KATHMANDU, Jan 11: The parents of Nawaraj BK have gradually lost their weight, appetite and peace of mind since their only son, who was outstanding at studies and sports, was murdered in the infamous Rukum incident of May last year. They are further disturbed as justice seems elusive with two more prime suspects recently freed by a high court. Four others were let out of judicial custody earlier and the remaining 28 could be treated equally leniently, they fear.
Forty- and 43-years old respectively, Nawaraj’s mother Urmila Nepali and father Mohan BK state that justice will not prevail unless all the 34 directly and indirectly involved in stoning and killing six young boys including their son on the riverbank of Bheri and injuring 13 others that day are duly held responsible and punished. "We are not much educated to understand what's going on, but we have some Dalit lawyers who are with us and they say we have to move the international court if the justice system here treats this crime lightly or robs us of justice. For us, we are ready to give our life for justice, we have lost our only son and the murder was so gruesome," said the couple, which has not yet accepted Rs 1 million the government offered them as compensation. And this, when the family doesn’t have any income source after Mohan, who used to work as a laborer, was seriously injured in an accident in 2018 and the family couldn’t afford his treatment.
Nawaraj's parents; Urmila Nepali and Mohan BK.
Right after the incident, when dead bodies were being recovered from the river, the families of the victims had expressed dissatisfaction over the handling of the case by the authorities. The attitude of the police as well as the post mortem report was widely questioned.
"Right from the beginning, the authorities handled the case in a way to exempt them of guilt. In the post mortem report, they have written 'death from drowning' whereas it is not hard to see that the bodies sustained enough hitting and beating. There are cuts which were done by sharp objects," remarks one of the advocates fighting the case, Mohan Sashankar. "Due sensitivity and cautiousness was not seen while preparing the charge-sheet by the government lawyers," he added.
The families of the deceased and injured had filed a case against 34 and now not only six of them are outside custody but also they've overheard that others are soon being freed by the court. According to advocate Shashankar, instead of distinctly pinpointing which individual did what in the crime, the charges have been labeled on them on a lump sum. “When the boys were chased down the steep, some people took control of them, some beat them and thrashed them. Some played a role to gather people, some others only witnessed what was going on. And above all, the planners of the crime needed to be named. "But nothing such has been written in the charge-sheet so as to make the case weak," he said.
Had the lawyers been serious, they could have asked the police to find the weapons which were used to attack the Dalit youths. But the lawyers didn't give enough interest to these aspects, according to him. "The strength of the charges depends on how the police collect the facts and define them. In this case, the individuals seem to have gone home with weapons as the investigation was quite delayed. And then, nobody searched for those weapons," Shashankar said.
The victims' families have demanded that all the 34 suspects be kept in custody till the final hearing of the case so that they don't influence the victims' families. But this influencing game has already started, according to Nawaraj's father Mohan.
"Three of the injured boys were recently offered motorbikes and some money while some others were threatened. They are the witness of the incident, they are being pressured to change their statements," Mohan stated.
Another advocate Trilok Chand Vishwas, national president of Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, which had covered educational expenses of Nawaraj, among other Dalit children for many years, says now the Dalit community is in the wait and see mode. If the state fails to deliver justice, they will have to knock at the door of the international court, he asserted.
"This is genocide. This is not something you can overlook. We have to reach the international court, if we fail to get justice here," Trilok said. "The parents of the victims, all their eyes are on the court, and the way the guilty are being freed has left them heartless. We are prepared to take it beyond the border if need be," he added.
He further stated that all families whose members got killed or injured in the incident are from very poor backgrounds. So, there are high chances of those being influenced by the 'criminals'. "Moreover, they have the backing of Janardan Sharma (former power minister), there's a ward chairperson involved, and there are others who are much in better positions than the Dalit families. They will try their best to ruin justice. It seems the government authorities have prepared a weaker case so that they lose it in court," he said.
Over a dozen advocates have been fighting the case voluntarily for justice for Nawaraj and his friends. Nawaraj's parents, some advocates and parents of other deceased had recently met Prime Minister KP Oli in Kathmandu in connection with the case. They had appealed to the PM to ensure justice. While Nawaraj’s parents urged that Sushma [Nawaraj’s alleged girlfriend] needed to be jailed too, for lifetime, the PM had however hinted that her age factor needs to be considered. Over the rest of the concerns, he stated that justice shall prevail which means that those involved in murdering should serve lifetime imprisonment.
Remarkably, a parliamentary committee formed to investigate the case had also concluded that the incident was a premeditated mass murder and needed to be dealt with seriously.
According to Sunita BK, Nawaraj's sister, her mother has gone a little insane after losing her son. Not only is she quiet and sad most of the time but also does she seriously hope that her son will arrive home some evening. "It makes us feel very helpless when she sometimes refuses to accept that my brother has died. She literally waits for him to come home," she said.
Nawaraj, 21, and Sushma Malla, 17, had met at a sports event and developed intimacy two years before the tragic incident. The affair was well known to the parents of Nawaraj as Sushma had stayed overnight at their house twice and confessed to the relationship. The parents had right then questioned the future of their bonding. Sushma had then boldly replied 'caste cannot come between true lovers', and she'd handle it the right way once she completes her studies. Nawaraj, very proud of his choice too, had assured his parents of their bright days ahead, together. He was aspiring to join Nepal Police and had made it through the written tests. "We were nervous right then when a girl from an upper caste family came and lived here with us, as his lover. But then, they looked happy and confident," Urmila reminisces.
Things, however, didn't go smooth later. After Sushma's family members came to know about it, Nawaraj was threatened. On the other hand, not everything was going well even between Nawaraj and Sushma. Reportedly, she had blocked him on facebook a few weeks prior to the incident. However, Nawaraj had not given up. He was still eager to bring her home as his bride. The day when he was allegedly killed by Sushma's family members and villagers, he had received a message from Sushma. She had texted that she was ready to elope with him; he just needed to come to her place with some friends.
Euphoric, Nawaraj, a local of Ranagaun of Jajarkot district, then managed to have some of his friends with him instantly and headed for Sushma's house located at Soti of west Rukum. That was 23 May when the country was still under a lockdown due to COVID19. "The girl's uncle Indra Bahadur Malla lives here around. And later we learnt that he had conveyed them a message that the boys had left from here, so they need to get ready. This killing was preplanned," notes the distressed father Mohan.
The 19 boys, as soon as they reached near the girl's house, were confronted by the girl's mother. She called them 'dum' (a derogatory word used against Damai caste) and said that they would be taught a lesson. The girl’s brother and father as well as the ward chairperson Dilli Bahadur Malla appeared in the scene soon making it extremely violent. There were dozens of others joining the family (most of whom were all from Malla caste as revealed later) and chasing and stoning the boys toward the Bheri river. According to Nawaraj's father Mohan, they could simply take those boys in control and hand them over to the police. But then, they resorted to extreme violence. "There were all marks of beatings on their bodies and some cuts. The murderers should be jailed forever."