachments, talk has surfaced among the general public if there will be a free and fair investigation devoid of undue influence from the executive branch and the political parties.
Despite Mahara's arrest, people doubt the government's efforts to address the case with fairness and honesty. Scepticism first emerged when the investigating agency refused to carry out an investigation and detain the accuser after visiting the crime scene where they had come across enough evidence to suspect that rape had been committed.
The investigating officer refused to examine the case for the first few days saying that no written complaint had been filed against Mahara. Chapter 2 of the Muluki Criminal Procedure Code 2017 empowers the investigating officer to start an investigation without a written complaint if there is enough room to suspect that a person was involved in a crime after examining the prima facie evidence or upon receiving information over the telephone, internet or postal service. Lack of intention and willingness to investigate the case was not difficult for the public to read.
The public wonders if the investigating officers who hesitated to initiate the investigation would carry out the investigation in a fair manner. The accused in this case is the fifth highest-ranking official of the government which exhibits high chances that investigating officers might face undue influence from political actors. To support the above scepticism, the public still has a vivid memory of the rape case in Kanchanpur which remains unsolved after more than 15 months because of the failure on the part of the investigating officer to collect evidence properly. Impunity even in one case creates an environment to bolster impunity in the future.
People also doubt the actions of various agencies like the National Human Rights Commission and the Women Commission which are responsible for keeping tabs on the work of the executive branch. These constitutional bodies established with a mandate to check the actions of the executive have remained paralysed for a long period due to the influence of politicians. People are aware of how the government has been trying to amputate the National Human Rights Commission's functionality when they introduced a bill curtailing certain roles in the recent past.
Regarding the Women Commission, it has already come under attack from the public for the absence of a chief. After Bhagwati Ghimire retired in October 2017, the top post has remained vacant till date. For a commission which has received 70,000 complaints over its hotline since December 2017, it is crucial to pressure the investigating authorities for the conduct of a fair and transparent investigation. The Nepal Police recorded 12,225 cases of domestic violence in 2017. The data reflects the need for the prompt and independent operation of organisations working for the protection and promotion of women’s rights. Even then, seven other thematic commissions remain non-functional. Among the seven, four bodies do not have any office bearers and three do not have chairpersons.
There is scepticism over the role of the judiciary too. The judiciary may misuse its discretionary power while hearing a plea for bail due to political and executive interference. The court cannot set bail in cases of rape or rape attempt where circumstantial evidence supports the accusation. The use of such discretionary powers would rather open the door to arbitrariness, which is the antithesis to the rule of law. There is a view that public trust in democratic governance and its institutions is considered vital to the functioning of democracy itself. The government's efforts to conduct a fair investigation will not only show that it is sincere in fighting crime but also restore public faith.
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