Bimala Dhakal’s husband Rajendra was a human rights lawyer in Gorkha, and had to go underground because the authorities suspected that he had Maoist sympathies. In 1999, he was arrested by police in Tanahu. It has been 21 years, and Bimala has not seen her husband since that day.
Police came after her, too. So she left her job and family and moved to Kathmandu with three small children. It has been two decades of raising her children as a single mother, while knocking on the doors of the police and the courts, as well as being herself arrested and tortured by the military.
“The past is too painful to remember. I don’t think many can even understand the kind of pain I have faced,” says Bimala, who has almost given up hope of her husband ever returning.
Rajendra Dhakal is among the over 1,300 people officially listed as still missing from the 1996-2006 Maoist conflict. Since the end of the war, and even after two transitional justice bodies were finally set up in 2015, families of the disappeared have got neither truth nor justice.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) are staffed by political appointees, and all they have done in the past five years is collect testimonies and file them away in steel cabinets.
New commissioners were nominated in January and have been rejected by conflict victim organisations. In April the Supreme Court ruled that the commissions could not offer blanket amnesty to those charged of serious human rights violations.
Conflict victims have come to expect very little truth or justice from successive governments. The Nepali state today is made up of former enemies in that war, and although this has helped in the reconciliation process, it has come at the cost of justice for the families of the disappeared.
Indeed, the ruling Nepal Communist Party is a merger of two parties, one of which is accused of murdering and disappearing leaders of the other till 14 years ago.
Not having a missing relative present continues to be an ever-present pain. This burden of ambiguous loss is multiplied among thousands of families across the country who need recognition of their suffering, information on the fate of the missing relative, and support to get on with their lives. Because it was mainly men who were disappeared, it is the women who need help because of the added burden of social stigma.
Because the government is no help, families of the disappeared and those killed by both sides have got together to form common pressure groups to demand justice. Mothers and wives of the disappeared in Bardiya have set up a network of mothers and wives of the disappeared.
These days, Bimala watches Nepalis returning home from all over the world on the evening news. She says: “Deep down, I wish that maybe Rajendra could also come home like them.”
Shanta Neupane’s husband Danda Pani was a member of the Maoist party. As the insurgency was intensifying in 1999, he was arrested by police put into a van and driven away. He has never been seen again.
“In the days following his arrest, I visited the three main jails in Kathmandu. But I was told everywhere that my husband had never been arrested or detained,” Shanta says.
The Supreme Court quashed her writ of habeas corpus on the same grounds that there were no records of Danda Pani ever being arrested.
Shanta then opted for non-legal ways to seek the truth, organising a press conference and writing an appeal to the Parliament. But there was no word of her husband’s whereabouts.
“My hair has turned grey searching for him. I regret that our children had to grow up without their father,” she says.
On the thirteenth anniversary of his disappearance, Danda Pani Neupane’s case was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. But to this day, there has been no information about who or why he was arrested, if he is dead or alive, not has his family received justice.
Gyanendra Tripathi was the member of a student union affiliated with the Maoist party. Following the breakdown of the second ceasefire in 2003, the Royal Nepal Army began to round up members of the student union.
Gyanendra was arrested first time for 34 days, seven of which he spent in solitary confinement, blindfolded and severely beaten. Following his release, fearing for his own safety and that of his family, Gyanendra went underground. On 26 September 2003 at 11:00AM he left his home and never returned.
Ever since, his wife Sharmila Tripathi has searched for him tirelessly. She pleaded at every police station, filed complaints, wrote letters to government ministries, human rights organizations. She even took part in hunger strikes to bring more attention to her husband’s disappearance.
Her case went all the way up to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which on 28 October 2014 found Nepal had violated Gyanendra’s right to life, to personal liberty, to recognition before the law and the prohibition of torture.
Sharmila says, “I still have no idea of my husband’s whereabouts, but I still have hope. I will continue the search for him as long as I live.”
Updated By: August 27, 2020