On the evening of September 23, while her grandmother was busy with household chores, Kopila Kami (name changed), 12, decided to go feed the cows in the family’s cowshed. The shed is located a few km away from their house. Earlier that day, Kopila’s grandfather, Gorakh Kami, had left for the water mill, to grind wheat and maize.
Koipla, along with two of her sisters, was living at her grandparents’ house in Masta Rural Municipality, Bajhang. Her father, mother, a brother, and a sister work menial jobs in India. For Kopila, besides attending the local school nearby, collecting fodder, grazing cattle, and feeding them–especially when her grandparents were busy with household chores–were routine activities. On that fateful evening of Sept 23, at around 4 pm, she had headed for the cowshed, carrying a doko of grass.
But when Kopila didn’t return home even by late evening, her grandmother began to worry. When her husband returned home, the couple, along with other villagers, searched for Kopila in every corner of the village.
At around 8:30 pm, they found the girl’s dead body inside a local temple. The lower part of her body had been stripped naked, her clothes were torn, and her earrings were missing. Investigators now believe the minor was taken to the temple, raped, and killed while she was on their way to the family cowshed. Her doko was discovered in a location away from the incident site.
This horrific act of cruelty has once again exposed the ugly face of Nepali society–how historically disadvantaged Dalit girls continue to get raped and killed in Nepal, where society still frowns upon inter-caste marriage and relations.
“A local named Rajendra Bohara has been arrested in connection with the girl’s murder,” said Rupak Khadka, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in Bajhang.
The victim’s family has filed a case against Rajendra on the charges of rape and murder of a minor. Rajendra has in the past been accused of attempting to sexually abuse other girls and threatening to loot their ornaments. But he was never taken into custody for his alleged misdeeds. Some of the cases against him were later settled through compromise.
According to the police, Rajendra and his parents claim he was not involved in Kopila’s rape and murder.
But according to the police, the initial probe has shown that Rajendra, an 18-year-old so-called upper caste boy, most likely raped and murdered the girl. “The autopsy report has just been produced. The investigation is underway, so I can’t reveal everything to you right now,” said DSP Khadka, who is also Bajhang’s chief of police. “What I can say is that we have some supporting evidence to establish the claims made in the application filed by the victim’s family.”
This is not the first incident of rape and murder of Dalit girls in Nepal this year. Earlier, in May, Angira Pasi, a 13-year-old girl from Devdaha, Rupandehi, was murdered after being raped. She was found hanging from a tree after the locals had established that Birendra Bhar, a 25-year-old from the area, was sexually exploiting her. Birendra, a so-called upper caste man, has been accused of killing Pasi and hanging her to make it seem like she had died by suicide. She was reportedly murdered after Birendra’s family refused to accept her as his bride (the remedial measure suggested by locals and the court)–because she was lower caste.
On the same day that Pasi was killed, six youths, including four Dalits, were killed in Rukum in an inter-caste marriage row. The youths–who had gone to nearby Soti to bring home as bride a higher caste girl who was the girlfriend of one of the Dalit boys–were brutally killed and thrown into the Bheri River.
Just recently, in Kanchanpur, Nirmala Paharai, a Dalit radio journalist, was found dead. Although it hasn’t been fully established through evidence, her death is linked to an inter-caste love affair.
At least a dozen Dalits have been killed or murdered in Nepal this year: some died in custody, some in quarantines, and some were sexually abused and murdered in remote districts like Bajhang. But prompt investigations are rarely initiated in cases involving Dalit deaths, and booking the culprits always makes for a herculean task.
Angered by the horrific killings and maltreatment of Dalits, rights activists and Dalit leaders have been routinely taking to the streets, demanding a probe into the murder and mistreatment of Dalits. They have also demanded that cases arising from casteism be addressed and that the culprits be brought to book. But the government still hasn’t treated the cases with the seriousness they deserve.
“Since the cases of murder and caste-based discriminations continue to get reported from across the country, a high-level probe panel should be formed to study them, and to help hold the culprits accountable,” said Ganesh BK, chairperson of the Rastriya Dalit Network.