Nepal’s political parties have been in a deadlock for months, trying to negotiate which Party gets to “occupy” the Prime Minister’s residence in Baluwatar. While that political wrangling continues, on Friday a peaceful gathering dubbed “Occupy Baluwatar” began quite organically outside the Prime Minister’s residence. It’s demand? Sita Rai was robbed by immigration officers and then raped by a police constable. Deliver her justice. Yesterday was Day 4 of Occupy Baluwatar and its largest gathering yet. Yesterday, the Home Ministry also formally charged the Director and Director General of Immigration Department for corruption.
The hope was simple: if there are enough public requests, maybe the PM will act. A letter to the PM was drafted and posted on Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday. People were urged to print it, sign it, and then deliver it to PM’s residence on Friday starting 9AM, and email it to his office too. The letter’s intent:
“Dear Prime Minister, I request your office and the Home Ministry to exercise all its power to make sure this case is an example of the system working for the people of Nepal. We urge you to use the vast resources at your disposal to call on every Government and Non-Governmental bodies working on women’s rights issues to find out just what happened to Sita Rai at TIA and pursue justice as required, and to the full extent of the law… make the system work for a single person, so that “we the people” can have some hope it may work for us all one day.”
On Friday morning about 100 signed letters were submitted at the PM’s residence where a staff assured response from PM who at the time happened to be in Pokhara.
However, when the police tried to remove about 20 people from standing quietly across the PM’s residence, the quiet gathering turned into a protest expressing the letter’s intent. So began Occupy Baluwatar. By mid-day, two other cases had been added to the cause: the alleged murder of Saraswati Subedi and disappearance of Chorimaiya Maharjan.
By Sunday evening, even the State TV’s 8PM news bulletin dedicated about five-minutes to Occupy Baluwatar and the meeting hosted by the Prime Minister on the issues raised by it.
At the meeting, the PM was clear: the state must deliver justice to Sita and others like her, and if the concerned authorities fail to pursue these cases they would have them investigated too.
Within 24 hours, as news came out that Sita’s robbers would be charged with corruption cases, it was also reported three people were arrested in relation to the investigations into Saraswati’s death. Her family’s attempts to file a First Information Report about her death had been previously deferred for over 14 days by the police.
TOGETHER ON TUESDAY
The Prime Minister has promised to raise the issue of these cases at a Cabinet meeting today. A second public letter, this time to four national dailies and their editors, were posted online and emailed and tweeted to the respective dailies and their editors on Sunday. An excerpt:
“Rape is one of the most atrocious violence occurring in our society regularly. In the last 365 editions of your national daily, how many times has the issue made it the front page? And how many times has an image of a scantily clad woman made it to your front-page masthead?... Help me and your tens of thousands of readers understand how politicians are allowed to engage in protecting robbers and rapists in Nepal. I hope your paper will find the courage to stand Together on Tuesday with the millions of Nepalis who fight an uphill battle for justice everyday, and the countless women who have had to experience the brutality of rape.”
The Prime Minister’s rapid and stern responses over the weekend have set a hopeful stage for a justice oriented Cabinet meeting today. Regardless of how many days he has left in office, he rose to the occasion and responsibility of occupying Baluwatar on behalf of Nepali women. On this, he seems to have set the bar high for whoever moves in next. Sita, however, needs to permanently occupy Baluwatar.
On December 29, the day Delhi’s gang rape victim died, news about a gang rape in Nepal emerged. The incident had taken place 10 days prior in Aaurawani of Sunsari district in eastern Nepal. Three men had raped the victim. Why did it take 10 days for the rape to make news? “The victim’s kin say the guilty are relatives of local political leaders,” a national daily reported in a news item only 137-word long. “Party leaders from the central to local levels offered us money to pressurize us to forget the case,” a relative of the victim told the paper.
“‘Alternative mechanism’ has now become an euphemism for letting rapists to not just get away with their crime, but actually take the rape victim home with them. And the most outrageous aspect of this is that it is aided and abetted by local politicians, police and even human rights activists,” reported a news weekly on December 21.
Sita and Saraswati’s family may find justice this time. But how to ensure that cases like these are not repeated, and what of the countless rape victims across Nepal? Chorimaiya Maharjan has been missing for 10 months. The accused, known to have strong political protection, has not been taken into custody.
A void of consequences for crime is an incentive for Nepal’s politicians to engage in it, sometimes to literally get away with murder.
Good news: Nepal’s Election Commission (EC) is proposing that those who are “convicted of killing, theft, robbery, fraud, forgery, fake currency use, misappropriation of foreign currency, kidnapping, rape, corruption, human trafficking, money laundering, banking irregularities, passport misuse, drug smuggling, jail break or abetting jail break by others, smuggling of prohibited wildlife or vegetation or objects of archeological importance, illegal trade and spying, among other illegal activities, or has shown moral turpitude” cannot be a member of any political party if he or she has not completed serving the sentence awarded by a court or any other legal authority, as reported in this newspaper on Sunday.
The Bad news: “I think they
[political parties] will try to remove the provision from the ordinance as it is detrimental to the interests of tainted politicians,” an EC officer who requested anonymity told this paper.
Does the word “convicted” create a loophole though? What is needed is for the provision to apply equally to those who are found to be providing protection to anyone indulging in any of the activities already outlined by EC.
Why should those who have obstructed justice or helped criminals be allowed to run for offices that are supposed to enforce law and deliver justice? Perhaps a question to think about for 2013, as Nepal gears up for an election: what lessons have been learned from Occupy Baluwatar to help the Election Commission amend and enforce their new proposition? Not only could this finally make crime a real political expense, it may just open up political space for new parties too.
The author can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @kashishds