MANANG/KATHMANDU: Manang district court today postponed its verdict on 36 men charged with murdering seven Gorkhalis in Nar VDC in a battle over Yarchagumba. The court was forced to put off the hearing till October 7 after the prosecutor failed to show up.
Police surrounded the courthouse to prevent
violence from breaking out between the defendants’ supporters and relatives of the victims.
The seven victims — Bire Gurung (16), Kami Gurung (15), Sobar Gurung (16), Aaitaram Gurung (17), Dhrube Gurung (17), Suchha Gurung (29) and Ram Bahadur Gurung (35) of Keraunja, Gorkha, — died in Manang in June 2009 after going to forage for Yarchagumba, a rare parasitic plant that is a major source of income for many Himalayan communities.
“People had come a long way to hear the verdict and were obviously anxious to hear it,” said Chief District Officer Shrawan Kumar, estimating that 150 people had travelled to the town of Chhame, which is accessible only on foot.
The defendants make up nearly all the male population of the village of Nar, near where the victims’ bodies were found.
All 36 accused deny murder and say the men died accidentally when a fight broke out over the right to harvest Yarchagumba, which grows on the larva of a species of moth.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Yarchagumba case “epitomises the impact of the social changes that are going on in the far flung and previously inaccessible rural areas of Nepal”. Manang police, who came to know about the incident only after a month, had arrested 70 residents of Nar on charge of being involved in the incident.
Of them, 34 were eventually released.
Manang SP Nala Prasad Upadhyay said the police had recovered only two bodies of Ram Bahadur and Sobar from a steep hill of Gangre Chyakulek in Nar while other bodies were never found. It is alleged that the bodies where cut into pieces and thrown into the Nar River.
The judge overseeing the trial is from a neighbouring district and was not present in court for any of the earlier hearings, prompting concern about the fairness of the case from rights groups, including the OHCHR.
Krishna Thapa, the sole defence lawyer in the case, told AFP he had not even been allowed to speak to the defendants.
“The villagers have had no opportunity to give their side of the story. They do not speak Nepali and they do not understand what is happening,” he said.
Sociology professor Krishna B Bhattachan said the defendants might not even understand why they were being prosecuted.