EDITORIAL: Whither justice?

Suspension of five cops on Saturday is too little, too late, and unless it is backed by concrete actions, it will be nothing but eyewash

Thousands of people took to the streets across the country on Saturday seeking justice for Nirmala Panta who was raped and murdered in Bhimdutta Municipality, Kanchanpur on July 26. People from different walks of life marched with placards reading “Justice for Nirmala”. It has been 54 days since Nirmala was raped and murdered. But police are yet to find the culprit(s). Apart from a probe committee under the Central Investigation Bureau, the Ministry of Home Affairs had also formed a high-level investigation panel led by joint secretary Hari Prasad Mainali. The panel is yet to submit its report. A 17-year-old boy was killed in police firing while 20 others sustained injuries, two of them seriously. The Home Ministry on Saturday suspended five police officials—DSPs Gyan Bahadur Sethi and Angur GC, Inspectors Ekendra Khadka and Jagadish Bhatta, and ASI Ramshingh Dhami—for failing to carry out investigation responsibly. The move, however, is too little, too late, and unless the suspension is backed by other concrete actions, it will be nothing but an eyewash.

As call for justice to Nirmala grew louder, Nepal Police last week collected blood sample of suspended SP Bista, his son Kiran Bista and Ayush Bista, nephew of Bhimdutta Municipality Mayor for DNA profiling after Dilip Singh Bista’s DNA profiling did not match with Nirmala’s vaginal swab. Dilip was earlier projected by police as the “main suspect”. A post-mortem report prepared by a team of doctors in Kanchanpur also is questionable. The post-mortem report states the cause of her death was “throttling leading to asphyxia”. But it has left the space for “opinion on time since death” blank.

Framing an innocent and mentally unstable person as the main accused and deliberately destroying evidence—washing the clothes, underwear and the private part with murky water even before conducting the first deed of inquiry despite public protest; burning of her clothes and coercing her parents into performing the last rites—clearly show that police and district administration were hell bent on covering up the case. Besides, the Home Ministry’s handling of the case also seems to be inappropriate. Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa’s second reply to Parliament on Friday on the issue was vague and unsatisfactory. Minister Thapa had earlier defended police investigation, which later turned out to be botch. In a democratic polity, a minister cannot give false and unfounded statement in the House. The incumbent government headed by Prime Minister KP Oli, who is Nepal’s “most powerful” executive in decades, must see to it that the guilty will be brought to book and Nirmala—who now stands for all victims of rape and sexual violence—gets justice. The way the law enforcement agency has handled the case shows there is a clear intention to protect some powerful people. Police, who are the protector of the citizens, seem to be working to protect the criminals. PM Oli, who is never tired of talking about rule of law and good governance, must goad all agencies into acting sincerely and responsibly to deliver justice to Nirmala.

Education for all

Despite improvement in school enrolment, many children in Nepal still struggle to get quality education, and for children with disabilities, the situation is worse. Thousands of children with disabilities hence remain out of school. A new Human Rights Watch research says most children with disabilities are segregated into separate classrooms, while there is a lack of trained teachers to provide inclusive education, meaning a situation where children with and without disabilities can learn together. In a 2011 report, HRW had estimated that at least 207,000 children in Nepal have a disability.

Over the years, there has been some improvement—with progress in law and policy—but children with disabilities are still facing a tough time when it comes to receiving quality education. Article 39 of the constitution guarantees every child’s right to education and Article 39(9) says children with disabilities have the right to special protection and facilities from the state. Like all other children, children with disabilities also must be able to access quality education. The government must take an inclusive approach, implement policies and train teachers to impart quality education to children with disabilities.

A version of this article appears in print on September 17, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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