10-16 January 2014 #689

The fight continues

Sita and her family are not ready to give up their fight against the state just yet
Bhrikuti Rai

FADING SMILE: Sita, with her nephew on her lap, is frustrated by the state’s delaying tactics and indifference.
When Sita returned to Nepal in November 2012, after three years of working in Saudi Arabia as a domestic help, she had no idea how quickly her life would turn into a nightmare. The 20-year-old from Jarayatar, Bhojpur was arrested for possessing a fake passport at the airport, taken to the immigration office in Kalikasthan for interrogation where she was robbed by non-gazzetted officer Somnath Khanal of her hard-earned savings. Constable Parshuram Basnet, who had promised to make sure she reached home safely, then took her to a lodge in Old Bus Park and raped her repeatedly through the night.

In April, the Kathmandu District Court found Basnet guilty of rape and handed down a five and half year sentence and a fine of Rs 50,000. Then in December, the same court charged Basnet along with Khanal with fraud and sentenced them to one year in prison with Rs 5,000 in fine.

After Khanal was caught, he confessed that section officers Tika Ram Pokharel and Ram Prasad Koirala were also involved. All three were suspended, but the officers who have close ties to party unions ‘disappeared’ many times during the past 12 month and were let off by the court last month.

“It is unfortunate that the court handed such lenient jail terms to perpetrators of a heinous crime,” Sita’s lawyer Lakshmi Rai told Nepali Times. People convicted of fraud can be sentenced up to five years in prison. “Giving a clean chit to the two section officers citing insufficient evidence is grave injustice to Sita and will discourage other victims from speaking out,” she added.

Sita’s high-profile case helped put the spotlight on gender violence and pressured the government to form a monitoring committee to investigate similar cases. However, the decision taken by the court in December has dampened not only the hopes Sita and her family, but also of other victims.

“Where is justice for my daughter?” questions Sita’s father Dataram, who feels let down by the country’s justice system and the glaring apathy shown by the state. He has been shuttling back and forth between Bhojpur to attend court hearings in hopes of that the perpetrators will be put behind bars.

Dataram worries about his daughter’s fragile condition as she recovers from the emotional trauma. “She still breaks down sometimes thinking about the past, blames herself, and insists on leaving the village,” he says.

Last April, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) filed a charge sheet against Koirala, Pokharel, and Khanal. But the Special Court’s decision on the corruption case involving the immigration officials is pending until Kathmandu District Court’s recent decision on fraud is made available. It may take as much as one week to several months for the district court’s decision to be available.

The family still holds out hope that the Special Court will hand out maximum punishment to the immigration officials and provide full compensation for Sita. “I am sure our appeal would have been heard by now if we had the right connections, but we are helpless so all we can do is wait,” admits her father.

Read also:

Predator state, BHRIKUTI RAI

Justice interrupted

I wanted to murder whoever did this to my daughter, DEWAN RAI