A fight for justice
Production Training Officer for BBC Media Action in Nepal
The panellists prepare for a recording of debate programme Sajha Manch in Nepal.
On 10 December 2012, 25-year-old student Omprakash Panta was abducted from his home in the village of Tara Nagar in Kailali, the far western district of Nepal.
His sister Sushila phoned the police 15 minutes after he was taken. But, she says, “The police did not respond to the case but teased me instead.”
Later that night, Omprakash’s body was found dumped next to a hand pump five minutes away from the village.
I heard this awful story during a recording of radio debate programme Sajha Manch (Common Forum), which I help local station Dinesh FM produce and broadcast.
Almost a month after Omprakash’s murder, Sushila and her father Shri Krishna Panta had brought their grief and anger to the town hall where we were recording the programme. They wanted to call the police to account and demand justice.
Listening to them on the panel was the Deputy Inspector General for the region, Sushil Warsing Thapa. He admitted that the police response to Sushila’s phone call was inadequate: “Yes, there was a mistake from our side,” he said. “My department is taking action against the police who were in control that day.”
Shri Krishna Panta also eloquently demanded that the police do more to find the killer: “It has been over three weeks since my son’s throat was cut and the murderer is still free. No-one has been punished and this doubles my pain. I don’t know what the police are doing. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they are not even working on the case.”
Deputy Inspector General Thapa immediately responded that they were taking the case “very seriously” and that special support from Kathmandu had been requested and approved.
So keen were the police in stressing their commitment to the case that the discussion even continued after the microphones were switched off.
Instead of leaving the hall after the recording finished, the panellists picked up their own chairs and invited the Panta family into a roundtable discussion
Echoing his words during the recording, the Deputy Inspector General personally assured the family that the case was being followed rigorously and that the special investigative team from Kathmandu would soon arrive.
The relief in Shri Krishna Panta’s face was clear to see.
I saw the same relief in the local school and college girls who also took part in the programme and complained to the Deputy Inspector General about the sexual harassment they suffer.
Student Anita Magar spoke for them: “It’s difficult for us to walk on the roads. Do you want women to just stay inside the house?” It was the first time the girls had been able to raise their concerns to a senior official.
Other audience members, meanwhile, brought up the strained relationship between the police and the public in the region.
The Deputy Inspector General noted all the complaints and made a commitment that he would hold meetings among his staff and introduce training to ensure a better service.
So fierce were the questions from the audience – and the human rights activists on the panel – that I thought the Deputy Inspector General might have been unhappy by the end of the recording.
But in fact he said the format of the programme was helpful; it helped him know the weak spots in his department, he said, and work to improve them.
And it wasn’t just the Deputy Inspector General who found the experience of taking part in the programme useful. The producers and presenter of the programme were also amazed at what they had achieved that day.
Producer Pratima Kunwar said, “Having the service provider and the service seeker in the same forum makes the provider more responsible towards the public.”
Elections for local government bodies have not been conducted for more than a decade in Nepal which makes the role of media as a watchdog even more crucial.
With seven more local discussion partnerships planned for different regions of the country, we hope to bring more officials face to face with the public they serve and help people like Sushila and Shri Krishna Panta.
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