Disillusionment, lawlessness and violence continue to shackle Western Nepal, particularly in the Madhes, the southern swath of Nepali plains that constitutes 33% of the country’s population. In the past week, two events in particular illustrate the regions’ tinderbox-like conditions. And the Maoists have played a major role in the unrest.
On Friday, December 4, near Lamki township, in the Dudhejhari forest, in the Far-Western district of Kailali, police were deployed to remove thousands of homeless families, who had suddenly moved in at the end of November after being displaced by floods and landslides. An estimated 15,000 people were living in approximately 4,000 shanties. The squatters were from the Dalit caste.
This forcible eviction was sanctioned by all the major political parties, including (at least initially) the Maoists. Prior to the demolition, the local administration employed FM stations and hand-held mikes to warn the people that they would be bodily removed if they failed to vacate the forest. The squatters refused to budge and the police came in, as promised, on the designated date.
But the squatters fought back with bricks, lathis, khukuris and axes. Security forces responded with firearms. At least six people were killed and an additional fifty people were injured, some critically, including at least one police personnel.
Nevertheless, the demolition was completed -- shacks razed and torched.
The government blamed the Maoists for the incident, asserting that the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Squatters’ Association (ANSA) orchestrated the encroachment of settlers in the forest in the first place. Specifically, it was alleged that Maoist cadres, led by PLA combatants from nearby UNMIN-monitored cantonments, instructed the squatters how to retaliate, once the police entered the forest.
On Sunday, December 6, Hari Gyawali, the Maoist in charge of Kailali district – who had previously signed a document proclaiming the encroachment illegal, thereby approving of security force intervention – not only retracted his position, but demanded that the dead be declared martyrs and that the squatters be allowed to remain in the forest.
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoists second-in-command, blasted back at the government, indignantly asserting, among other things, that the Kailali incident was related to foreign arms sales, that the squatters were merely acting spontaneously by capturing land owned by feudal landlords, that the current government reminded him of Hitler’s firing squads and, last but not least, that the current government was “gradually turning the country into war-torn Afghanistan.”
Over twenty vehicles were torched or vandalized by Maoists along the roads of Indian border towns, as well as medical shops that dared to remain open. The party office of Matrika Prasad Yadav was also attacked. Yadav was once the senior-most Maoist leader in Madhes, but had since left the Maoist party to form his own group in the south.
(To read my interview with Matrika Yadav CLICK HERE).
On December 8, the Maoists turned up the heat yet again when the All Nepal Trade Union Federation-Revolutionary – the powerful trade union affiliated with the Maoists – said it would enforce a shutdown of Nepal’s media organizations. Leaders of various media networks who constitute the Media Society were outraged and called the Maoists hypocrites, claming the Maoists were attempting a kind of censorship that imperiled the very civilian supremacy the Maoists claimed to be fighting for.
To complicate the issue, Raj Kumar Lekhi, leader of the Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha, an organization comprised of ethnic Tharus, blamed the Kailali incident on the encroachment of Indians and settlers from the hilly people of Nepal. The Tharus claim to be the first settlers of southern Nepal and the direct descendants of the historical Buddha, who was born in the Nepali border town of Lumbini. The organization is resisting the government’s move to issue citizenship to people who have lived in the plains for only several generations, fearing that the Tharus will become a minority in their own ancestral territory.
But the government in Kathmandu kept its sights on the Maoists. The leader of the anti-Maoist block in the Communist Party Nepal (United Marxist Leninist – CPM-UML), K P Oli, dared the Maoists to go back to underground warfare:
“If you think that your rebellion was Great and Glorious, why don’t you re-enter the jungles and, if you do so, then the country will not lose anything. What a double standard! The Maoists teach their cadres to make sacrifices, yet the leaders live a luxurious life.”
Even the US embassy, which kept its cards close to its chest during the ambassadorship of Nancy Powell and is now transitioning under the auspices of charge de affaires Randy Berry, voiced criticism of recent Maoist activities. According to South Asia Press, Mr. Berry expressed concern that “the continuing seizure of crops and land throughout Nepal is inconsistent with the stated Maoist commitment to the peace process, the rule of law, and democratic practices.”
THE ATTEMPTED MURDER OF JOURNALIST TIKA BISTA
Tika Bista was discovered unconscious near her home in Rukum district, western Nepal on Tuesday afternoon, with serious injuries to her head, legs, and arms, according to local press freedom group the Federation of Nepali Journalists. The wounds suggested she had been attacked with a razor blade and pushed down a steep hill, the federation and local news reports said. Her laptop and mobile phone were found smashed nearby along with scattered documents. Bista, a reporter with the local daily Rajdheni who also contributed to other newspapers, was a member of the federation’s local chapter. She was airlifted to Kathmandu in a critical condition today, according to local news reports.
Bista reported receiving death threats from Maoist groups on November 29 after publishing a commentary in the local Jantidhara weekly that criticized local members of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) for using intimidation and threats, the federation said. The Kathmandu-based human rights group Freedom Forum said Bista had called a colleague before the assault to say three men were following her.
“The media environment for journalists has not improved since Nepal’s transition to democratic rule in 2008,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Police must investigate the death threats Bista received and bring the perpetrators of this vicious attack to justice.”
CPJ research shows that acts of violence against Nepali journalists historically have occurred frequently and without official investigations. The attack against Bista is the most serious journalist assault reported in Nepal since the shocking January murder of Uma Singh.
[Journalist Uma Singh was murdered in January 2009 in Nepal’s southern district of Dhanusha. Singh was stabbed repeatedly by a group of approximately 15 unidentified men who broke into her rented room in Janakpur. Maoist involvement was not ruled out, but no one, to date, has been arrested. Uma was well known for her reports on women’s rights and political issues and was vocal in condemning the ongoing violence in the southern Terai region.]
Nepal has the dubious distinction of being rated eighth place on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2009 Impunity Index, which ranks the 14 worst countries in the world for solving journalist murders, recorded by CPJ since 1998.
In the meantime, Tika Bista is in stable but serious condition. She has a blood clot in her brain, injuries to her cervical spine, left shoulder, right hand and left foot. She is lucky to be alive.
According to Republica, three masked persons blindfolded her and “gradually cut her right fingers -- the hand she uses for writing -- and the sole of her left foot even as she ran away to save her life. They also bashed her head. [ ]… she had phoned her colleague and told she was being chased by three persons. They then pushed her over a cliff -- estimated to be around 80 feet -- in the forest and left her to die. She was found in an unconscious state in the forest Tuesday evening.
So what is the master plan of the Maoists these days? Perhaps we should look to Ganesh Man Pun’s explanation, as told to a Calcutta Telegraph interviewer (Sankarshan Thakur) last week. Pun is the chief of the Young Communist League (YCL), the Maoists’ much-feared paramilitary wing:
“The revolution is not over,” Pun says as an explanation of current tactics and future objectives, “but we realize that in the 21st century, we must employ a mix of the bullet and the ballot, political action and military action have to be fused. The guerrilla war phase of our struggle is over and we are in the mainstream. We think we can achieve our aims with mass mobilization but if the forces of feudalism and imperialism resist the kind of state we want, we shall have to use force.”
“We would not have come this far if we had not used violence as a means, you know how powerful the interests of status quo can be, and nobody talks about the violence they have unleashed on the people over centuries. This is a struggle for revolutionary changes, violence will happen. Having said that, we function under the disciplines of ideology and line, what we do is for our political and social objectives.”
A simpler of way of saying this is: “Plant anarchy and reap the political rewards.” It's textbook Marxist methodology.