From The Kathmandu Post (09 May, 2014)
Ablame-the-victim syndrome has overtaken the polity, targeting the very families who demand accountability for the rape, torture, disappearance, abduction and murder of the conflict era. Because it would ‘look bad’ to attack the victims directly, the ire of the politicians and power-worshipping commentators tends to be directed at human rights activists demanding an end to impunity.
The ostensible reason for this neglect of victims is that the long-pending writing of the constitution will be derailed if the Maoists are miffed. The fact is, the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML together have the numbers in Parliament/ Constituent Assembly to be able to call the Maoist bluff and lead us towards rule of law.
The neglect of victims by the ‘democratic parties’ is epitomised by their treatment of Gangamaya and Nanda Prasad Adhikari, who are today on the 198th day of their hunger strike, kept alive intravenously at Bir Hospital. Some ‘democrat’ politicians are actually using Maoist propaganda to divert attention from the flawed transitional justice bill Parliament just adopted, claiming that rights activists instigated the Adhikaris to go on hunger strike.
This is a grave charge of immorality, of being willing to kill victims to get at the (Maoist and state) perpetrators. The charge also denies and demeans the satyagraha of Gangamaya and Nanda Prasad, who are inflicting pain upon themselves in their campaign for justice.
Killing the messenger
On January 1, 2014, Accountability Watch Committee (AWC) published a white paper on the Krishna Prasad case, a document worth studying by those given to attacking the victims as well as ‘killing the messenger’.
Krishna Prasad Adhikari, all of 16 years old, was brutally murdered by Maoists on June 6, 2004 in Chitwan; his parents informed on the same day in Gorkha of his ‘elimination’. Over the next nine years, the family approached the administrations and police in two districts, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, the Prime Minister’s Office and the President’s Office.
It was only on April 5, 2009 that the NHRC recommended the state apparatus to act on the case, but successive governments showed lethal lethargy in investigation. In the meantime, to quote the AWC: “There has been focus on compensation rather than justice; an undeclared collaboration between the former insurgents, security forces and political parties to deny justice; cancellation of court cases and police investigations on conflict-era cases; the wrongful interpretation of transitional justice mechanisms including the proposed TRC ; and the willful neglect of Supreme Court and NHRC directives—all of which has created a wall of distrust between victims of conflict and the state.”
For nine long years, the Adhikari couple fought alone outside the radar of media and rights organisations. They came to the capital city only in January 2013, sitting in dharna outside the Baluwatar residence of PM Baburam Bhattarai. Once, they were packed off to Gorkha, another time to Thankot, yet another time to the Lagankhel mental hospital. Only when they were dumped outside the Bir Hospital on June 14, 2013 did the press finally discover them and their cause.
The couple’s initial fast began on July 22, 2013 and continued till the 48th day, when a high-level government delegation made written commitments on physical security, return to good health, compensation for property loss and diligent investigation into the murder. Perceiving that the government had not fulfilled its commitments, the couple re-started their hunger strike on October 24, 2013, again without informing the rights community.
The Maoist attitude towards the Adhikari couple , the conflict victims in general and the rights community is clear. As the AWC put it: “The mouthpiece papers and portals of the UCPN (Maoist) are replete with accusations against rights defenders for inciting the victim’s family, of instigating the couple in their fast, wanting to ‘play politics on the corpses of victims’, and seeking to derail the peace process.”
It is interesting to note that there were at least some international expressions of concern during the earlier fast of the couple, before the November 2013 elections. The issues remain the same but international interest has evaporated, as if the values of human rights were relative and that the writing of a constitution requires turning a blind eye to the perpetration of heinous crime. Or is the geopolitical landscape suddenly so transformed that the embassies and organisations no longer feel capable of pronouncing themselves on human rights in Nepal?
If the embassies have gone into a silence, what of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Asian Human Rights Commission and others meant to help the victims of abuse? What is it that makes the Adhikari case so unpalatable? Human rights protection demands ‘international intervention’ and today, Nepal’s own rights community is beleaguered and in need of reinforcement.
States the AWC: “The international community cannot stand as mute spectator while the Adhikari couple engages in the Gandhian act of fasting for the attainment of justice. The demands of human rights accountability can never by compromised due to perceived political considerations, and the international community is duty-bound to express itself.”
Gangamaya Adhikari had this to say to this writer on the evening of December 31, 2013: “The memory of my son is a constant in my mind. It stays there like a nail to my chest. I want to see justice done to those who killed Krishna. I do not think we will survive this fast. We will be watching from up above to see if justice is done.” On the other side of the couple is a phalanx of Maoist supporters who like to relate how disliked the Adhkari couple are in their home village in Gorkha—as if a couple’s unpopularity were cause enough to kill the son. In the same breath, they will say Krishna Prasad’s murder was related to inter-clan rivalry and that he was killed for being a khufiya or state agent.
The couple’s campaign was to get criminal procedure activated on the murder of their son, and a reluctant state finally did so on April 13, 2014. How tragically poignant that no sooner was this long-awaited action taken, the flawed transitional justice act was adopted by Parliament. We have now entered a period of uncertainty as to what happens to the Krishna Prasad case in the Chitwan District Court. Meanwhile, the present Sushil Koirala government seems to regard the Adhikaris as a nuisance and is doing nothing. Everything is in suspended animation.
Get off the fast!
We must act urgently before a blood clot or organ failure takes the life of Gangamaya or Nanda Prasad. We must use all manner of persuasion to get the couple to give up their fast. The victims and rights activists, the empathetic among the politicians and administrators, the attending doctors and police personnel—all have tried for months now to get the couple of start taking food. There have been many public appeals from the rights community, the last one on April 14, signed by eight activists, asking Krishna Prasad’s parents to end their hunger strike, but to no avail.
Wrote the AWC back in January: “The international community cannot stand as mute spectator while the Adhikari couple engages in the Gandhian act of fasting for the attainment of justice. This is an area where the international community is duty-bound to express itself clearly.”
At this point, the time has come for the embassies, the international organisations and their national affiliates to visit Bir Hospital and use their credibility to try and convince Nanda Prasad and Gangamaya to take food. They are not listening to anyone else; they may just listen to the international community.