The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerned of 14-year-old Dalit girl, Saraswati Bishwakarma and her mother Shirkumari Bishwakarma, who were sentenced to life imprisonment (20 years’ imprisonment in Nepal) for murder which they did not commit. The girl is the only witness of the murder of Deepa Gurung who was her good friend. Even though real murderer was arrested and confessed her crime, Saraswati and her mother were convicted guilty on 26 February 2004 due to the huge pressure of higher caste villagers.
More seriously, it was alleged that the murdered girl’s father and uncle tampered with Saraswati’s school certificates and tried to prove that she was 17 and not a minor. As a result, Saraswati was sentenced for 20 years. No proper action has been taken by the police to inquire this matter. Meantime, on 28 June 2003, all the properties of Saraswati’s parents were destroyed by the higher caste villagers. Now the family lives in a small rented hut far from the village and has no money for the education of the rest of their children. The father of the victim launched a complaint to the District Police Station, Pokhara, Kashi about this incident but the police has refused to go and investigate until now.
The AHRC calls for your strong support to Saraswati and her mother. Please send a letter to the Nepali authorities and urge them to review the case and deliver justice to the victims without delay.
Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Names of victims: 1) Saraswati Bishwakarma, 14 years old, (13 years old at the time of incident), 2) Shirkumari Bishwakarma, 49 years old, Sarawati’s mather, both reside in Kimchi 2, Ghandruck, Kaski (Both are Dalits)
Place of incident: Kimchi 2, Ghandruk, Kaski.
Alleged perpetrators: 1) Sunita Gurung (who murdered Deepa Gurung), 2) Gum Prasad Gurung, father of Deepa Gurung who was murdered by Sunita Gurung, 3) Dhruba Gurung, Deepa Gurung’s uncle, 4) Gurung villagers in Kimchi 2, Ghandruk, Kaski who falsely accused the victims as murderer
Name of jail: District Administration office, jail branch Kaski Pokhara
Account of incident: (Based on the testimony of the victims)
On 7 May 2003, 13-year-old Saraswati Biswakarma and her friend Deepa Gurung went to Deepa’s grandmother’s house to drink tea during the school lunch break. The grandmother was not at home but Deepa’s relative Sunita Gurung called the two girls upstairs and said that an astrologist had told her that all the people in the village were cursed and would die. She told the girls that she needed their help to act out a drama to counter the curse.
Three of them went to the jungle and Sunita blindfolded Deepa and said she had to pretend to kill her first because she was the older of the girls and then Saraswati and the curse would thus disappear. Sunita took out a knife and slit the throat of Deepa and threw her down into a cavity. Saraswati screamed in terror and Sunita threatened her saying that she would kill her in the same way if she told anybody about what had happened. Deepa had been wearing some jewelry and, according to Sataswati, Sunita took the jewelry off the dead girl and gave it to Saraswati to hide. After that, Sunita left the village and the terrified Saraswati went home. When Saraswati went back home, her parents, 49-year-old Shirkumari Bishwakarma (mother) and 68-year-old Ram Bahadur Bishwakarma (father), asked her why she had come home from school early and Saraswati said she was not feeling well. Then the mother went the school to pick up her daughter’s bag.
Two days later (9 May 2003), a neighbor came to Saraswati’s house and asked if she knew where Deepa was. Because Saraswati was a good friend of Deepa, some villagers including Deepa’s father and uncle dragged her outside and beat her and demanded to know where Deepa was. Saraswati denied she knew anything about it. The next night, again the villagers came to Saraswati’s house and dragged her away. This time Saraswati told them that Sunita knew where Deepa was. The villagers then took her to the District Police Station, Pokhara, Kashi and handed her to the police for the murder of Deepa.
Since then, Deepa’s family started to accuse Saraswati’s whole family of being involved in the killing of Deepa. Deepa’s father Gum Prasad Gurung and her uncle Dhruba Gurung caught Saraswati’s brother Bishnu Parsad B.K (16) and beat him severely. Due to this severe assault, he cannot walk and hear properly and needs medication for the injuries until now. They also put chicken blood on his clothes and said it was Deepa’s blood and he was arrested by the police on 12 May 2003. On the same day, Saraswati’s parents and another 14-year-old relative Anil BK were arrested for same charges, too.
As Saraswati’s brother was away studying at the time of the incident, the police did not believe the accusations and released him but after a month. Also, all the others except Saraswati and her mother were released after a month in police custody for lack of evidence. Meantime, Sunita Gurung who is a real murderer of Deepa had also been arrested.
While they were in police custody, Saraswati and her mother were tortured with pins on her fingertips as well as beaten and kicked by the police officers. (The victims cannot remember the exact date of torture and names of the officers because it happened one and a half years ago.) All the villagers, who belonged to the higher Gurung caste turned against the victims’ family and even the other Dalits in the village did not support them as they were too scared. The Gurung caste is very strong in the area and whenever something happens to a Gurung all the others will come to support them.
On 10 June 2003, the hearing of the case was started in District Court, Pardi, Pokhara. (Case No. 133/060,061) At the hearing, all the Gurung villagers came and put pressure to convict Saraswati and her mother. The only evidence the police had against the mother was the fact that she went to the school and picked up her daughter’s bag after the incident. Evidence against Saraswati included that she had been present during the killing and had hid the jewelry. Even though Sunita had already confessed that she killed Deepa, Deepa’s family instructed Sunita to say that Saraswati and her mother were also involved. On 26 February 2004, Judge Shambhu Bahadur Khadka convicted Saraswati, her mother and Sunita and sentenced them for life imprisonment. In Nepal, life imprisonment means 20 years’ imprisonment by law.
In particular, while the case was ongoing in court, the Gurung villagers including Deepa’s father Gum Prasad Gurung and her uncle Dhruba Gurung had tampered with school certificates and tried to prove that Saraswati was 17, despite her birth certificate and a medical examination showing that she was under 16 years. As a result, Saraswati was sentenced as an adult. No inquiry or action has been taken by the police about the fabrication of the document.
After they were sent to the Jail at Kaski Pokhara, Saraswati is getting no formal education inside the jail because the villagers are threatening any teachers who are asked to work in the jail to teach Saraswati. In addition, Saraswati is suffering from Sunita’s continuous intimidation on her life. In jail, Saraswati and her mother share a room with Sunita who often threatens Saraswati to kill saying that if she had killed her at the same time as Deepa she would not have to be in jail. It is generally agreed by both prisoners and staff at the prison that Saraswati and her mother are completely innocent and Saraswati is underaged. (See the photos of the victims in jail: Photo 1, Photo 2)
Saraswati’s family said that they gave an oral complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) member Mr. Shushil Pakurel about this case but he did not show any interest in the matter.
Meantime, on 28 June 2003 at around 10 am, Gum Prasad Gurung and Dhruba Gurung burnt down Saraswati’s parents’ house and killed all their domestic animals. The family has lost all their property and now lives in a small rented hut far from the village. They are still terrified of attacks from the Gurung villagers and have no money for the education of the rest of their children. (See Photo 3: the victim’s father and one of his daughters)
According to the family, the real reason of all these incidents against them is related to the caste discrimination and jealousy. Even though he belongs to Dalit community, the victim’s father, who had worked with the Indian army for many years previously, had managed to save some money and built a nice house. The father testified that there was some tension with higher castes because they were jealous about the fact that he had a bigger house than them.
The father launched a complaint to the District Police Station, Pokhara, Kashi about this incident but the police refused to go and investigate the incident for a whole year because of Maoist problems in the area. Even after a case was filed and arrest warrants were issued against the perpetrators, the police still do not go and arrest the culprits raising Maoist problems in the area as an excuse.
Concerned about this case, the AHRC calls for the Attorney General of Nepal to reopen this case and take proper action to ensure a fair trial in this case. The AHRC also requests the Nepali authorities to conduct immediate and thorough inquiry into this case and arrest the responsible persons who were involved in abusing the family of the victims and fabricating the evidences. The right to education of the girl should be fully protected as well.
Please write a letter, fax or an email to the addresses below and express your concern about this case.
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Dear Sir,Re: Dalit mother and her 14-year-old girl in prison for life for a murder they did not commit
Names of victims:
1) Saraswati Bishwakarma, 14 years old, (13 years old at the time of incident), 2) Shirkumari Bishwakarma, 49 years old, Sarawati's mather, both reside in Kimchi 2, Ghandruck, Kaski (Both are Dalits) Place of incident:
Kimchi 2, Ghandruk, Kaski.Alleged perpetrators:
1) Sunita Gurung (who murdered Deepa Gurung), 2) Gum Prasad Gurung, father of Deepa Gurung who was murdered by Sunita Gurung, 3) Dhruba Gurung, Deepa Gurung's uncle, 4) Gurung villagers in Kimchi 2, Ghandruk, Kaski who falsely accused the victims as murderer Name of jail:
District Administration office, jail branch Kaski Pokhara
I am writing to you on behalf of Saraswati Bishwakarma (14) and her mother Shirkumari Bishwakarma (49), who were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment allegedly for the murder of Deepa Gurung (13) which they did not commit. Saraswati and her mother were convicted without any concrete evidence due to huge external pressure of high caste villagers, even though the real murderer was arrested and confessed her crime.
In particular, it was alleged that the murdered girl's father and uncle tampered with Saraswati's school certificates to prove that she was 17 and as a result, Saraswati was sentenced for 20 years as an adult. Furthermore, Saraswati reported that she is suffering from continuous threat of murder from Sunita who shares the room with her in jail.
I also have learned that all the properties of Saraswati's parents were destroyed by the murdered girl's father and uncle on 28 June 2004. Now the family lives in a small rented hut far from the village with fear of further intimidation and harassing by the villagers. Even though the father lodged a complaint to the District Police Station, Pokhara, Kashi about this incident and arrest warrants were issued against the perpetrators, the police has not yet arrested them.
In these circumstances, I strongly urge you to reopen the case and thoroughly review it immediately. I also request you to ensure a fair trial in this case and provide full protection to the victims and their family. I further request you to order a prompt investigation into the fabrication of the evidence and bring the responsible person(s) to justice without delay. The police should arrest the perpetrators who destroyed the properties of the victims. The rights to education of the girl should be fully protected and the victims must be compensated as well.
Send a letter to:
1. Mahadeo Prasad Yadav
Office of the Attorney General
Ramshahpath, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 14 262548 (direct line)/262394 (through Personal Assistant)
Fax: +977 14 262582
2. Mr. Sher Bahdur Deuba
Office of the Prime Minister
Singha Durbar, Kathmandu
Tel: +977 1 4 228555 or 227955
Fax: +977 1 4 227286/227765
3. Mr. Nain Bahadur Khatri
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission
Tel: +977 1 5 547974 or 525659 or 547975
Fax: +9771 5 547973
4. Shyam Bhakta Thapa
Inspector General of Police (IGP)
Police Head Quarter
Tel: +977 14 412737 (direct)/412432 (O) or 414985 (R)
Fax. +977 14 415593
5. Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP)
6. Krishna Prasad Lamichane, Pokhara
Chief District Officer (CDO)
Shahid Chowck, Pardi
7. Mr. Leandro Despouy
Special Representative on the Independence of judges and lawyers
OHCHR-UNOG, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 9175727
Fax: +41 22 9179006
8. Mr. Doudou Diene
Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Room 4-041, OHCHR-UNOG
Palais Wilson,Rue des Paquis 52,
Tel: +41 22 9179271
Fax: +41 22 9179050
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)