May 2, 2012
JANAKPUR, NEPAL: A powerful bomb attached to a motorbike exploded in a crowded market in southern Nepal today, killing at least four people and wounding 31 others. Security forces sealed off the nearby Indo-Nepal border soon after.
The blast occurred at Ramananda Chowk while a group of Madhesi activists were staging a sit-in demanding a separate Mithila state in the new Constitution. The Maithili language is spoken in southeast Nepal as well as in northeastern India. The sit-in was organized by the Mithila State Struggle Committee.
Three people including Ranju Jha (an activist and actress) were killed on the spot while another man succumbed to death while undergoing treatment, police said. Fourteen of the victims were critically injured and have been airlifted to Kathmandu for treatment.
Reports vary concerning the people or organization behind the blast. An organization called the United Ethnic Liberation Front (UELF) has claimed responsibility, although other media sources identify the organization as Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha.
The Nepal-India border to the south has been sealed off following the blast and police have detained a person from Saptari in connection with the explosion. The suspect was arrested while locals were thrashing him, believing that he had hand in the blast.
The Janakpur blast and the ongoing general strike in western Nepal for the last five days highlights the tricky waters that Nepal's politicians have to tread as they finalize the new constitution. They have been in intense negotiations to decide, among other things, the issue of demarcation of provinces. Various groups across the country have been demanding provinces based on ethnicity while some political parties want provinces based on economic viability.
The deadline for a new constitution is less than a month away.
Shyamsundar Shashi provided a first-hand account in yesterday’s Kathmandu Post:
It was around 9:30 in the morning when I reached Ramananda Chowk. A sit-in was being organised there by the Mithila State Struggle Committee to press for a separate Mithila state. The committee had entered the fourth day of its struggle. As I reached the venue, the place was teeming with people. Many huddled under a makeshift shed to avoid the scorching Tarai heat. “I didn’t miss anything important,” I said to myself, as I ambled towards the crowd. The committee leaders were discussing ways to take ahead their protest. Just as I joined the group, I saw the familiar face of Bimal Sharan approaching. He walked towards me, a polythene bag dangling from one of his hands. “Here’s the sugar for the drink,” he said as he handed the bag to Bishnukant Mishra, treasurer of the Mithila Theatrical Art Council. He requested Bishnukant to prepare a drink for the sit-in participants. Upon learning that Bishnukant was just about to leave on a tea break, Sharan went to prepare the drink by himself. He returned after a short while and distributed the drink to the attendees. After the drinks, it was time for betel nut. I volunteered for the task. As I was moving about among the participants handing the betel nut wrapped in paper, a deafening bang rang out from the west of where I was standing. I was petrified. I could not hear anything after that.
When I finally gathered myself and came to my senses, I realised a bomb shrapnel had hit me on my right arm and my lips.
The panic-stricken crowd started running helter-skelter. I ran as well. From a safe distance, I turned around to see and saw Parmeshwor Kapadi lying on the floor. Ranju Jha (theatre artist) was writhing with pain on the ground. A bearded man was lying motionless nearby; his entrails exposed. As I extended my view, I saw many others lying on the ground. Sunil Mishra and Sunil Mallik, who had gone with Bishnukant to have tea, found me and suggested we take the injured to the hospital. I reached out for Kapadi, sprinkled the sugar drink on his face and brought him round.
The seriously injured victims were put on a police van and rushed to hospital. The others were ferried on an ambulance. It was later that I found out the bearded man lying dead was Sharan, who had prepared and fed us the sugary drink.