Nepal Political Update: November 9, 2007
LACK OF LAW AND ORDER-Madesh
In the last several months, the political situation in Nepal, particularly in Terai, has deteriorated due to continuing incidents of killings, abductions, arson and intimidation by various violent Madeshi groups including the two factions of JTMM, Madeshi Mukti Tigers, Terai Cobra, and Terai Bagi.
As a result, three days ago, more than 400 employees working at various Terai government offices and corporations in Saptari district tendered their joint resignation to Prime Minister G.P. Koirala. They accused the government of keeping quiet over the growing insecurity caused by various armed and criminal groups in the Terai.
If the government is indifferent, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is not. In a report issued two days ago, NHRC made public the following figures compiled between February 26 and July 16 of this year:
>30 people, including 27 Maoist cadres, were killed by Madeshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF)
>16 people were killed by unidentified groups >11 people were killed by JTMM (Jwala Singh)
>15 people were killed by stray bomb explosions and an additional 47 were injured.
>10 people were killed by the Nepal Army
>9 people were killed by JTMM (Goit)
>5 people were killed by CPN-Maoists
>5 people were killed by various other parties
In addition, the NHRC received a total of 726 complaints related to human rights violations through its various offices during this period. The highest 141 complaints were related to abduction/disappearance, involving mainly the state and the Maoists, while 140 complaints were related to torture and mistreatment.
The NHRC study also showed that media persons and human rights defenders frequently came under come under attack during this period.
"Media personnel are being attacked and threatened almost daily. They are deeply dissatisfied over the administration's reluctance to take actions against guilty even upon their identification," the report said, adding, "Bomb attacks on vehicles carrying media people and incidents of attacks and threats against human rights workers have increased sense of insecurity among human rights defenders and media society."
"The incidents of lootings and robbery including other criminal activities are increasing but the police administration has not been able to arrest and bring the guilty within the confinement of law. Likewise, CPN-M and the Terai based agitating groups have attacked various police stations and beaten and mistreated government staff."
TARGETED KILLINGS AND ABDUCTIONS HAVE INTENSIFIED SINCE SUMMER
This week, cadres of the Jantantanrik Terai Mukti Morcha (Terai Democratic Liberation Front) (JTMM) led by Jwala Singh brutally killed Dilawar Shah of Janakpur Municipality in Dhanusha district, situated some 125 km south of capital Kathmandu. Tiger Singh, the military commander of the JTMM in Dhanusha, admitted killing Shah Monday night. Shah was kidnapped last Friday. The body was recovered on Monday. The police said Shah has been shot and acid had been poured on his face. His body was set on fire. Tiger Singh’s explanation for the gruesome murder was that Shah had been spying on JTMM cadre.
In a separate incident on Monday, cadres of JTMM led by Jaya Krishna Goit barged into Hari Parajuli’s house and shot him. Parajuli is an overseer with the District Development Committee (DDC) in Bara District, situated in the Terai. JTMM-G's Bara district chief Birat took credit for the shooting over phone to local media.
Similarly, Republic Young Tiger (RYT), an armed Tarai group took credit for the abduction of human rights activists Prakash Acharya and Nirmal Acharya on Monday. The Acharya duo was abducted five days ago from Dang District, situated some 280 km southwest of Kathmandu.
Meanwhile, a November 5 report from Lamjung complains that Maoist cadres have begun extorting from local government employees. Sending letters to government offices, the former insurgents have demanded a total of 12 days' salary from the employees. District Development Committee (DDC) sources also confirmed having received such letters, as did schoolteachers and staff of NGOs.
Such Maoist moves come at a time when reports from elsewhere have been saying that they are extorting from tourists as well.
The Maoists respond that they have been asking only for "voluntary donations". "We've been collecting money in order to run our party," said Maoist office secretary Murari. "For the purpose, we can ask for anyone's help."
Elsewhere in Terai, in Bhairahawa, the Maoists’ Youth Communist League (YCL) seized the house and land of Niranjan Thapa, who was a minister during the king's direct rule. Local leaders of YCL said they would continue capturing properties of royalists.
What has prompted all the violence in Terai, traditionally renown for its peaceful population?
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TERAI
The area where most of the violence has taken place is the Terai (“moist land”), the subtropical lowlands in southern Nepal, which makes up the northern extension of India’s Gangetic Plain. Its grasslands are among the tallest in the world, maintained by silt deposited by the yearly monsoon floods. The Terai is called the “bread basket of Nepal.” The region is a patchwork of rice paddies, sal forests, mango groves, bamboo stands and tropical villages shaded by palm trees, acacias and rosewood. Here you will find the home of the endangered Indian Rhinoceros. It is also has one of the greatest concentrations of tiger remaining in Asia. Sloth bear, leopard and crocodile are also native here.
For millennia, tribes originally from India were the only people who could survive in the malaria-infested wetlands. Terai’s greatest defense against outside incursion was its mosquitoes. But after a malaria eradication campaign in the 1950s, the hill people of the north began to migrate south into the Terai. Starting with the Rapti Valley Development Project in 1956, and until the late 1970s, the government of Nepal launched a land resettlement policy in the savanna to encourage hill people from the north to claim agricultural plots in the Terai. Resettlement continues, although no longer sponsored by the government, giving the Terai the highest rate of population growth in the country.
Today more than half the population and by far the most cities can be found in the Terai. It has become a business and industrial belt as well as a transit point for the country’s exports and imports with India. The Terai contributes 72% to the total GDP of the country, but receives only 12- 18% of the development budget.
THE MADESHI PEOPLE
The settlers from India, who settled in Terai long before the hill people, are called the Madeshi; they refer to the Terai as “Madesh”. The term Madeshi has often been applied in a derogatory manner, implying that the Madeshi are uncultured and inferior to Nepali society. Originally from the northern Indian provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Utter Pradesh, the Madeshi’s darker complexion has also inspired racist slurs from the hill people.
DENIAL OF CITIZENSHIP RIGHTS TO THE MADESHI POPULATION IS A FUNADMENTAL PROBLEM IN RESOLVING THE POLITICAL CRISIS.
The Madeshi problem is an empowerment issue.
While Terai has served an important role in the continuation of Nepal as an independent unitary state, its inhabitants have been treated as colonized, or second-class citizens. This continues to this day.
The Gender and Social Exclusion Assessment (GSEA) report highlights the issue of citizenship rights to Madeshi. “Even where the law does not directly discriminate, ad-hoc discriminatory administrative practices prevail against the Madeshi people. Members of these communities are often either denied citizenship or face various bureaucratic delaying tactics and unnecessary hurdles (such as being required to produce land certificates) when they seek to obtain citizenship certificate and passports. The Madeshi have tended to be viewed by the largely Hill ruling group in Kathmandu as somehow less “Nepali” and have generally had less than proportionate representation in the corridors of powers.”
During the ten years of the civil war, beginning in 1996, the Madeshi took note of Maoist modes of operation. In 2006, after power was wrested from the king, the Madeshi thought their opportunity for justice had arrived. But when the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists continued to sideline Madeshi issues, the people of Terai split into various factions--some of which had previously aligned themselves with the Maoists-- and began to take the law into their own hands.
Until the Madeshi people feel that they are legitimately represented by the central government, it is impossible to believe that the unrest in Terai will go away.