Seek­ing Jus­tice

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Jave­ria Shakil

For most peo­ple, death brings an end to their suf­fer­ings. Not for Nanda Prasad Ad­hikari, the 56-year-old Nepalese who was on a hunger strike for 11 months and fi­nally lost his life on Septem­ber 22. His corpse lies frozen in a hos­pi­tal morgue in Kathmandu. No one has claimed it. With his death, the last hope for the ful­fill­ment of his mis­sion – to seek jus­tice for his son’s mur­der – has van­ished.

Ad­hikari’s 54-year-old wife Ganga Maya, who also went on a hunger strike with her hus­band, is ad­mit­ted in the ICU of a Kathmandu hos­pi­tal. Both Ad­hikari and Maya vowed to ‘fast unto death’ last year to protest against the gov­ern­ment’s in­dif­fer­ence to­wards their plight. Their 18-year-old son Kr­ishna Prasad was killed by Maoists in 2004 dur­ing the civil war be­tween the Nepalese army and Maoist rebels.

Kr­ishna went to visit a rel­a­tive in the south­ern dis­trict of Chetan and never re­turned. His par­ents be­lieved that he was ab­ducted by Maoist rebels who later killed him.

Nepal, a South Asian democ­racy in tran­si­tion, was vic­tim of a decade long vi­o­lent civil strife. Be­fore the ad­vent of democ­racy, the coun­try fol­lowed the Pan­chayat sys­tem for over three decades. Un­der this sys­tem, although the peo­ple could elect their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the real power re­mained firmly in the hands of the monarch, the King of Nepal.

The Pan­chayat sys­tem fol­lowed a pol­icy that pro­moted one re­li­gion, one lan­guage and a pre­scribed set of val­ues. The sys­tem was re­placed by the Con­sti­tu­tion of the King­dom of Nepal in 1990 and re­mained in place for 17 years. The real trou­ble be­gan in 1996, when the Maoist in­sur­gents an­nounced an armed strug­gle against the monar­chy. Termed as the ‘peo­ple’s war’ by the Maoists, the con­flict gave birth to deep fis­sures in Nepalese so­ci­ety which grew with time and the con­se­quences of which are ev­i­dent even to­day.

It is es­ti­mated that over 15,000 peo­ple were killed in the civil strife that lasted from 1996 to 2006. The num­ber of in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons

is be­lieved to be over 140,000. In the end, the Maoists got what they had been fight­ing for – a demo­cratic repub­lic but the decade long bat­tle left scars that will take years to heal. The case of peo­ple who went miss­ing dur­ing the war has made it dif­fi­cult for the Nepalese to for­get the atroc­i­ties of the war. Ac­cord­ing to the 2012 In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross (ICRC) re­port ti­tled ‘Miss­ing Per­sons in Nepal’, the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceived “3868 re­ports re­gard­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of a rel­a­tive in relation to the con­flict. While the fate and where­abouts of hun­dreds of peo­ple has been es­tab­lished, 1401 peo­ple are still miss­ing.”

The un­cer­tainty re­gard­ing the dis­ap­peared per­sons has taken a heavy toll on hun­dreds of fam­i­lies. They have been wait­ing for years to know what hap­pened to their loved ones. The tragedy was emo­tional as well as eco­nomic as the majority of the miss­ing per­sons were bread­win­ners of their fam­i­lies. The sit­u­a­tion is made more com­pli­cated by a le­gal re­quire­ment that states that a per­son must be miss­ing for 12 years in or­der to be of­fi­cially de­clared dead. “Dur­ing this pe­riod, fam­ily mem­bers are un­able to move on, trans­fer prop­erty, re­marry, or sim­ply per­form fi­nal rites. Un­til they ob­tain ad­e­quate proof of death, rel­a­tives can­not mourn, and they may feel guilty if they do at­tempt to be­gin the mourn­ing process,” the ICRC re­port states.

Con­sid­er­ing this, Nanda and his wife were lucky in a mor­bid way since they knew the fate of their son: he was in­deed killed. His body was found in Chetan, the place where he had gone to see his grand­par­ents. The Maoists who killed him al­leged that he worked as a spy for the army but the al­le­ga­tion could not be proved.

Both Ad­hikari and his wife were striv­ing to seek jus­tice for the mur­der of their son for years. The hunger strike that even­tu­ally took Ad­hikari’s life was his third one. The cou­ple had staged their first hunger strike dur­ing the rule of the Maoist-led gov­ern­ment of Babu­ram Bhat­tarai and de­manded that the per­pe­tra­tors of the mur­der be ar­rested. The strike, con­ducted in front of a po­lice sta­tion in Kathmandu, was foiled by the po­lice who de­tained the cou­ple and sent them to a hos­pi­tal, terming them as “men­tally ill per­sons.”

The proac­tive ap­proach of the po­lice was un­der­stand­able since one of the per­pe­tra­tors named in the FIR regis­tered by the Ad­hikari cou­ple was the per­sonal as­sis­tant of Bhat­tarai’s wife. After re­main­ing in the hos­pi­tal for over a month, the cou­ple was de­clared men­tally fit and dis­charged. De­spite the tough or­deal, the Ad­hikaris did not lose hope.

They again went on a ‘fast unto death’ in July 2013 and con­tin­ued it till Septem­ber 2013 – for over 40 days – end­ing it after re­ceiv­ing a writ­ten as­sur­ance from the gov­ern­ment that the killers of their son – 13 were ac­cused of be­ing in­volved – would be ar­rested and pun­ished by the book. How­ever, they re­sumed the strike on Oc­to­ber 24 when no for­mi­da­ble ac­tion was taken by the po­lice to nab the cul­prits. In fact, two of the 13 peo­ple who were ar­rested were set free.

Ad­hikari con­tin­ued with his hunger strike de­spite reg­u­lar plead­ings by high-level gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the prime min­is­ter him­self. Prime Min­is­ter Sushil Koirala vis­ited the cou­ple at the hos­pi­tal in March this year and re­quested them to end the fast, as­sur­ing them that jus­tice would be done. Ad­hikari turned down the re­quest and replied that he did not be­lieve the gov­ern­ment or the po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Hu­man rights ac­tivists and or­ga­ni­za­tions also tried to con­vince Ad­hikari to fight his bat­tle by other means but he did not re­lent.

While prom­i­nent politi­cians and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials kept ask­ing Nanda to end his strike, they did not bother to take con­crete steps which could have stopped Ad­hikari from meet­ing the tragic fate. Doc­tors who are look­ing after Maya fear that she can meet the same fate if she does not end her fast soon.

The sad end to Ad­hikari’s story has brought to light the is­sue of the for­ma­tion of a truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion. The need for such a com­mis­sion was never felt as acutely as it is now. De­spite the clear di­rec­tives of Nepal’s Supreme Court re­gard­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a TRC, the gov­ern­ment has been de­lay­ing the mat­ter. As a re­sult, hun­dreds of fam­i­lies await jus­tice for the crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the war even after seven years of its end. It is be­lieved that one of the rea­sons for this de­lay is the in­volve­ment of the var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal groups as well as the mil­i­tary in the con­flict.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port, many politi­cians who held im­por­tant po­si­tions dur­ing the con­flict on ei­ther side have al­legedly used their au­thor­ity to in­ter­fere in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of war crimes to avoid pros­e­cu­tion. The mil­i­tary’s co­op­er­a­tion, which is es­sen­tial for the ef­fec­tive func­tion­ing of the com­mis­sion, is also ab­sent.

Although Ad­hikari de­cided to make his plight pub­lic and chose a man­ner which hardly any­one would pre­fer, there are thou­sands in Nepal who have lost their loved ones in the war but are suf­fer­ing in si­lence. If the gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety of Nepal do not re­al­ize the ur­gency of the mat­ter, more and more peo­ple would opt for ex­treme ways to record their protest.

The late Nanda Prasad Ad­hikari with his wife Ganga Maya; (in­set) their son Kr­ishna Prasad

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