Seventeen years ago today, my beloved father was arrested by security forces led by the then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Pitambar Adhikari from the streets of Besisahar, the district headquarters of Lamjung. My 56-year-old father was handcuffed, blindfolded and pushed to the ground publicly to convey the message of harsh consequences that would befall anyone supporting the insurgency. My father is still disappeared and his whereabouts remain unknown simply because of his dream of bringing change in the country. He dreamed of a world free from state oppression, free from poverty and free from corruption; a world where there would be equal access to education, health and employment for all. He was a teacher, community educator and social justice activist.
My family and many other families who lost their relatives during the Maoist conflict are still seeking truth and justice over war crimes and crimes against humanity that took place then. State authorities have never responded to the needs of those families. The current political transition in Nepal is historic and important. However, how are we going to accept it when the political elite have re-established a polity in which all major political actors have consolidated their positions and ensured a continuation of politically consensus-based, impunity-driven system without considering the elements of transitional justice—truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition?
The architects of the conflict and the oppressors are members of the same club. In addition, some who used to be hopeful connectors are cleverly dividing justice voices. They are not dealing with the past. Otherwise, the DSP who arrested, tortured and disappeared my father would not be serving in a very important position as a deputy inspector general (DIG) of police. If the current Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, then a great rebellion commander, had moved to reform this institution, cases like Nirmala Pant would not be repeated.
A Nepali-led process is in demand when both parties in the conflict are ironically on the supply side. It is a legitimate demand, especially from the international community and bilateral agencies, but it requires the right process. My fellow conflict victims and I reiterate that our focus was and is the right transitional justice process. The right process means supporting the government to be accountable and end the cycle of continuous impunity, not protecting the alleged perpetrators, and not harming victim justice and destroying unity. We admire the great support of the international community for their large vision to end impunity in this country that will help give justice to my mother, many other mothers, and ultimately, thousands of Nirmalas in the future. We would like to request the Swiss and other agencies to stick to this vision and carefully consider the transitional justice process.
Nepal has experienced an elite-led transition (hijacked by power players), a politically top-down constitution making process that has no resemblance to the social and political structures that actually exist in Nepal, which structurally embeds exclusion and inequality—the drivers of conflict. Therefore, there is a high chance of the cycle of war for similar causes being repeated. The government of Nepal has ignored the root causes of conflict and the voices at the grassroots. When a family loses someone, their whole universe is destroyed. Like my family, many families have lost their dreams and social, economic and cultural affairs. However, the leaders and interest groups sold out, used ‘victims’ to legitimise their political journey and benefit from the state in the name of political consensus and human rights. They transformed their class and role against the spirit of justice. To make matters worse, despite years of debate and politics of negligence, the state-led transitional justice mechanisms (TRC and CIEDP) have failed to reflect the country’s realities, most notably in terms of addressing the truth, justice and the issue of social exclusion, structural violence and poverty. Instead of discovering the truth and opening up a road to justice, a politically infused group is heavily engaged in sabotaging the ongoing transitional justice process in the name of course correction. It is diverting fair investigations and protecting war criminals without listening more widely to the victims and the verdicts of the court.
Substantive change is many years away. In the short term, there is a critical need for acknowledgement of the victims of war. One immediate action that needs to be taken is amending the flaws in the current Transitional Justice Act and reconstituting the commissions in a transparent manner so that they can effectively perform with a victim-centric approach.
Again, I remember and salute those disappeared citizens who fought for justice, dignified life and expansion of local democratic spaces—like my father. The state and the politicians can never compensate for the loss of our family members, however, they can fulfil their duty to the citizens by delivering justice. And we continue to dream of it. Today, my family would have been celebrating my father’s 73rd birthday. It puts a smile on my face and also anger in my heart. Both smile and anger inspire me to continue this struggle and pay tribute to my father.
Bhandari is a victim rights activist.