January 10, 2020, remains a dark day for Ram Jeevan Mahato and his family. His son, Dilip Mahato, was brutally murdered. He was murdered for standing up against illegal sand mining on the Aurahi river.
It was like a scene from a film. When he heard about people from the Churiya Mai Sand Processing Industry mining in the river early in the morning, he went to stop them. But little did he know he would not come back.
Dillip Mahato was first stabbed by screwdrivers multiple times. After he fell unconscious, the owner of the mining industry, Bipin Mahato, asked his staff to drive a tipper over his helpless body ensuring he would no longer be a problem for them.
Mahato had warned Dilip this would happen if he did not stop obstructing their mining work. They had even told his family they would kill him and make it look like an accident. And that is exactly what they tried to do, but, thanks to protests, Bipin and his staff did not get away with it. After three years of trial, the Dhanusha District Court convicted Bipin Mahato, Jitendra Mahato and Munindra Mahato and handed down sentences of 25 years to Bipin and Munindra and 12.5 years to Jitendra.
While this can be considered a landmark verdict as Nepali society is not so energetic about taking environmental justice cases to the court although such cases are rampant across Nepal, there are still concerns that the justice was timely and adequate.
The struggle for justice
Ram Jeevan Mahato’s family feels it lost everything in Dilip Mahato’s murder. Dilip was their hope of getting a better life. He was on the verge of graduating from college in Bhopal in India and had come over for a vacation. He knew how important it was for him to land a good job and help his father and sisters. But his dreams were crushed as Bipin and his workers killed him for trying to save the environment.
Protests followed following his death. Following that, police arrested the owner of Churiya Mai Sand Processing Industry and five others. But the fight for justice took longer than expected for the Mahato family.
The case, according to court rules, should have ended in a year. But, it went on for over three years. During this period, the family, like the late Dilip Mahato, faced multiple threats from crusher businesses. They tried to buy them off. A counter-lawsuit was filed against them to weaken them but Ram Jeevan and his daughters Sangam Kumari and Laxmi carried on fighting to ensure their brother got justice.
The case, from the outside, looked simple. Police investigations proved Dilip was stabbed multiple times before being run over by a tipper. Dilip’s family filed the case on February 5. 2020, demanding seven people be sentenced to life in prison for torturing and killing him.
The family asked Bipin Mahato, owner of Churiya Mai Sand Processing Industry, his brother Binod and workers of the factory Munindra Mahato, Jitendra Mahato, Satyanarayan Mahato, Shatrudhan Mahato along with Dilip’s friend Roshan Kumar Yadav be sent to prison.
While Binod absconded for over a year, the court remanded Bipin, Munindra and Jitendra in custody. The rest were released on bail.
The criminals’ victim card
Meanwhile, a counter-lawsuit was filed by Binod in April 2021 against the Dilip Mahato family for interfering with the business of the factory. The court even issued a show cause notice which rocked the family.
Already reeling from Dilip’s loss, this was hard as they needed to hire a lawyer to fight their case. They lost the case. That came as a big blow to the family who at times felt helpless as they had to fight against such powerful people.
Dilip’s sisters and father went around doing all they could. They protested in Dhanusha. They came to Kathmandu, but things did not go as they hoped. While three people who murdered Dilip were in judicial custody, they could not believe the other four were released on bail as the court could not find enough evidence for their involvement in the murder.
Since February 2020 and February 2023, the hearing for the case was scheduled 18 times. But according to records, the case was heard only four times. In 2021, the case was not heard even once.
This went against the Supreme Court’s fourth five-year strategic plan which stated cases could be kept unresolved for a maximum of 18 months. Cases like this with three to 10 defendants should have been resolved within a year. But the Dilip Mahato murder case went on for three years.
Between this, the family was offered millions of rupees by the murderers. Ram Jeevan has loans to pay, but he refused to take the money as it would have been an insult to his son.
Justice(?) at last
After three years, Dhanusha District Court, on February 15, gave its verdict. The court convicted Bipin, Jitendra and Munindra for murdering Dilip Mahato. On February 24, the court pronounced sentences for three people convicted.
The court said Bipin and Munindra were given life sentences (25 years each) as they were the main culprits whereas Jitendra was given a 12.5-year sentence as he was the accomplice. The other four were acquitted and released by the court.
One would assume Ram Jeevan and his family would be happy with this. But he is not. In an interview with Onlinekhabar, Ram Jeevan said he cannot be happy as the four murderers of Dilip Mahato are still free.
He says he thinks the sentences are not enough as he believes the murderers need to be in jail for life. He says he will go to the Supreme Court if he has to.