KATHMANDU – The glow and the bright smile on her face have begun to fade. Fear and nervousness have taken over. Digital violence against her has shattered her confidence. Sapana Rokka Magar, who was recognized as one of the 100 most influential women of 2020 by the BBC for her brave act of cremating unclaimed bodies, is facing troubles.
“She has headache, and cannot talk now. There is news about her all over the media (YouTube videos) and she feels deeply disturbed, and the culprit has not yet been arrested,” said Sapana’s brother over the phone on Saturday evening. “We wanted to file a case secretly, but the YouTubers are after us and they reveal everything, and they manipulate information, they threaten and harass us. The police have given us hope, let’s see,” he added.
Sapana is an inspiring teenager. The girl from Myagdi braved several setbacks in her life. At 18, she was homeless, broken and lost.
She then came in contact with an organization called Punarajiwan Kendra that changed the course of her life. She was happy and grateful. Binaya Jung Basnet, a founder of the organization gave her shelter and was a ‘fatherly care’. They were involved in social works, including cremation of unclaimed bodies. In a number of interviews, Binaya has praised Sapana’s bravery, boldness and selflessness. Sapana also told reporters that Binaya is not her biological, but god father since he gave her a purpose in life.
Everything seemed good and well until Sapana shot to fame in November last year.
‘BBC ruined it,’ notes Lal Bahadur Maharjan, sarcastically. “But I knew this type of issue would come out one or the other day,” he adds.
Lal Bahadur, also from Bhaktapur, is someone who has known Binay since childhood. According to locals, he is one of the founders of Punarjiwan Kendra, ‘but later left the organization due to disputes’. When Republica contacted him over two months ago, he told that Binaya is a troubled man who shows a dual personality.
“He is not the person the media has projected him to be. He has never overcome alcoholism. He misbehaves, speaks foul language, and jumps to physical assaults quite easily. But on the other hand, it is also true that he does social work. The cremation of dead bodies, which he has been doing since long, is not a sweet task,” Lal Bahadur had elaborated.
Lal Bahadur had hinted that Sapana ‘will realize the truth some day and then the bonding will crash.’ Binaya’s behavioral problems cost him many close friends, he said.
When Sapana was busy meeting ‘big people’ and being interviewed by several media after she made it to the BBC’s list in December last year, Binaya was taken to a rehabilitation center ‘due to recurrence of his drinking habit’. Sapana had not acknowledged Binaya in any of her interviews.
According to Lal Bahadur, Sapana knew Binaya’s truth, which was why she did not express gratitude towards him. But Sapana’s silence about Binaya hurt his ego and then he was seen taunting Sapana in many of the recent interviews. And of late, Binaya, in a video, has threatened to expose Sapana’s nude pictures.
“The YouTubers have a big role in creating this sort of unwanted situation. They cover personal issues very unethically,” notes Sarala Gautam, a writer and a keen observer of this incident. “A girl who is not even 20 is suddenly in this dramatic situation in her life. She was deceived by a man whom she regarded as a father, and then there are hundreds of cheap media to add to her agony. How to help her!” said Sarala.
Sapana has written on social media, while replying to a post, that she is better dead. Talking to Sarala, she reiterated the same thing. “I thought I had braved my troubled past and marched on to a new purposeful life, but now I am shaken to the core. I used to think why would people give up in life, and now I understand how it feels to be misunderstood, misbehaved, and mistaken,” Sarala quotes Sapana.
Sapana’s parents have also accused Binaya of abuses against their daughter. The police are looking after the case, Binaya is reportedly on the run. “He has fled. The police have told us that they will arrest him soon, let’s see,” said Sapana’s brother, who added that the police did not cooperate at first, but it’s not the case anymore.
According to SP Ramesh Basnet, spokesperson of the Metropolitan Police Range, Kathmandu, it is unfair to say the police did not cooperate. “We have registered the case on the basis of the complaint filed on Friday and we are serious about it. As soon as we get an arrest warrant, we’ll speed up our work,” he said, on Sunday.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised for Sapana on social media. Many have voiced for justice as well as her protection from digital violence.