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Editorial: Pressure Nepal to probe death of Long Island woman

Kuldip, mom, and Chander Kochhar, dad, parents of

Kuldip, mom, and Chander Kochhar, dad, parents of Bhoomika, a Syosset woman who died in Nepal, are seeking answers in the death of their daughter. (July 22, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Syosset family needs answers about the suspicious death in June of a loved one in Nepal. Unless officials there provide them, Congress should withhold aid it sends to the impoverished nation.

A storybook romance became a nightmare for American citizen Bhoomika Kochhar, 25, after she married Akaash Jatia in January 2011 and went to live with his family in Katmandu. Her husband and in-laws locked her in a room, sometimes denied her food, ridiculed and verbally abused her, and demanded a $2 million dowry, according to Kochhar's father and sister. She was terribly unhappy, they said, and after two years of marriage decided to leave her husband and return to Syosset. But she was found dead in her room in Katmandu on June 15.

Her father and sister were told she committed suicide, but they aren't buying it. They believe she was murdered, and cited a number of reasons for suspicion. For instance, on the day Bhoomika died, Jatia took her body to a hospital, where he gave false names for her and himself, and then moved the body to a second hospital where his wealthy, politically connected family has influence. His family hired a criminal lawyer that same day. And before the Kochhars were allowed to take Bhoomika's body for a funeral, the in-laws insisted they sign a release stating no criminal charges would be brought against them.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) is pressing Nepalese officials for a full and impartial investigation. That's the least to expect from an ally. Cooperation in tragedies such as this should be one of the things American foreign aid ensures. So Israel is asking Congress to withhold a portion of the $27 million in aid to Nepal until the U.S. embassy certifies that the death has received the law enforcement scrutiny it deserves.

Nepal is one of the world's poorest nations. It relies on international donors to fund development efforts. The prospect of losing U.S. aid should help to focus officials there on this young woman's tragic death.