SURKHET, Jan 17: In the early morning of June 2, 2008, two Dailekh-based reporters, Naman Shahi and Yam Raj Sharma, reached Dwari village, where journalist Dekendra Thapa was "buried alive" some four years ago. Even though the Maoists had joined open politics by then, speaking up against them would still court troubles in Dailekh.
Shahi and Sharma were on a mission to spot the place where Thapa´s dead body was laid. However, no one was ready to help them out. Even those villagers who saw Maoist cadres burying Thapa´s dead body were keeping mum.
Luckily, Shahi and Sharma came across a villager who was leaving Dwari for India on that very day. That villager got ready to help Shahi and Sharma on condition of anonymity. “I would not have become ready to show his (Thapa´s) grave had I not done all preparations to go to India,” he said, adding, “But, please never disclose my name to any one. Else, I will not be able to return and live in my village ever in future.”
Having returned from Dwari, Shahi and Sharma said to Bishnu Sharma, who was then president of the Dailekh chapter of Federation of Nepalese Journalist (FNJ), “We must now exhume Dekendra dai (elder brother)´s dead body at any cost.” Shahi, who was also Dailekh district representative of Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), sent a preliminary report on this issue to his regional office, too.
Before Thapa´s grave was traced, the slain journalist´s wife Laxmi had wandered for months in Raniban, Baluwatar and Dwari villages of Dailekh, asking for the locals´s help in performing her husband´s final rites. However, no one had showed Laxmi where her husband was buried. “May be, we would have never traced Thapa´s grave if it was not for that anonymous villager´s help,” recalls Shahi.
After the FNJ asked its Dailekh chapter to confirm Thapa´s grave, a team of nine journalists, led by Bishnu Sharma, went to Dwari. On the pretext of reporting about a school building constructed by the DFID of the UK, they confirmed Thapa´s grave. Later, Sharma´s team reached there twice for the same mission. “It was very risky to enquire about Thapa´s grave at that time,” recalls Sharma now.
When Thapa´s grave was reconfirmed, the FNJ requested National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for exhuming the slain journalist´s mortal remains. Until then, the process of exhuming Thapa´s body was kept very secret. Nine days before Thapa´s body was exhumed, the secret plan was leaked, which risked the lives of journalists and human rights activists. The FNJ urged the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) to provide security for exhuming Thapa´s body.
As per the instructions by the MoHA, the Dailekh police provided security for journalists and human rights activists who reached Dwari. “We were very frightened,” says Sharma. “The security provided by the Dailekh police boosted our confidence.”
On June 25, 2008, forensic expert Harihar Wosti started digging Thapa´s grave with his bare hands and a small pick. “When the dead body was found, we easily knew that it was Dekendra dai (elder brother).”
With the recovery of Thapa´s dead body, the FNJ launched another phase of struggle for justice for Thapa´s family. Backed by the FNJ, Thapa´s wife Laxmi filed a case against four Maoist cadres allegedly involved in thrashing her husband to death. At the outset, no lawyer was ready to support Laxmi.
Three days later, a lawyer somehow mustered courage to support Laxmi. However, the Dailekh police did not accept Laxmi´s case. It was only after the FNJ pressed the government for registering Laxmi´s case that the Dailekh police relented.
One month later, Pushkar Thapa, the present president of the Dailekh chapter of the FNJ, announced that they will observe every August 11 -- the day Thapa was slain -- as Dekendra Thapa memorial day. In Thapa´s leadership, local journalists started boycotting every program attended by top-level government authorities in Dailekh. They persistently exerted pressure on every government authority who turned up in Dailekh for arresting Thapa´s murderers.
But, for around four years after Laxmi filed a case, the police arrested no one involved in Thapa´s murder. It was only after the Surkhet appellate court ordered the Dailekh police to arrest Thapa´s murderers within 15 days December last year that five Maoist cadres were arrested.
Now, despite the hurdles created by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Attorney General Mukti Pradhan, recording of statements of the accused is on. And, Laxmi´s fight for justice is yet not over. “We are yet to go a long way,” says Thapa. “Four of the accused are still roaming freely.”