Man Bahadur Biswokarma, 52, runs a small tea shop at New Road’s Pipalbot, once a popular spot for Kathmandu’s poets, writers, journalists and revolutionaries.
Today, Pipalbot no longer represents Nepal’s public sphere, and Nepalis like Man Bahadur are too busy trying to make a living to think about the larger issues of politics or societal transformation.
Man Bahadur (pictured, right) came to Kathmandu with his wife, Nanu Maya, three sons and two daughters 13 years ago to break free from entrenched discrimination against the Dalit community in his village in Ramechhap. They thought Kathmandu would give them their desired freedom, opportunity and dignity. Man Bahadur worked at construction sites and tried to save as much as he could.
His second son Jiban was a bright student, and worked for a well-off family in Kupundole which sent him to school. He did well in his SLC and dreamt of either joining the police or the civil service.
Despite the hardships, the Biswakarma family somehow managed to survive from day-to-day and build a future. The elder daughter and son did not go to school, and Jiwan and his siblings were the hope of the family. Man Bahadur inivested ini his small tea shop three years ago, and it was doing well.
The Biswakarmas lived in a rented room downstairs from the family of Sangita Pulami Magar in Jhochhen. The two families got along well, and Jiban started tutoring Sangita and her brother Santosh in her studies. Jiban and Sangita were attracted to each other, and when Santosh found out, police said he started blackmailing Jiban to earn money to sustain his drug habit.
One day, Sangita saw Jiban’s ID card, and from his surname found out he was a Dalit. From then on, she turned against him and according to Jiban’s testimony to the police, her family started taunting him. Sangita and her father even physically assaulted Jiban last year, a case was filed and the police forced them to settle the matter.
But even after that the Pulami Magars allegedly kept tormenting the Biswakarma family for being Dalits. “They used to kick on our door and shout abuse at us when we went to fetch water,” Manju told me this week.
Ever since, Jiban seethed with revenge against Sangita, her brother Santosh and their father. He paid Rs 50,000 to a recruiter who promised him a job in the Indian Army, but after going to Sikkim Jiban found out he had been duped. While there, he watched a tv show depicting an acid attack and he plotted a similar revenge when he returned to Nepal.
He got the opportunity on the morning of 22 February when he followed Sangita to her tuition centre in Basantapur. Jiban put on a mask, entered the room and emptied the bottle of acid on Sangita and her two classmates. The Biswokarma family was not aware about the attack and Jiban’s arrest last week, since he was not living with them.
“He was always very gentle and he was the hope of our family,” Jiban’s sister Manju said, already using the past tense. “He told me he’d get me married once he got a job.”
Police took more than two weeks to track down Jiban because they said the Pulami Magar family were not sharing any information. But they suspected that there must have been a history between the two families. Jiban, an educated young man, was having mental issues and was taking medication from a psychiatrist at the Teaching Hospital, and was increasingly obsessed and consumed by a sense of revenge.
When caught, the Police were surprised that Jiban readily admitted to attacking Sangita. He told them: “I am happy that I tormented my tormentors.”
Jiban told the police how he first thought of attacking Sangita and her family with an iron rod, but his hands trembled too much.
At his tea shop, Man Bahadur’s dreams are shattered and he has a sad and forlorn look on his face. Manju has had suicidal tendencies since her brother started appearing on tv and has been visiting the police station to try to meet him.
Jiban’s family had pinned its hopes on him, and now he is in a prison cell facing charges of attempted murder. There is no provision to examine the motive of a crime in our judicial system.
After a wave of sympathy for Sangita, the lines between victim and perpetrator have got blurred. There are deeper questions now of when an individual is justified in using violence when discrimination and ostracisation become too much to bear. But one thing this acid attack case has brought out is just how deeply ingrained the caste system still is in Nepali society.
Police nab acid attacker
Avid victims want justice, Devaki Bista
Corrosive laws, Binita Dahal