Betrayed by activists

Published On: March 19, 2019 01:00 AM NPT By: Anjali Subedi

Rights activists, her husband and media have made life difficult for Durga Devi Panta, Nirmala’s mother

Nirmala Panta’s mother Durga Devi is not fine these days. People may jump to the conclusion that the brutal murder of her daughter and uncertainty about justice has left her in agony. That is not the whole story. Rights activists, her husband and media projected things differently and that has made life extremely hard for this single mother. Close observation displays hypocrisies and hollow concerns.

When the case was catching fire and Kanchanpur was protesting, Durga Devi and Nirmala’s father Yagyaraj were quietly brought to Kathmandu (which created a rift between Helen Shah and Mina Bhandari factions of protestors). We went to meet them at an NGO office in Anamnagar ‘where local media was not allowed.’ We had to go with a colleague who works for The New York Times (he had to show his ID card). Durga Devi was inaccessible while Yagyaraj said that the matter would not have been so big if the mayor ‘had not acted egoistically that day.’ Bringing the mayor to the knees seemed to be one of his quests then. His inconsistent narrative did not impress us. 

Soon after Yagyaraj was done with the interview, a  lady with a loud and authoritative voice came to the room and took him away. As we were about to leave, another room occupied by women representing different NGOs drew our attention. We noticed them through a slightly opened door, which they immediately shut. Things were not transparent except that Durga Devi and Yagyaraj were made ‘hostage’ and taught how and what to speak. For instance, though three persons booked earlier (Hemanti, Chakra Badu and Dilip Singh Bista) did have enough grounds to be interrogated, the duo was supposed to highlight other things or only selective parts. The activists were powerful people who would fix meeting with the higher authorities in Kathmandu.  Durga Devi quietly followed those instructions.

Months have passed since that episode and people are back to their business. Durga Devi cannot be the same person again. Though life was very hard, she was a proud and strong mother earlier. Today, she has no one to rely on, not even herself.

Agony of a mother  

Hers was an arranged marriage. The husband was never a responsible person. After he married another woman, he distanced from the daughters, too. He never offered financial or emotional support to Durga Devi. Yet she would send her children to Bhasi (where he lived with the second wife and son) at times with grains and fresh vegetables. “I would send them not for my sake, but for their sake, so that they don’t grow a feeling that they don’t have father,” she shared her pains with me two months ago. The step-mother was not very kind to any of the daughters, but disliked Nirmala the most. 

Whenever she went to Bhashi, Nirmala would do all the household chores to make the family happy. Durga Devi says she was always the wise and sensitive girl in the family. Nirmala would try to persuade her father to care for the family too, which the step mother may not have liked.

After Nirmala’s death, Yagyaraj lost his 'mental balance' and the step mom told media with tears that bringing up daughters by selling chana-chatpate was never easy. For the last 11 years, Yagyaraj has remained indifferent to his ex-family. And it is Durga Devi who sells chana-chatpate.

When the police asked her in the beginning to name the suspect, Durga Devi said there is none. When insisted, she said she did not trust Yagyaraj and the lady.

Yagyaraj and his second wife’s entered the scene after Nirmala’s death and this did not look natural to Durga Devi. But the developments later made her feel awkward. Not just Yagyaraj, the step-mother too was giving intense versions on the loss of ‘their’ child. One day, when Nirmala’s mother decided to accept compensation and let the police continue with the investigation, Yagyaraj thrashed and threatened Durga Devi. 

When I talked to her after a few days of the incident, Durga Devi looked nervous, terrorized. She said that she has understood a lot of things over time but could not speak the truth openly. When I said that sharing would make her stronger, not weaker, she started talking. 

It was evident that rights activists and husband had created the atmosphere which made her feel helpless and insecure. I urge the government to provide her due security until this case is properly settled.

More than anyone, Durga Devi is unhappy with Yagyaraj for ‘politicizing’ daughter’s death. “Had it been a child from his other wife, he wouldn’t do this. This is a mother’s heart speaking; the god will never forgive this man,” she said.

She also expressed regret over filing case against police personnel ‘which she did under influence of the situation she did not create.’ “My instinct has not said that they did anything wrong intentionally. There was negligence on their part,” she said.

Claims and rumors 

There are discrepancies over claims and rumors about the case. When Chadani Saud was framed for cleaning Nirmala’s pajama, she was doing that in front of everyone. Anyone harbors a plan to commit crime is never that casual or careless. At least you make sure that people are not watching, let alone recording it. It was projected that the signature or thumbprint of the father was fake. But it was just that Yagyaraj had come later, and the police made him sign the document prepared earlier. It was rumored that Nirmala’s books were wet while rain was heavy but the books had plastic-coated covers and was placed in a slanting position when recovered, and they were wet on the edges. It was said that Dilip Singh Bista can never abuse girls, but there are records where his sister-in-laws have exposed his character. He was always a sick man with cynical behavior. It was reported by Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON) that one of the Bam sisters was a dancer at Opera Hotel (it was recently corrected after the Bam sisters challenged HURON president Indra Prasad Aryal to prove it), but there was never a dance bar there. It was said that the government and the police wanted to save a powerful rapist, so all the game was conspired. But senior former police officers who have spent years in crime investigation told me that the nature of crime suggested otherwise. ‘Powerful’ ones buy sex rather than rape, and if at all they kill someone for revenge, they don’t leave the dead body on a sugarcane field. They make the body disappear.

Top former investigation officers tried to intervene for good when tensions were escalating. They wrote in detail in Republica and other media about several technical aspects of a complex case like that of Nirmala. Restarting free and fair investigation was suggested. If put immense pressure for quick result, that would give bad results, they warned.

Questionable conduct 

Though the entire country was fighting for justice, few would care to read them. I did not notice even the activists discussing it on Facebook or Twitter. One has grounds to question their interest, just like that of the opposition party. They were just trying to tarnish the image of the government and the security agency, rather than helping find the truth. 

After Nirmala, many girls have been raped, and this goes unabated. Even if Nirmala’s culprit was found, or somehow found now, we will still have rapists in the society. We are not focusing on the root cause of the abuse and are not worried about strengthening the justice system. The ex-police officers state that Nepal Police has to work with old and outdated technologies and skills.  

Nirmala’s mother is not  well educated, but life has taught her to be humble. She is empathetic towards all, and is in the search for truth. Her instinct has already told her who the murderer is but instinct alone does not establish it. For now, her battle is not just with the emptiness Nirmala has left in her life, but sadly also with those around her who ‘loved’ Nirmala so much.

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