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JUSTICE DELAYED JUSTICE DENIED

As we approach 150 days since the rape and murder of Nirmala Panta, the question of who killed Nirmala remains unanswered. The human cost of sexual violence, police impunity, corruption, political agenda and accountability are at the forefront of this tragedy.

Thirteen year old Nirmala Panta didn’t come home on the evening of July 26. Her lifeless naked body was found in a waterlogged field.

Police investigations continue today with twists and turns but truth yet to see light of the day. Aakriti Maya of WOW has compiled a timeline through the rape and murder investigation of Nirmala Panta with a question: Is this a case of Justice Delayed Or Justice Denied?

JULY 26

Thirteen year old Nirmala Panta went to her friends Roshani and Babita Bam’s house to do homework together.

Nirmala Panta was raped, then murdered.

Nirmala’s family went to the police station to report their missing daughter and were told to return in the morning.

JULY 27

Nirmala’s lifeless, naked body was found on a water logged sugar cane field, 500 meters away from the house of the Bam sisters.

Students aligned with the Nepal Student Union first began demonstrations in Mahendranagar, students and police officers were minorly injured when clash ensued.

JULY 28

Nirmala’s relatives, community, political and women’s rights groups demonstrated in Mahendranagar Bazaar, demanding strong punitive action against the rapist and compensation for Nirmala’s family at a police beat in Nimbukheda, Kanchanpur.

JULY 29

Protests continue in Mahendranagar. Post mortem report still in process. Police do not find evidence at site because of the pool of water in the sugar cane field. Nirmala’s father, Yagya Raj refuses to receive Nirmala’s body before the perpetrators are prosecuted.

JULY 30

Nirmala’s body is cremated. Yagya Raj says that he was coerced into the hasty cremation. CDO of Bhimdutta Municipality claims family agreed after the police assured them that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

CIB (Central Investigation Bureau) launches investigation into Nirmala’s case. A three-member CIB team under DSP Angur GC leaves for Kanchanpur to coordinate with the local police in the investigation.

AUGUST 3

Hemanti Bhatta’s – a twelfth grader at Jyoti Bhahumukhi Campus and acquaintance of Nirmala – interrogation by police begins, on grounds of her owing a suspicious 12 sim cards and romantic exchanges with multiple men. Investigation shows that she promised to set up a man with Nirmala. Her interrogation lasted days and concluded with police discovering that the set up was for another Nirmala Dhami not Panta.

AUGUST 5

Post mortem report details that Nirmala was strangled to death, sperm samples are found in Nirmala’s vagina and uterus. Protests grow amongst allegations that the police are protecting the perpetrators and that evidence in the post mortem report pointed point to supposed two VIP’s.

AUGUST 6

Chakra Dev Badu (local resident) is taken for interrogation by the police following information from a nearby source that placed him at the road leading to the sugarcane fields. Badu was accused of misleading the police and offering conflicting stories of his activities on the day of Nirmala’s death.

AUGUST 7

#RAGEAGAINSTRAPE begins in Kathmandu. Hemanti Bista attempts to lodge a complaint against the police for use of brute force and torture in interrogation which she decides to rescind following an apology from SP Dilli Raj Bista.

AUGUST 16

Chakra Dev Badu is released on bail and lack of evidence, citing multiple instances of torture at the hands of police. His DNA does not match the sample found in Nirmala’s body.

AUGUST 20

Mentally ill Dilip Bista is arrested for Nirmala’s rape and murder. Bista recently finished a nine year prison sentence for the murder of his brother in law.  Locals claim that Dillip Bista is being framed. Anger grows and protestors demand the arrest of the real perpetrators and end of impunity. Superintendent Dilli Raj Bista, head officer of Nirmala’s case is accused of protecting the perpetrator.

AUGUST 23

Kanchanpur society is on strike. Protest is staged in larger numbers. Police open fire into crowd injuring six civilians and two officers. 12 hour curfew is imposed. High level committee is formed by the Home Ministry to investigate further.

AUGUST 24

Protests erupt again. Police fire live rounds and a 14 year old protestor, Sani Khuna is killed. Five others are gravely injured.

AUGUST 25

Amongst growing outrage from the community, SP Dilli Raj Bista is suspended. Along with him, Deputy Superintendent of Police Gyan Bahadur Sethi and Inspector Ekendra Khadka are recalled to Police Headquarters. Government compensates Nirmala’s family and Sani Khuna’s family with Rs 10 lakhs.

AUGUST 25

Arrest warrant is issued for Roshani and Babita Bam. The sisters were held for further interrogation and deny involvement in the crime. Rumors of the Bam sisters relationship with SP Dilli Bista’s son were not substantiated by social media, phone or messaging records.

AUGUST 26

Government decides to compensate Rs ten lakhs to Nirmala Panta’s and Sahi Khuna’s family.

SEPTEMBER 5

Prime Minister KP Oli calls protests efforts by opposition to weaken his government on Janata Sanga Pradhanmantri, a fortnight television show. KP Oli also emphasises that culprits must be identified through the process of law, defending the Bam sisters from public scrutiny.

SEPTEMBER 10

Member of high level committee, Birendra KC quits panel due to threats by those “actively trying to undermine the probe”. KC cited that he was worried that he and his family members would be murdered if he remained on the committee.

SEPTEMBER 11

Accused rapist/murderer Dillip Bista is released from jail as his DNA does not match with Nirmala’s post mortem file. Bam sisters were also released on lack of ground for arrest. Roshani is released on condition of presenting herself if the court requires it. Babita freed on a bail of Rs 30,000.

SEPTEMBER 11

Birendra KC withdraws resignation from probe committee after meeting with Home Minister, Ram Bahadur Thapa.

SEPTEMBER 12

Nirmala’s parents Durga Devi and Yagya Raj travel to Kathmandu to hold a press conference and meet National Leaders. A candlelight vigil and peaceful rally is held in the capital city.

SEPTEMBER 13

Nepali Congress, the main opposition party of the incumbent Communist Party obstructs House of Representatives meeting asserting that Nirmala’s case is starting to become a “state protected crime”.

Samples are collected from SP Dilli Raj Bista, his son Kiran Bista and nephew of Bhimdutta Municipality Mayor Surendra Bista for DNA profiling following public and internal allegations.

SEPTEMBER 14

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari breaks her silence, calling on stakeholders to bring perpetrators to justice.

SEPTEMBER 16

New investigation committee was set up by Nepal Police under DIG Dhiru Basnyat to take over former investigation committee lead by Uttam Subedi. DIG Dhiru Basnyat states intention to begin investigation from a new perspective.

SEPTEMBER 17

Nirmala’s parents meet Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who assures them that perpetrator will be punished and caught.

Nine police officials, including former Kanchanpur SP Dilli Raj Bista were interrogated for their connections in the investigation of Nirmala’s case.

SEPTEMBER 18

Kanchanpur SP Kuber Kathayat reveals that there is no new concrete evidence, and the investigation is ongoing.

SEPTEMBER 26

Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa reveals that Nirmala’s clothes were burnt after her body was found, and that the fingerprints of her father were forged in the field report prepared by the police.

OCTOBER 4

Home Minister assures guilty party will be booked within the week.

OCTOBER 7

Efforts by police to recover CCTV footage from 17 cameras installed around Bhimdutta fail. National Human Rights Council presses government to conduct a fair and scientific probe with an eight point directive with a spokesperson asserting that there have been serious lapses from the very beginning.

• Protests have erupted throughout the country demanding justice for Nirmala.

• #JusticeforNirmala has been trending on twitter on and off throughout this time.

• The investigation team is considering the possibility of a mass DNA test.

• Latest suspects, Pradeep Rawal and Bishal Chaudhary were both in an out of the local police station on the day of Nirmala’s rape, making the public question the feasibility of the boys committing the crime they have confessed to.

OCTOBER 8

Government bans porn sites to combat the rise of sexual assault in the country.

OCTOBER 25

Home Ministry fire suspended officials SP Dilli Raj Bista and Inspector Jagdish Bhatta. SP Bista claims innocence and dismissal due to political pressure.

NOVEMBER 11

Nirmala’s parents begin indefinite sit in at the District Administration Office in Kanchanpur.

NOVEMBER 24

Nirmala’s father, Yagya Raj is brought to Kathmandu for medical treatment following unstable behaviour to be examined for mental illness.

NOVEMBER 30

Activists launch poster campaign, a peaceful demonstration taping posters on utility poles in Maitighar area. Police were photographed taking down such posters throughout the city.

DECEMBER 9

Pradeep Rawal and Bishal Chaudhary from Bhimdutta are arrested as prime suspects in Nirmala Panta’s rape and murder. Both allegedly confess to the crimes. DNA results are pending.

DECEMBER 12

Family and community of Pradeep Rawal and Bishal Chaudary protest in Mahendranagar, asserting that their conviction is another attempt of the police to scapegoat poor, innocent people.

In Response

Bhawana Raut
Student, Youth Activist based in Kathmandu

State negligence caused the delay that led to denial of justice, not just for Nirmala but also protest victims who were killed and severely injured. The demand for perpetrators to be caught and punished has been increasing day by day. The suspicion that a high profile person is being protected from being persecuted is becoming stronger every day. Furthermore, the home minister’s son Prateek Thapa, a notorious sexual predator (as reported by Pokhara media) was present around the crime scene. His refusal to provide sample for a DNA test may eventually be the missing link. Home Minister himself was punished by Maoists for sexual misconduct as a party cadre.

Or it may just be a drug addict flasher reportedly active prior to the incident at the same place who committed the crime and fled to India. Scores of police officers have been suspended and dozen plus investigation teams have been deployed, but none generating results. If not a cover-up, why are wrongly accused suspects being released over and over again?

Bharati Chaudhary
Activist based in Kanhanpur, Member of Tharu Mahila Manch, Member of Nargarik Samajh Sangharsha Samiti

Justice delayed is justice denied. In fact we have put up posters everywhere in our town with that very message. I initially travelled to Kathmandu with Nirmala’s parents to support them in this cause and to continue raising awareness through rallies, talks and meetings when they went back to Kanchanpur. I have seen firsthand how much Nirmala’s immediate family and larger community have suffered from her brutal rape and murder. I am fighting for justice for Nirmala to protect all the Nirmalas of Nepal. Looking at the picture as a whole, from Nirmala’s body being cremated under police protection, to the mishandling of the case by the police in its initial stage, it does seem like the system is protecting someone high profile. The police have continuously been arresting low income, helpless boys in protection of the true perpetrators. Just recently, they have arrested two local chicken thieves with little to no resources or awareness to defend themselves! As long as the true perpetrator are protected, justice is denied for Nirmala.

Bishnu Maya Bhusal
Advocate

Justice delayed is justice denied. It is a fundamental principle of law practice. There is no room whatsoever to refute this idea. In Nirmala’s case, there have been significant lapses by the investigation team which has resulted in Nirmala’s rapist and/or murder to be free to this day. I don’t know what is to come in Nirmala’s case or whether or not the true perpetrator will ever be brought to justice, but I am hopeful by the fact that there are so many young people that are advocating Nirmala’s cause.