“We will not stop”: Nepalgunj protestors’ long march to justice and the road ahead

Earlier this month, a team of 17 protestors from Nepalgunj arrived in Kathmandu to seek justice for two women, one of whom was murdered, the other disappeared. The government signed an agreement to investigate the cases but will it hold up its end of the bargain?

Police arrest protestors including Rubi Khan from Maitighar in Kathmandu. (File photo/NL Today)

Anushka Nepal

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: On September 17, a total of 17 people left Nepalgunj for Kathmandu, on foot, demanding justice for Nirmala Kurmi and Nankunni Dhobi, who were disappeared and murdered, respectively.

“It is sad that we are still compelled to struggle really hard just to receive the justice we deserve,” says Rubi Khan, former general secretary and currently a member of Mahila Adhikar Manch. Khan spearheaded that 20-day-long walk from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu and organized a sit-in protest. 

The protestors allege the local authorities of indifference in investigating the cases.

Long walk to justice

On the morning of August 21, 2021, Nankunni Dhobi, a native of Nawaji village in Janki Rural Municipality-2, Banke, was found dead under mysterious circumstances. While the police and her in-laws claim it to be a suicide, protestors believe it to be a murder, citing she had previously filed a complaint regarding the domestic violence she faced at the hands of her in-laws with the Mahila Adhikar Manch.

Kurmi has been missing since July 2020. The protestors allege a neighbor, who was usually seen bullying her, of disappearing her. Kurmi owned property amounting to about 50 crores, the protestors say, tracing the reasons behind Kurmi’s disappearance. After more than a year of her disappearance, the police have yet to locate her whereabouts.

The protestors, who reached Kathmandu on October 6, demand a fair investigation into both cases. While they made headlines only when they arrived in Kathmandu, their quest for justice stretches far back. They had been continuously working their ways to demand a proper investigation and justice for the victims and their families.

All the while, the family members of Nankunni Dhobi were being treated disrespectfully, their concerns brushed off, by the police authority, according to Dhobi’s sister, who says that Nankunni was subjected to domestic violence.

Before their long march to Kathmandu, the agitators had conducted a sit-in strike in Nepalgunj in front of the District Administration Office for 19 days. 

But the police not just turned a deaf ear but also “mistreated us, and kept us in the dark regarding the investigation process, even lied to us” about the capture of the accused, Khan told Nepal Live Today. After the authorities turned their back on the protestors, providing them with nothing but disappointment, they were compelled to take further action to draw the attention of the federal government.

Thus began the long, arduous march from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu.

Institutional apathy

We live in such a country where “without creating a disturbance, it is very difficult to get the attention of the authorities, even when it comes to the fundamental right to justice,” Khan says.

‘Without creating a disturbance, it is very difficult to get the attention of the authorities, even when it comes to justice’

Once in Kathmandu, the protestors orchestrated a sit-in strike in Maitighar, continuing it for 13 days, until the government finally signed the agreement to commence the investigation into the two cases.

On the third day of the strike in Kathmandu, the team was arrested by the police, on charges of “creating an unnecessary havoc”, said Khan.

“We were mistreated, not provided with water, and even beaten by the police during the arrest,” added Khan. “Four of our sisters even fainted and we could barely get the police to provide us with some water.”

They had been continuously working their ways to demand a proper investigation and justice for the victims and their families. (File photo/NL Today)

After that, Khan was separated from her team and immediately sent back to Nepalgunj against her will.

But even after the leader of the sit-in protest was sent back to Nepalgunj, the protest did not stop. After the group was freed from custody, they continued their protest for the next 10 days, until the arrival of Khan on October 19.

The road ahead

The Ministry of Home Affairs has signed an agreement with the protestors to create a separate investigation committee to come to a proper conclusion on the mysterious death and disappearance of Dhobi and Kurmi, respectively.

Although the investigation had been weak in the past, the committee formed will do its best to bring the culprits to book, said Phanindra Mani Pokharel, joint secretary and spokesperson at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The protestors reached Kathmandu on October 6, having come all the way on foot. (File photo/NL Today)

Hiralal Regmi, coordinator of the newly-formed investigative committee, also said that the investigation is progressing. “Although the details of the investigation can not be revealed yet, we have been given a 7 days’ time limit to come to a proper conclusion,” he added.

Khan and her team are hopeful that the committee will give the victims justice. But, in the case of its [the committee’s] failure, the group will organize an even bigger and stronger protest than before, Khan says.

“Our fight is not just to receive the required justice for the victims but to ensure every woman in our society is safe,” Khan said. “We will not stop until we have achieved that goal.”