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