The Mahara case once again exposes the Nepal Police’s shortcomingsRepeated failings in high-profile cases are slowly eroding the public’s trust in the capacity of Nepal Police to conduct impartial investigations.
The rape allegations against Krishna Bahadur Mahara and the subsequent developments have raised serious questions about the role of institutions in the impartial pursuit of justice. The role of the investigating agency, the Nepal Police, has been especially found wanting.
After the woman’s allegations broke in the media, the police visited her apartment and collected evidence, including a piece of spectacles said to be of Mahara, a glass that Mahara had drunk out of, and the inner sole of a shoe. But since then, the investigation has not progressed any further, with senior police officials saying that there is not much they can do until the woman makes a formal complaint.
However, legal experts say that since rape is a criminal offence, it does not require a formal complaint from the victim. And even though the woman recanted her accusation in a subsequent video interview, suspicions remain whether she did so under duress.
“Police can investigate the case without a formal complaint from the victim. That is their duty,” Rajit Bhakta Pradhananga, a senior advocate and law professor at the Nepal Law Campus, told the Post on Wednesday.
However, the woman, on Wednesday evening, visited the Baneshwor police station and made a written statement saying no crime had taken place and that there was no case to be pursued, according to Deputy Superintendent of Police Uttam Raj Subedi. There are now no plans to conduct an investigation, he said.
Still, there are doubts about whether an impartial investigation could even be possible, especially given that a senior police official admitted to the Post on Tuesday that they had immediately reached out to Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and Home Secretary Prem Kumar Rai after they had learned of the accusations against Mahara. Thapa and Mahara are both from the ruling Nepal Communist Party and have a long history together.
Many are afraid that political influence extends deep into the Nepal Police and no investigation will be carried out. There are grounds for these suspicions, given a number of very public failings on the part of the Nepal Police. Experts and retired senior police officials say that the public is gradually losing faith in the institution, which can greatly affect law and order.
According to senior advocate Bipin Adhikari, in a developing country like Nepal, victims involved in high-profile cases are either compromised by threats or bribes.
“Even police do not investigate properly as they are already influenced by higher authorities, even government lawyers are pressurised in these kinds of cases,” said Adhikari. “But if the police don't investigate all cases equally, the public won’t trust the law of the country.”
It’s almost 15 months since 13-year-old Nirmala Pant of Kanchanpur was brutally raped and murdered but police are nowhere close to identifying and arresting the perpetrator(s). Rights activists, Kanchanpur locals and the public organised a series of protests seeking justice for Pant ever since her body was found on July 27 last year. The protests intensified after the police were accused of tampering with evidence.
According to Niraj Bahadur Shahi, deputy inspector general of the Central Investigation Bureau, the investigation is underway and police are following and verifying all leads.
“However we are only providing technical support. The case is being investigated from Kanchanpur,” Shahi told the Post.
The botched investigation into Pant’s rape and murder was only the most public of the police’s failings. An investigation by The Record brought to light the police’s many shortcomings in the case of Pramila Tharu, a 14-year-old from Bardiya. Her suspicious death in October last year was summarily ruled a suicide and not pursued with the diligence required, despite many pieces of conflicting evidence.
These incidents are part of a broader problem with the Nepal Police, which has a lot to do with how it handles cases of gender-based violence. As the police force is heavily male and untrained to deal with cases of rape and sexual assault, there are nearly always flaws in investigations.
“There is a crisis of sensitivity in investigation,” Mohna Ansari, a commissioner at the National Human Right Commission, had told the Post in July.
In September, a report that surveyed rape victims’ access to justice said that victims are repeatedly let down by the police. “For victims, access to justice is complicated and challenging and the Nepal Police needs to do better,” Ansari said at the launch of the report.
Former additional inspector general Nawaraj Dhakal admitted to the Post that the Nepal Police does have shortcomings, especially when it comes to high-profile cases.
“To minimise such errors, proper training and proper evaluation are needed. Appraisals can also play a major role in the performance of the Nepal Police,” said Dhakal.
Dhakal said that the Nepal Police has a good success rate and the investigation never ends until the perpetrator are detained, but in some cases, there might be political influence that can prevent a fair investigation.
According to former deputy inspector general Hemanta Malla, when it comes to high-profile cases, police officials might find it difficult to believe that people with public personas and responsibilities could commit such heinous crimes.
“This is not a problem only in Nepal. It happens everywhere when the accused has a high profile that can somehow hamper the investigation,” said Malla. “However, seeking confirmation from higher authorities and not collecting evidence are the police’s weaknesses, as evidence could be tampered with if action isn’t taken immediately.”
Malla, however, said that a person’s political or public profile should not be any reason for them to escape justice.
“If the police discover proper evidence while investigating, the perpetrator has to face punishment as per the law,” he said.