Mum’s not the wordThe usually voluble PM’s reticence pertaining to the Nirmala Pant case is unacceptable
The horrifying details that have come out not only of the brutal rape and murder of 13-year-old Nirmala Pant but also of the police trying to subdue the case has rightly outraged common citizens across the country. Worryingly, Prime minister KP Sharma Oli, who is not usually the silent kind, has suddenly lost his voice when it came to speaking about the deeply shocking, gut-wrenching violence. Although he spares no opportunity to speak at great lengths about his vision and plans for the country, his commitment to the safety of women and children—if he has any—is sadly not known to public.
Moreover, the silence of the women leaders heading the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen and Ministry of Water Supply on this issue is both perplexing and distressing. It is only as good as if they were not there at all. Although on the 51st day after the incident, madam President spoke for the first time about the case at an event calling on the stakeholders to bring the perpetrator to account, it seemed like paying nothing than a mere lip service.
When the government fails to speak up and act during such times, it only translates into one thing: that choosing to remain silent on such a critical issue is taking a position. Silence is defence, and this position will decide the gravity of affirmative action and social justice.
The body of Nirmala Pant was discovered in a sugarcane field in Bhimdutta Municipality-18, Kanchanpur, on July 26, where she was brutally raped and murdered. The horrific violence meted out to the 13-year-old naturally sparked angry protests, first in Kanchanpur and now gradually in other parts of the country including the Capital. It has shone unprecedented attention on the scourge of sexual crimes against women in the country. As the protestors have been demanding swifter justice for the victim and tougher laws to punish the perpetrator, pressure was building on the police who were apparently working day in and out to find the culprit. Twenty-six days later, on August 20, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of the Nepal Police arrested one Dilip Kumar Bista for the rape and murder and paraded the 41-year-old with a criminal past before the media.
Area locals were skeptical initially, but later were infuriated at the false arrest. Protests intensified as Bista was simply made the fall guy owing to his past records and mental instability. As the story unfolded, 24 days after
being in custody, he was released following a DNA mismatch. Dilli Raj Bista, a police commander, has been suspended following accusations of cover-ups and mishandling the Nirmala Pant rape and murder. In fact, the family had refused to receive Nirmala’s body demanding that the authorities arrest and prosecute the perpetrators first. However, chilling details have now revealed that the District Administration Office, Kanchanpur, coerced the family into cremating the victim’s body in a low-key funeral that was guarded by police personnel. Instead of serving justice, the police is indulging in tampering with the evidence and resorting to using force to silence protestors.
All this point to the fact the Nepal Communist Party (NCP)’s handling of the mass protests, where even bullets were fired that killed one, and injured 24, has not been adept. The brazen defence of perpetrators is appalling and the way the government is trying to shield the culprit only shows how corrupt the entire system is. According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 1,131 cases of rape were registered in 2017. The number of reported rape cases has jumped 256 percent in the past decade. On average, 78 rape cases are reported in Nepal every month. Thousand more, however, go unreported because of a perceived stigma and a loss of privacy.
Yet, despite the alarming situation, the police’s dilly-dallying and possible obstruction in moving the case ahead has exposed their incompetence as well as their pervasive abuse of power. Further, it is promoting a culture of impunity. This has not only disproportionately harmed the victim’s family but simultaneously eroded people’s trust in the police and the system too.
Silence is not always golden
If the police have used the system to terrorise families and supporters of the victim and destroy evidences, what disciplinary action will be taken for the ones who misconduct and misuse power? Nepalis were shocked and saddened that the perpetrators are protected instead of prosecuted while ordinary citizens are framed. As the top echelons of the ruling party and the government remain mum, cacophony is reigning on the ground level. The public is now seething at this injustice.
Clearly, the government is misreading the public mood and the depth of this disgust. The absence of requisite sensitivity from the NCP is bound to invite an enormous debate. Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle believed that silence is more eloquent than words. A PM may not be expected to speak about every issue, but if he fails to speak timely on an issue that has become a national shame, then it carries a strong validation with Carlyle’s words.
Perhaps it would be wrong to say that the PM has been completely mum since he spoke at a television program regarding the issue. But that was only after he was questioned. Even then, he was of the view that the government has been obstructed from carrying out investigation in the Nirmala Pant rape and murder case. Such remarks are deeply worrying to anyone who cares about the health of democracy in the country. If the PM feels that the
organic activism evolved from the travesty of justice is obstructing the government’s work, how can we expect him to genuinely commiserate with the grieving family?
They say injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The usually voluble PM’s reticence regarding the national tragedy that is the Nirmala Pant rape and murder case is unacceptable. People expect their leaders to speak up at such times—console the grieved and assure the wider citizenry that justice will be served. There might be some political calculus dictating the PM’s silence, but whatever that possibly be, this silence is not just deafening, but bad politics too.
Pandey is the Op-Ed editor at The Kathmandu Post.