The Rukum West District Court has issued a landmark verdict, slapping life imprisonment to 24 individuals for their involvement in the murder of six youths, mostly from Dalit community, at Soti of Chaurjahari Municipality-8, four years ago. Of them, additional two-year imprisonment was slapped on those having their family name as Malla and Thakuri in the caste discrimination case and a fine of Rs. 50,000. Two other convicts have been handed two years in prison and a fine of Rs. 50,000 each for practicing untouchability. A single bench of District Judge Khadga Bahadur KC on Tuesday sentenced 24 of the 34 defendants of the murder case to life.
In the country’s judicial history, it is the first time the court handed a life imprisonment to such a large number of individuals over a murder triggered by caste-based discrimination. The verdict has given a big respite to the families of the deceased. They had been impatiently waiting for justice for a long time as the hearing of case was getting delayed. They were also afraid whether they will be denied justice as they had suspicions regarding possible manipulations to protect the culprits.
On May 23, 2020, villagers of Soti, belonging to so-called upper caste, had brutally attacked and killed six persons including Navaraj BK, 21, of Jajarkot when the latter, along with his 18 friends, went to Soti to take his 17-year-old girl friend there. Navaraj BK, and Sanju BK of Bheri Municiplaity-4, Lokendra Sunar and Govinda Shahi of Bheri Municipality 11, Ganesh Budha of Kushe Rural Municipality and Tika Ram Nepali of Chaurjahari Municiplaity-1, Rukum West, were murdered in the attack. Their bodies were recovered from the bank of Bheri River. Twelve others had managed to escape the attack. A high-level parliamentary committee that had investigated the incident concluded that murder of six youths was premeditated, terming it a crime against humanity.
Nabaraj’s father, Munlal Nepali, had filed a case against 34 people, including the then chairman of ward 8 of Chaurjahari Municipality, Dambar Bahadur Malla for their alleged involvement in the murder. On June 14, the Rukum District Attorney’s Office filed three different cases against them. The District Court has remanded 23 convicts in the custody while one was released on bail. Those facing life imprisonment include the then Ward Chairman Dambar Bahadur Malla, Dilli Bahadur Thakuri, Prem Bahadur Thakuri, Santosh Malla, Mohan Pun Magar, Man Bahadur Malla, Top Bahadur Malla, Sabin Pun aka Sarwajeet, Tilak Chand, Irda Bahadur Thakuri, the father of the so-called girl friend of Navaraj BK, and her two brothers. Various probe reports revealed that the villagers had cordoned off the areas and pounded BK and his friends with household weapons and stones.
It is a matter of shame to discriminate people on the basis of their birth. The Dalits have been discriminated due to the structural barriers. The court verdict has served as a strong legal basis against the caste-based discrimination in the country. It has given a slap to the attempts to criminalise the inter-caste love and marriage. The Dalit community still faces various forms of discrimination although there are strong constitutional and legal provisions against it. The historic verdict has given hope to the Dalit community that consists of around 13 per cent of the total population of Nepal. This has increased its faith in the nation's judicial system, the last bastion to get justice when other avenues are blocked.