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How justice providers are intimidated into hiding serious crimes such as rape cases: A case in point

Rape victim

Whereas many rape cases do not even get reported or reach the court, a case from Lalitpur that reached the court became a victim of the corrupt system and abuse of power. 

In a notorious rape case, the accused Sushil Chataut and his family have been found to have influenced the police and the court by threatening and tempting the survivor to bar her from filing the case. The fact came into the light after the  Office of the Attorney General transferred government attorney Sangita Thokar, for resisting pressure to “weaken” a rape case.

So what exactly happened?

The complicated reporting process

chair in class rape case
Photo: Unsplash/ Erik Mclean

Bagmati (alias given to the survivor) was studying at Shree Mahendra Adarsha Higher Secondary School in Imadol. 

After her father shared the struggles to send his daughter to school, businessman Tirtha Raj Chataut, State Minister Umesh Shrestha’s business partner, had brought the child from Bajhang to Mahendranagar as a domestic helper with a commitment to take care of her education.

Then, Tirtha Raj’s son Sushil Chataut brought Bagmati to Kathmandu saying he needs house help as his wife is pregnant and he has a four-year-old son to take care of.

According to the survivor, he had repeatedly raped her ever since and February 7, 2022, was the last time she was raped by Sushil. “The incident left the child so depressed that she started behaving abnormally and stopped paying attention to her studies. She would bang her head in the class and cry,” a source says. She would refuse to go home so the teachers took her home.

Then, the school reached out to the police, but when Bagmati reached the police station, she did not speak about the rape but rather shared Sushil’s wife Radha Chataut tortured her. From that day onwards, the girl became even more anxious day by day. 

The school then reached out to Children and Women in Social Service and Human Rights (CWISH). At last, in presence of CWISH counsellors, Bagmati shared that she was being raped in the house where she was working as a domestic worker ever since she came to Kathmandu. 

After that, the NGO employees went to the Lalitpur Metropolitan Police Circle, Satdobato, to complain about the rape case, but the police did not agree to file the complaint. Then, they reached Metropolitan Police Range, Lalitpur, to file the complaint, which was later forwarded to Satdobato. Finally, the police station called the accused Sushil Chataut and called in CWISH representatives.

Temptation and pressure 

initimidation in rape case
Representational image. Photo: Pixabay

When the Chataut family felt the rape case would come out in the public, they started influencing the police. Tirtha Raj and State Minister Umesh Shrestha had a partnership in some businesses. As the pressure started increasing [from high positions], it restricted the police from doing their work as well.

When the rape case reached the police station, the survivor’s family had expected that the incident would take a more legal turn. But, the accused Sushil called in the survivor’s mother and intimidated her to withdraw the case. 

According to the source, the mother then started victim-blaming. “The daughter has been raped, but the mother is far from supporting her daughter. She seems to be speaking in favour of the accused, instead.” 

She even went to the hospital where Bagmati was kept and started bashing her instead for denting their reputation. She even forcibly took Bagmati away, who was being under CWISH’s supervision and went out of contact for some time.

Meanwhile, the police also mishandled the rape case and only sent the file to the attorney’s office on the 24th day. As per the law, the accused cannot be detained for more than 25 days, so the file was delayed so that the government attorney could not study and investigate the file further.

Commenting on this, the government attorney’s office has warned the police to not do this in the future.

The police also did not want to present the rape case survivor’s video record as evidence. And, the police gave plenty of opportunities to Chataut and his family to prove their innocence whereas the survivors, her teachers and the statements of the NGO representatives did not get space in the file.

Legal pressure

Assistant attorney Sangita Thokar has been transferred from the Lalitpur District Government Attorney's Office for not giving in to the pressure for weakening a rape case, in June 2022.
Assistant attorney Sangita Thokar has been transferred from the Lalitpur District Government Attorney’s Office for not giving in to the pressure for weakening a rape case, in June 2022.

Sushila Gyawali, the chief deputy attorney of the Lalitpur District Government Attorney’s Office, had been looking at the rape case since the complaint was registered. It is customary for the person who looks at the file at the attorney’s office to file the indictment. And, on April 22, while she was not in the office, the police handed over the investigation report.

She said nothing clearly, but she was under pressure from the Office of the Attorney General. The next day, Yuden Lama, the juniormost government attorney at the office, was assigned to look after the file as Gyawali went to Konjyosom rural municipality in Lalitpur as an election officer.

Lalita Shrestha was the seniormost officer after Gyawali. According to a source in the government attorney’s office, Shrestha was repeatedly pressured by joint attorney Hari Prasad Joshi and assistant attorney Bindu Kumari Dhami in the secretariat of Attorney General Khamma Bahadur Khati.

But, Joshi ended up taking Chataut’s side. Dhami kept calling and pointing out that the survivor would get hostile later, so do not ask her too many questions. 

Busy Shrestha also managed to look at the rape case and prosecuted Sushil Chataut. The portion of the files she did not look at, however, reached assistant attorney Sangita Thokar. Yet, no staff from the Attorney General’s Secretariat dared to call Thokar directly.

There was some indirect pressure being exerted to weaken the rape case. On the contrary, there was plenty of evidence in favour of the survivor. The Attorney General’s Secretariat then ordered Shrestha’s transfer. A source says, “They had planned to release the defendant Chataut on bail from the district court. But, they did not succeed.” 

Sushil Chataut is currently in custody upon the order of the Lalitpur District Court.

The same problem in the court

social inertia court gabel
Photo: Pexels/ Sora Shimazaki

On May 31, a call came to government attorney Sangita Thokar from the District Court, Lalitpur, to record the survivor’s written statement. The phone call amused Thokar because Bagmati had to be taken by a government attorney along with the police to the district court for a statement. But, in this case, the opposite was happening.

The survivor was taken to the court in a vehicle used by the accused’s family. Thokar reached the court and questioned Judge Surya Prasad Parajuli on the bench. However, the judge did not protest and held the proceeding on the same day.

In the court, video footage revealed that Bagmati’s mother and others had pressured her before her statement was recorded. According to a court official, the mother has repeatedly slurred out curses for denting their family’s reputation, to what the rape case survivor said, “You have killed me alive.”

The survivor, who previously looked stern and confident, had grown tired of giving statements and also did not maintain details of her old statements and changed them altogether. She then said that nothing wrong had happened to her, except a few times when Radha Chataut, the accused’s wife, used abusive language against her.

The rape case survivor was intimidated not only by the accused but also by her mother. The documents submitted to the court revealed that the mother had beaten Bagmati. But, she defended, “I have not assaulted anyone, but my daughter and other people might have been hurt when I tried to pull her outside with her hand.” She added, “I do not know why my daughter made such the rape case accusation against Sushil Chataut.”

The police prioritised the statement of those who favoured Chataut’s innocence.

This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Gyawali is a senior journalist at Onlinekhabar.

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