Missing Chhori Maiyas of Nepal

Last week a Kathmandu court acquitted Surakshya Singh of having any involvement in the mysterious disappearance of Chhori Maiya Maharjan, a Kathmandu housewife, who has been missing for over two years now.

The ruling of the case, which has been in the limelight over alleged shoddy investigation by the police and inordinate delays by the court, came at 9:45 pm—hours after courts usually close in Nepal.

Judge Rajesh Kumar Kafle held Surakshya, popular as Nikki, wasn’t responsible for Chhori Maiya’s disappearance as there was no evidence to connect her to incident.

Here’s the background. Chhori Maiya, a 51-year-old mother of three young daughters and the sole bread winner of her family, went missing on February 28, 2012. She had left home to meet her friend Nikki at Baneshwor in Kathmandu and was never heard of again.

Chhori Maiya who used to run a tailoring unit and other small businesses had lent NRs 50 lakh (Rs 31.25 lakh) to Nikki and was on her way to meet her and ask the latter to return the amount soon.

Following protests and demonstrations seeking proper investigation into her disappearance Nepal’s home ministry conducted an inquiry which stated Chhori Maiya was abducted and suggested Nikki’s involvement.

Despite the home ministry inquiry and the case getting wide publicity, due to a campaign launched by Chhori Maiya’s daughters, the police failed to find her whereabouts or prove Nikki’s involvement.

The court’s role was also questioned. Nikki, who was arrested in connection with the disappearance, was granted bail within days. Hearings were postponed on several occasions without specific reason.

“It is not just the judgment that is suspicious. It is the manner in which the court has conducted itself that has raised suspicions regarding fairness in trial,” said the Asian Human Rights Commission in a reaction to the verdict.

The judge’s decision to announce the verdict outside court timings without any permission from higher courts and lack of reasons cited for acquitting Nikki have also been questioned by the commission.

“Whether the accused has been found guilty or acquitted, the judge should restate the evidence provided and arrive at a conclusion based on how this evidence establishes or fails to substantiate the charge,” it added.

Chhori Maiya’s daughters allege Nikki was able to manipulate the police investigation and the court verdict due to her political connections with a former Deputy Prime Minister. They have decided to challenge the verdict in an appellate court.

This case exemplifies how instances of disappearances, forced or otherwise, fail to get the attention they deserve from the police and judiciary not just in Nepal but in the entire South Asian region.

Over 1300 people disappeared during Nepal’s 10-year-long civil war. Government forces and Maoist rebels were equally responsible for those disappearances. The families are still waiting for answers and justice.

Though the peace deal was signed eight years ago successive governments have failed to do anything significant for these families.

Every year hundreds of young girls and boys from Nepal are taken illegally to India and sometimes without the knowledge of their parents. Many are sold to brothels, some made to work as servants or at construction sites and factories.

Nepal has failed to stop such disappearances and unlike Chhori Maiya these cases don’t even get much media attention.

Nepal Police’s website lists details of just 125 other Nepalis besides Chhori Maiya as missing. Concrete efforts need to be undertaken to trace every person in that list and also those who go missing in India each year.

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