JAN 17 - It has been over three weeks that every day at 9 am, I reach Baluwatar with my wife. I stand on the road with hundreds of protestors for two hours, demanding justice, first for Sita Rai, then Saraswoti Subedi and Chhori Maya Maharjan, and more recently for Maina Sunuwar, Ujjain Kumar Shrestha, Dekendra Thapa and the many others who have become symbolic cases of Nepal’s failing justice system. I chant slogans for justice and rule of law imagining a country where everyone is treated as equal before law. I spent almost 25 years of my life in school and higher education, but what I have been learning these past few weeks at the Baluwatar Satyagraha (Occupy Baluwatar) is turning out to be a greater education that all those years combined.
Every morning when I see Saraswoti Subedi’s parents, the daughters of Chhori Maya Maharjan, Maina Sunuwar’s mother, and my own colleagues from the disability community at Baluwatar, it is a harsh reminder of the state of our state and society. I never understood before that justice in this country was reserved only for a select few—relatives and friends of politicians, criminals, businessmen and the rich. I never knew that the paths to justice were not open to all. For ordinary folk, there is no ‘state’ or system that works in their favour—only a state and system that works against them to deny them their basic and most fundamental rights. The poor are used to play electoral politics, but even as Saraswoti’s parents, Chori Maiya’s kids, Maina’s mom and millions more probably did go out and vote for their leaders and parties in the last election, today they are left stranded in search for justice with no one to listen to except for the few hundred that now wait with them for justice on the Baluwatar Street. One can only imagine the mental trauma they face, and have faced for days, months and even years as their cases remain uninvestigated, with the culprits often enjoying the protection of our political class.
The political protection of crime is not a new phenomenon in Nepal. It has been around since time immemorial, long before democracy came to the country. But with the changes of 1990, there was some hope that with a transformation of the political order would come a transformation of the justice system. On the contrary, the Nepali Congress and UML governments that came into power after 1990 only worked to institutionalize the lack of rule of law within a democratic framework. A similar and renewed hope set off the changes of 2006, and yet six years later we are still waiting to find an overhauled justice system. A mindset, that laws and persecution only apply to the poor and helpless has permeated throughout the political class. Today, no party is exempt from harbouring this mindset and the symbolic cases brought up at Baluwatar are a testament to that.
Baluwatar has given me enough first hand insight to understand that when justice is delayed, it ruins mental state of ordinary people who wait endlessly for a justice which is effectively being denied. But no one cares to think about the emotional burden that so many families have to bear when someone goes missing, dies of unnatural causes, is tortured or killed. So long as the victims and their families are left hanging on edge, they cannot be at peace.
And for that mental state, the entire political class needs to be held accountable.
Only after a long chat with Devi Sunuwar, Maina Sunuwar’s mother, did I realise that Maina’s death was not only a cause for grief and pain. As a result of her daughter’s death, Devi’s husband lost his mental stability, disappeared and was found dead. It has been more than eight years and Devi is now alone still struggling for justice. Similarly, after Chhori Maiya disappeared 10 months ago, her three daughters have left their studies, work, and entire lives in pursuit of their mother, hoping one day their mother will be returned to them. They have gone knocking on the doors of every political party, organisations, NGOs, and all state machineries to bring an end to the torture caused by the disappearance of their mother. In the case of Saraswoti Subedi, 34 days after their daughter’s death, having seen then everyday for the past 21 days, it is evident that their mental state is slowly declining as their hopes for justice wane by the day.
The mental distress these families and thousands more like them face is not an ordinary phenomenon. If speeding up investigations, taking cases to court and persecuting the guilty are the best medicines for the torture faced by those closest to the victims, the state also needs to look at the issue through a social perspective. That means ensuring justice not only for the sake of democratic practice and rule of law, but also for the peace of mind of the families whose lives are ruined as a result of the lack of an efficient justice system. The longer justice is delayed, the more fragile their mental state will become. Because even if justice mechanisms are formed in the future and cases finally come to a close, those that have been suffering will not be able to regain the years lost fighting for justice, and they may well not be able to regain their sense of being even after the system has finally delivered them the ‘truth’ and justice.
Human suffering, and how our very own leaders add to it, therefore, is at the heart of the Baluwatar Satyagraha. To miss the opportunity to fight against a system that adds more to the everyday suffering of ordinary citizens, rather than protects them, would be true opportunity lost. There are many possibilities we can explore to change our society and ourselves and the Satyagraha is one huge possibility.
(The Baluwatar Satyagraha will continue at least until February 15, 2013, 9 to 11 am every day in front of Rastra Bank, Baluwatar)
Posted on: 2013-01-18 09:18