Reports suspect police negligence, political protection for murderers in Rukum killingsThey doubt a strong case will be presented to prosecute the perpetrators.
Tika R Pradhan
A number of non-governmental investigation committees that looked into the killing of six youths, including Dalits, in Rukum (West) doubt that a strong case will be presented against the perpetrators as officials in cahoots with leaders of the leaders ruling party are systematically and meticulously working to weaken the case.
While a report alleges that perpetrators, local authorities and police wiped out evidence of the crime, another demands action against officials from Area Police Office, Chaurjahari, for their negligence in investigating the case, which has received both national and international attention.
“It’s unfortunate that the perpetrators, local representatives and police administration are active in wiping out evidence as the federal government failed to take effective action immediately in the wake of the gruesome incident of violence related to inter-caste marriage,” states the report prepared by a team consisting of writers, researchers, activists and lawyers such as Yug Pathak, JB Biswokarma, Sushma Baraili, Ram Nepali, Mohan Sashankar, Bijay Biswokarma and Sangit.
On May 23, villagers of Soti in Chaurjahari Municipality, Rukum (West), had chased away Nabaraj BK and 17 of his friends from the neighbouring district of Jajarkot upon learning that the group had come to help Nabaraj elope with his 17-year-old girlfriend. The bodies of BK and five of his friends were later recovered from the Bheri river, where they were allegedly dumped after they were killed. Reports prepared by various groups have said that villagers blocked all possible escape routes, including the Bheri river, and attacked BK and his friends with domestic weapons and stones to eventually kill them.
Three different cases related to homicide, attempted homicide and caste-based discrimination and untouchability have been filed against 34 people including ward chairman Dambar Bahadur Malla for their alleged involvement in the killings. The Rukum District Attorney’s Office on Sunday filed cases against the alleged perpetrators of the crime at the district court demanding life imprisonment. charges have been filed against them.
The report also states that police were reluctant to collect and safeguard evidence, and conduct a prompt investigation. Chiefs of the local governments and local police administration have undermined the country’s constitution by taking such a serious crime related to caste-based violence lightly, it said.
The group pointed out that the conduct of Inspector Dharma Singh Bista at the Chaurjahari-based Area Police Office, Mayor Bishal Sharma of Chaurjahari Municipality and the leadership of the district police must be investigated.
The panel of writers, lawyers and activists has shed light on many previously unreported facets of the case. According to the report, while a large section of non-Dalit members of society harboured a negative attitude towards the issues involved in the murder case, Dalit members raised them.
“(During conversations), many people from non-Dalit community tried to deviate from the main issue highlighting non-significant issues.”
The report observed that the perpetrators were receiving political protection at the local level to Parliament.
Ruling party leaders, including Janardan Sharma and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, had earlier said that BK and his friends died when they tried to flee. The autopsy reports also painted a similar picture.
Lawmaker Sharma’s statement in Parliament and Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa’s briefing to the House of Representatives were rejected by the opposition and other Dalit lawmakers, who demanded a parliamentary investigation into the case.
The report says that ward chairman Dambar Bahadur Malla had met Rukum Chief District Officer Upendra Raj Poudel and Superintendent of Police Thag Bahadur KC , head of district police, a day after the incident took place.
The report also says that leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party have remained silent from the beginning as both the victims and alleged perpetrators represent former Maoists. While Minister for Forest and Environment Shakti Bahadur Basnet represents the constituency of the victims in Jajarkot, former home minister Janardan Sharma represents Rukum (West) in Parliament.
Even Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal have refrained from commenting on one of the gravest incidents of mass murder in Nepal following the decade-long conflict.
Even after Speaker Agni Sapkota agreed to form a parliamentary committee to look into the incident, a non-Dalit Standing Committee member of the ruling party—Devendra Poudel, was chosen the head the team, though there were members from the Dalit community.
Attorney General Agni Kharel’s statement to a parliamentary committee that preliminary reports of the incident didn’t resemble those being circulated by the media has also raised further suspicion that a fair investigation will take place, critics say.
Meanwhile, another report made public on Tuesday questions police officials’ response to the killings. The report, prepared by Nepal National Dalit Welfare Society and Justice and Rights Institute (JURI), says, “Police have failed to safeguard evidence [at the crime scene] though they had arrived at the scene soon after the crime.”
“Authorities at the Area Police Office, Chaurjahari, should be punished for their negligence in investigating the case,” states the report.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the National Assembly, Bhairab Shrestha, who represents Jajarkot, also raised questions over the autopsy reports of the murdered youths.