Police investigation against Ram Bahadur Bomjon has lost pace in lack of political support.
Five missing complaints and a rape complaint have been lodged since Setopati published a news report titled ‘Series of sexual exploitation and violence in Bomjon’s ashrams‘ on December 26, 2018 documenting how four persons are missing from his ashram.
Nepal Police leadership met Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and briefed him about the Bomjon case before initiating investigation. “The pace of investigation would have been different had Home Minister Thapa showed interest and involvement in the case then,” a police officer involved in investigation confided with Setopati.
The pace of investigation in Bomjon’s case by the Nepal Police, that has gone defensive after the rape and murder of Nirmala Panta, has been sluggish right from the beginning after not getting firm backing from the Home Ministry.
The police have yet to abandon investigation though. A team led by SP of Sindhupalchowk Police Mukunda Marasini is continuing investigation but the pace is sluggish. The police have not been doing things that can be done easily and should have been done.
Let us take a look at the case of Ganga MayaTamang of Rautahat for example.
Tamang organized a press conference in the Kathmandu Valley on September 15, 2018 and accused Bomjon, who lives in the guise of an austere sage, of raping her. She was sent back by the police when she reached to lodge a rape complaint the next day saying the deadline to register a rape case had expired, and handed over to a non-governmental organization working for children.
The police have taken her statement after Setopati published the news reports but have yet to file a court case despite the Children Act clearly stating that any minor girl who was raped or sexually exploited can lodge a case until a year after she turns 18. Tamang is 18 now and the deadline to lodge a rape case has yet to expire as per the act.
The police have not moved the court even in the alleged murder of Sancha Lal Waiwa in Bomjon’s Sindhupalchok ashram despite having grounds to initiate the court case.
“We could not arrest Bomjon and move the investigation forward after the Home Ministry hinted that the case should not be moved forward unless the body is recovered,” a police officer told Setopati.
The body is an important evidence in murder cases but the Supreme Court (SC) has created a precedent of convicting the accused even in lack of the body.
A joint bench of justices Deepak Karki and Iswhore Khatiwada in June 2017 convicted Krishna Prasad Sharma Tiwari of Parbat on charge of murdering his two daughters by pushing them off the bridge into a flooded Modi river despite the bodies never being recovered.
Tiwari conceded with the police that he pushed his daughters off the bridge but changed the statement with the court. The duo based the guilty verdict on the statements of witnesses who described Tiwari’s suspicious activities and behaviors but had not seen Tiwari push the daughters off the bridge, and inconsistent statements of Tiwari.
The justice duo based the verdict on an earlier ruling by the then chief justice Khila Raj Regmi and justice Prakash Wasti on a Man Kumari Nepali vs state case six years earlier. The duo acquitted Nepali off the charge of murder on grounds of poor prosecution but observed that the prosecution should connect a series of statements and other independent evidence in cases where the bodies are burnt or thrown in the river. The observation created grounds that perpetrators can be ruled guilty even when the bodies cannot be recovered.
Mahendra Waiwa of Makwanpur filed a police complaint requesting for search of his father Sancha Lal who went missing from Bomjon’s ashramin Sindhupalchowk since 2015. Mahendra claimed that his father had called from the ashram on March 28, 2015 saying he will return home three days later. But he never returned home.
Two eye-witnesses have told Setopati that Bomjon’s disciple Waiwa was beaten to death and his body was buried inside the Sindhupalchowk ashram. They have claimed that Waiwa and another disciple Indra Man Syangtan was beaten by Bomjon and other disciples on March 30, a day after a puja ended, on charge of sorcery when many disciples and even animals inside the ashram fell ill.
Waiwa died during the beating and his body was buried in the hill behind the ashram along with packets of salt, according to the witnesses.
A police team including forensic experts raided the ashram in Bandegaun, Sindhupalchowk on January 4 but could not find any human skeletal remains there. But the team recovered packets of salt torn from the middle while digging at the spot on the hill behind the ashram where the disciple claimed Sancha Lal’s body was buried along with packets of salt to help in decomposition of the body.
The fact that the salt packets were torn from the middle at the spot can be presented as supporting evidence as one tears salt packets from the corner of a side for use in the kitchen but does not necessarily have to tear it from the corner to help in decomposition of the buried body.
The police team recovered skeletal remains of a horse from around the ashram which is consistent to the statement of a witness who claimed that even horses had fallen ill during the puja.
These supporting evidences can be used to file a court case and the police may well have done that if the accused were an average Joe and not Bomjon. But the police have not filed a court case despite such strong supporting evidence.
The police can gather other evidence of murder and rape inside Bomjon’s ashram if he is arrested. Other witnesses who are currently scared of Bomjon may also come forward if he is nabbed and their statements can help establish his guilt in murder of Waiwa.
But Bomjon’s followers have started to threaten and influence even the few who have spoken against him due to the police lethargy. Some of the witnesses and families of the victims have started to feel insecure due to police inaction. A few of them have started to publicly change their statements. The police lethargy has started to affect investigation.
A top police officer told Setopati that police need instruction of the political leadership to arrest Bomjon and move the investigation forward as it is a high-profile case. “We have not received such instruction,” the officer revealed.
Questions are being raised as to why the political leadership is not backing the police.
The office-bearers of an organization opened in the name of Bomjon had met CPN Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa after Setopati published the news reports, and pleaded to stop what they called planned attacks on their guru and religion.
Police officers say the political leadership may be worried, more than they need to, that the case of Bomjon may get religious and communal color.