Justice for Nirmala Pant still a far cryThirteen-year-old Nirmala Pant was raped and subsequently murdered three years ago in Kanchanpur. Police are nowhere close to identifying and punishing the perpetrators.
On July 26, 2018, Nirmala Pant got on her bicycle and left for her friend’s house to do her homework. The 13-year-old of Bhimdatta Municipality-18 in Kanchanpur did not return home.
The next day, on July 27, her body was found in a sugarcane field near the Mahendranagar-Ultakham road, around 600 metres from her friend Roshni Bam’s house.
The postmortem report concluded that she was raped and subsequently murdered.
It has been three years since the incident, which was followed by nationwide protests and calls for justice for Nirmala and her grieving family, but the police have yet to arrest the perpetrator(s) of the crime.
Durga Pant, Nirmala’s mother, says she has lost hopes to get justice for her daughter after three years of waiting with no concrete answers from the police and the authorities.
“My pain and loss are with me,” Durga told the Post. “There is no one I can go to to ask for justice”
Following public protests that began on the streets of Kanchanpur and spilled across the rest of the country, the government formed around a dozen investigative teams to ensure the guilty were brought to book.
But none of the inquiries and investigations has led to the arrest of the culprit(s) of the gruesome crime.
Twenty-six days after the incident, police arrested 41-year-old Dilip Singh Bista of Bhimdatta-19 with a criminal past as the accused.
The District Police in Kanchanpur paraded Bista as the main suspect in the rape and murder of Nirmala, citing that he had confessed to his crimes.
But Kanchanpur locals and Nirmala’s family protested against Bista’s arrest, claiming him incapable of committing such a horrendous crime given his mental disability. The Pant family and the locals accused the police of framing an innocent man to protect the real culprits.
In August of the same year, Mahendranagar, the district headquarters of Kanchanpur, rose up in protest with rallies that turned violent. Police opened fire at the crowd in one of the rallies, killing a teenage boy and injuring several others.
Mass protests continued with violence reported in several places across the country, prompting the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to launch its own inquiry and carry out investigations on the case.
Police on September 11, 2018, released Bista from custody, as per the suggestion of the district attorney, for a lack of evidence. Bista’s DNA sample did not match with the sample taken from the crime scene, said police.
The DNA evidence exonerated Bista and the NHRC discovered several lapses on the part of the Kanchanpur police, including the mishandling of the crime scene and pieces of evidence, leading to investigative difficulties.
Three years on, police claim their search for concrete evidence and the culprit(s) is ongoing.
According to SP Umaprasad Chaturvedi, the investigation into Nirmala’s rape and murder is underway under the leadership of DSP Siddharaj Neupane of the District Police Office, Kanchanpur.
“We are conducting an honest and thorough investigation,” said Chaturvedi. “The investigations have not reached a logical conclusion. We are now focusing on the analysis of the incident and are looking for strong evidence.”
Along with the district police, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the state police team are also investigating the case.
But for the Pant family, the number of investigative teams formed to solve the case is of little significance.
“None of the investigators has been able to reach a conclusion and find the culprits,” said Durga Devi. “At this point, I feel like giving up my hopes to get justice for my daughter.”
On Sunday, Nimala’s relatives, rights activists and the locals took out a protest rally, demanding the arrest of the culprit/s in Nirmala’s rape and murder case. The demonstrators reached the District Administration Office after moving around Mahendranagar Bazaar.
Nirmala’s father Yangyaraj Pant and stepmother Laxmi Pant submitted separate memorandums to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand through the Chief District Officer of Kanchanpur. They demanded the authorities to identify the culprit/s at the earliest and take strong action against the guilty.