It was just another ordinary Thursday morning for Durga Devi Panta. She woke up early, finished household chores, and left for work at around 8 am like she always did. She told her three daughters to look after a Panipuri stall she owns at her home in Bhimdutta municipality.
Durga had been living separately with her daughters ever since Yagya Raj Panta, her husband, abandoned her for another woman nine years ago. Yagya had married for a second time saying Durga hadn’t given birth to a male child. As the income from Panipuri stall was barely enough to survive, it had been her daily routine to go across the border to Banbasa, a border town in Uttarakhand, India, to work as a carrier of smuggled goods for petty returns from local businessmen.
When Durga returned from work at around one in the afternoon of July 26, 2018, two of her daughters, Manisha and Nirmala, were not at home. Manisha, her eldest child who had gone to a neighbour’s home, returned soon afterwards. Her youngest daughter Saraswati told her that Nirmala had gone to meet Roshani Bam at her home which was around 1.5 kilometres away. Unbeknownst to Durga, Roshani had invited Nirmala to her house a day earlier when she was at the candy store to eat Chatpat and borrow a notebook.
Before leaving the house, Nirmala had told her sisters that she was going to take the notebook and Rs 20 that Roshani owed the shop for Chatpat she had eaten a day earlier. She also promised to bring them some guavas from Roshani’s garden.
Had Durga sensed anything ominous and instantly left in search of Nirmala at that moment, she could perhaps have averted the biggest tragedy of her life. But Durga didn’t bother much. After all, Roshani was a good friend to her daughter and the two friends had visited each other’s homes many times.
Nirmala, according to police officials involved in the investigation, was raped and murdered by an unknown man at around 2 pm the same afternoon, an hour after Durga had returned home from work. Her body was recovered from a sugarcane field, around a kilometer away from home, the next morning.