Gangamaya’s health condition is deteriorating. The unwillingness of the new government to address her demand could prove deadly
Nepal has made a history by appointing women as President, Chief Justice and Speaker of the House. Nepal has also among the highest percentage of women parliamentarians (29.6 percent) in Asia and stands at 47th position out of 193 countries in women representation, according to the Inter-parliamentary Union. There are three incumbent women judges in the Apex Court. This is the outcome of a long-run inclusion campaign of women’s movement in the country. But all this means nothing for Gangamaya Adhikari, a satyagrahi woman, who has been fighting against injustice for over a decade now.
Gangamaya, a resident of a tiny Phujel village of Gorhka district, resumed her hunger strike from August 11th, 2016, demanding that perpetrators of her son’s murder are brought to book. The Supreme Court on December 21st, 2015 had directed the government to take Chabilal Poudel, the main accused of the murder of Krishna Prasad, her son, into judicial custody. Though he did not belong to any of the parties to the conflict, Krishna Prasad was brutally killed at Bakular Chowk, Tadi of Chitwan district on June 6th, 2004. This incident took place while he was visiting his grandparents in Chitwan. It is eight months since SC’s ruling but the decision has not been implemented yet.
Gangamaya believes the prime accused (Paudel) is under Maoist protection. The incumbent Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who took the oath of office on August 4th, 2016, is also the head of the Maoist party. His second coming in Singha Durbar has provided no hope of justice to her and she is on her sixth hunger strike now.
Her husband, Nanda Prasad Adhikary, met with a painful death in Kathmandu on the 334th day of his hunger strike on September 22nd, 2014. This is the first death while staging hunger strike in Nepal. His body is still lying at the morgue of Teaching Hospital in Maharajganj. Gangamaya believes his lifeless body is also waiting for justice. Following his death, she suspended her fasting that she was staging together with Nanda Prasad on the 359th day, after the government committed to prosecute the culprits. This has not happened.
Gangamaya’s health is deteriorating. The unwillingness of the government to promptly address her demand could prove deadly.
Since Adhikari duo first launched hunger strikes for justice, the country has witnessed government change nine times. Successive governments were/are aware of their demands. International community is also aware of her condition, but it has chosen to remain silent. The big media houses have also not paid as much attention as might be expected. Noted women rights activists remain quiet. They see the issue as political, something that does not fall under their internationally funded projects.
Following the murder of Krishna Prasad, Adhikari family was forcefully displaced from the village. They came to Kathmandu for justice and tried to meet almost all the prime ministers as well as home ministers to inform them of their agony. They were denied access to concerned authorities, detained by police or badly treated. The couple, according to Gangamaya, had no option but to undergo three separate hunger strikes while they were not in public notice.
Labeling it as conflict-era case, the council of ministers on June 12, 2006 unilaterally decided to close the file of Krishna Prasad, registered with the Chitwan district police.
Their distress and appeal, being unheard, the couple filed a complaint at National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The NHRC recommended the government to investigate the case on April 5th, 2009 but its recommendation was not carried out.
Instead, the Baburam Bhattarai-led government became rather harsh towards the couple.
They were forcefully admitted to a mental hospital in Patan with the objective of declaring them “mentally ill”. They had already undergone painful physical and mental torture before the human rights group came to their rescue. They were dropped back in Gorkha while still on their fast-unto-death. Seeking justice, it seemed to them, was like committing a crime.
Extremely frustrated, the couple decided to go on an indefinite satyagraha while Khil Raj Regmi was in power. This pressure enabled the Regmi government to implement the second recommendation of NHRC dated August 12th, 2013. Subsequently, the government reopened the file for investigation. One of the accused, Ram Prasad Adhikary, was arrested following which the couple ended their 47 days of fourth hunger strike.
Effective investigation was promised, but to no avail. They were thus forced to launch fifth hunger strike. Following the second Constituent Assembly elections, Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala became the prime minister, Nanda Prasad soon succumbed to hunger strike.
The fate of the couple is the outcome of deep rooted impunity under political protection.
With indifference of major political parties, women rights activists and international community, Gangamaya may meet the fate of her husband. She might be remembered for a long time as an ‘icon lady’ who sacrificed her life for justice. The couple’s struggle may also become the subject of research for the scholars, but at what cost?
Criminalization of politics is rampant in Nepal. The international standard of Transitional Justice (TJ) processes has been ignored. ‘Delay, dilute and denial’ tactics resulted in the death of Nanda Prasad.
The 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) had envisaged Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to be constituted within six months of the signing of the agreement.
But establishing this body took more than eight years. The United Nations, for its part, has publicly stated its inability to support TJ mechanisms constituted under the Act that does not meet international standards. Court orders have been frequently undermined on political ground. Political hegemony is holding the justice process hostage. Should this phenomenon continue international doors to justice will open up, sooner or later.
Thus the government should immediately heed Gangamaya. Saving Gangamaya is saving justice. Ignoring her call for justice, on the other hand, will set a very bad precedent with as yet unforeseeable consequences.