One Saturday morning, as usual, Samjhana Shrestha left the house to collect grass. Her neighbor was Khadga Bahadur Shrestha who was also her relative and like a grandfather.
Samjhana and her family had to pass by Shrestha’s house to go to their farm, market and school. Shrestha used to drink all the time and used appalling words to passersby. Samjhana quietly used to pass by.
On January 17, 2009, Samjhana was walking by Shrestha’s house. This time not only did he call her insulting names but held her hand and dragged her forcefully to his house. Samjhana, who was tortured by his name-calling everyday, could not take it anymore.
To save herself from his atrocity, she got hold of a spade and started hitting Shrestha. Drunken and beaten, Shrestha fell to the ground. Samjhana then went home.
In a matter of minutes, Shrestha’s house was visited by locals and the police. When the police started the investigation, Samjhana told them the truth about what happened and was sent back home, the police stating that she had not committed felony.
That very night, news arrived that Khadga Bahadur had died. She left her house early the next day to go to Dhulikhel, tense with the demise of Shrestha.
“We were going to Dhulikhel from Kalimati with our uncles when the police came and caught my sister,” recollected Samjhana’s sister, Sajana Shrestha, adding, “Since that day, she’s been in jail.” It has now been three and half years since Samjhana was jailed.
Ten hours after the incident, Khadga Bahadur was dead and his brother Khet Bahaur filed a complaint against Samjhana at the police station and a murder case was filed.
According to Khet Bahadur, Khadga Bahadur’s wife and other onlookers during the incident, the death was caused by the spade with which Samjhana had hit Shrestha. However, in court, they changed their statements and said that they had signed where the police asked them to.
Dr Div Singh Jha, who supervised the postmortem, said that the body had a broken index and small finger, a hole in the cheek and broken right leg which had bones protruding out.
Excess bleeding from the broken bone area was stated as the main cause of death. All the evidence and reports were submitted to the court after 10 months.
Even though Samjhana was in jail for murder charge, on December 13, 2009, the then judge of Kavre, Rajesh Kafle, stated that she did not have a reason to kill Shrestha and that she did not use any lethal weapon to kill him. She was then sentenced to five years in jail instead of life sentence.
Samjhana’s family did not have any idea about legal proceedings or else they could have filed a case against Khet Bahadur Shrestha right after the incident. Sajana did file a case against him after a week but it was rejected because it came late.
“It’s clear from the statement of the people and the postmortem report that the cause of death was excessive bleeding which happened because he fell down the stairs. But because there are inadequate evidence to support Samjhana, she’s serving her time in jail,” said lawyer Mira Dhungana. “Before Samjhana was convicted, she was already in jail, which shouldn’t be the case. She was just supposed to be in judicial custody,” added Dhungana.
Samjhana, who was jailed when she was 21 and studying in grade 12, is now 24 and in her BA third year.
“At a time when I should be preparing for my career, I’m in jail,” said Samjhana, who is held in the women’s cell at Sundhara, Kathmandu. She added, “It was my bad luck. I’m here without having done anything. However, I haven’t stopped studying and teaching.”
Samjhana used to teach in a local school, and since she started earning for the family, her father Tej Bahadur went to Saudi Arabia to work. Samjhana was the one who gave the idea to her father about going abroad to work to better the family’s finances.
“But since there was no male member in the family, we were bullied by the villagers,” said a sad-toned Samjhana. “I used to sometimes shout back at my grandfather (the deceased Shrestha) that he couldn’t insult me for no reason. Perhaps that’s why the incident took place which turned my life upside down.”
Her father came back from Saudi Arabia after the daughter, who earned for the house, was jailed.
Samjhana had appealed to the court pleading for a clearer verdict. The court had stated that she did not have reason to kill Shrestha and that she did not use any lethal weapon against him. Keeping that in mind and the tender age of Samjhana, she was sentenced in 2011 to four years in jail by the District Court.
Not satisfied with the sentencing, Samjhana then filed her case with the Supreme Court’s (SC). Samjhana will be out of jail on January 18, 2013 but her hearing in the Supreme Court is scheduled for mid September.
According to the SC, despite no date being available for the hearing, but since her jail term is ending soon, it was scheduled earlier.
“Even though he was our relative and like a grandfather to us, he used vulgar words,” said Samjhana in her cell. “That day when he held my hand and tried to drag me inside the house, I had to do something. Then I hit him with the handle of the spade.”
Even though her sentence is coming to an end, she is expecting a clearer verdict from the Supreme Court.
“I’ve served my term in jail. But if this happens to other girls and women, I don’t want them to suffer like I did,” she said.
Samjhana is also worried about the treatment she is going to get from the society once she is out of jail.
“I’ll go back to my village as a person who has served time in jail. Even though I didn’t commit the crime, I’ve admitted to it. And the society is going to blame my parents, too. How are they going to handle it and live with it?” she wonders.