June 2011

 

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Blood, Tears and Optimism: A Reflection from Dang
Shree Ram Chaudhary



Historical Context

It is believed that the Tharu people lived in the Dang region since the Stone Age. According to Devid Sedon, the Tharus have occupied the area for around 300,000 years. It is also assumed that Dang derives its name from a Tharu king, Dangisharan, who ruled the area about 5,000 years ago.

Dang is a district with a unique historic, economic, political, social and cultural identity. It is a fertile land and a major habitat of the Tharu ethnic group. In 1964, when the new land management system came into operation, only Tharus were settled in Dang; but after the eradication of malaria, they began migrating from the district. At this time, the Tharu people owned 90 percent of all land in the district. Later non-Tharus started migrating to the district, and the government and powerful local leaders captured land and enslaved the Tharus—a major cause of the historical conflict in Dang.

To reacquire their lands, the Tharus struggled hard for years and initiated efforts at a land revolution. Gumara Tharu, leader of the farmers’ movement, who famously said that “land belongs to those who plough and houses belong to those who scrub,” was shot dead by the government in 1960.

There is thus a long history of incidents of domination, oppression and exploitation of the Tharu people, who have been in revolt since panchayat rule commenced in the 1960s. Many people sacrificed their lives fighting for their rights. However, these incidents never benefited any of the Tharu communities; only the landlords benefited. Even after the political transformation in 1990, the Tharu community gained nothing: the nature of domination changed, but fundamentally, the oppression remained unchanged. This fuelled anger and dissatisfaction in the hearts of the Tharus towards the Nepali government and its officials.

Initially, the Maoist revolution that began in 1996 had little impact in Dang since the neighboring districts of Rolpa, Rukum and Salyan were focal points of their “People’s War.” When in later years the Maoists realized the strategic importance of Dang, their interest in the district increased as did the impact of the conflict on it. The domination of the people by the State further stimulated Maoist agitation, and both the government and Maoists competed to parade their power in Dang where poor Tharus, Dalits and all underprivileged communities ultimately became the victims.

The Maoists attacked Ghorahi, the headquarters of Dang, on Nov. 23, 2001, killing 37 security personnel, including 14 soldiers of the Royal Nepal Army. The Maoists succeeded in capturing a large cache of weapons, and the attack ended negotiations that were taking place between the Maoists and the government. The government responded by announcing a nationwide state of emergency several days later on Nov. 26.

Subsequently, the situation in Dang continued to worsen, and insecurity reigned in the district. The infuriated security forces began undertaking careless and one-sided actions in various parts of Dang. Five days after the start of the emergency, for example, state forces killed 11 innocent Tharu farmers from the village of Bargaddi. The Maoists took advantage of the people’s desire for vengeance and recruited large numbers of Tharu youth into their ranks. The homeland of the innocent Tharus consequently turned into a theatre of war, grief and lamentation.

Data from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), released on Aug. 30, 2006, stated that after 2001 a total of 936 people were abducted nationally—563 by state forces (these are still missing), 315 by the Maoists and 58 by unidentified groups. In Dang alone, security forces abducted 56 people and the Maoists two individuals.

After the frightful Maoist attack, the government formulated strong policies against the Maoists and initiated various search campaigns. The Maoists were equally ruthless, and violent encounters between these two forces became routine. According to data from the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a total of 686 people were killed in Dang from Feb. 13, 1996, to Sept. 9, 2006. State forces killed 422 people: 312 males, 10 females and 100 people who could not be identified by gender. Similarly, the Maoists killed 264 people: 257 males and seven females.

Significant Massacres

The Khalyan Massacre[1]: The anger of the security forces following the Maoist attack on Ghorahi on Nov. 23, 2001, was directed towards poor Tharu farmers in the village of Bargaddi in Tribhuban Municipality–3. Alleging them to be Maoists, security forces killed 11 villagers who were working their landlord’s field in Khalyan. Those killed were Jagmaan Chaudhary, Sati Lal Chaudhary, Krishna Chaudhary, Aasha Ram Chaudhary, Chona Chaudhary, Khusi Ram Chaudhary, Chiju Chaudhary, Bishram Chaudhary, Laxman Chaudhary, Somlal Chaudhary and Prasad Chaudhary.

The Pendya Massacre[2]: Tharu farmers were celebrating the Pendya Festival on Dec. 9, 2001, in the Laxmipur Village Development Committee (VDC) as they have done every year after having taken in the annual harvest. Feasting throughout the day, they were dancing and singing that night. At some point, the army surrounded the house and shot and killed 11 innocent people. The security forces later justified their action by declaring the dead to have been Maoists who had allegedly broken the curfew.

The Kathberuwa Massacre: The villagers of Kathberuwa, Bela–2, were roofing their houses with hay on June 17, 2002, when an army search party arrested seven villagers. Two of them, Chatak Bahadur Chaudhary and Ganesh Chaudhary, were shot dead on the spot. The remaining five— Uday Ram Chaudhary, Hari Lal Chaudhary, Kedar Nath Chaudhary, Dhani Ram Chaudhary and Bhim Bahadur Chaudhary—were taken to the Musot River and brutally murdered.

The Rajakot Jungle Massacre: The villagers of Kauwaghari, Goltakuri–8, were on their way to a local forest in search of timber to make electricity poles on June 30, 2002. There were three groups consisting of both villagers and VDC representatives. On their way to the forest, the second group encountered security forces assigned to protect the Rajakot tower. The first group was ahead, and the third one was far behind them. The villagers, who were carrying axes, were accused of being Maoists and were arrested by the soldiers. To prove their innocence, the villagers gave their names, addresses and occupations and explained why they were visiting the forest. They begged to be believed but could not soften the soldiers’ hearts.

The soldiers ordered the villagers to strip, blindfolded them with their own clothes and then killed 12 of them right there. Those killed belonged to Sarki families. One of the group, Shobha Ram Nepali, was able to escape by jumping down the hill and was the only witness to the incident to survive. The bodies of the dead were never recovered. One of the dead was unmarried, one had married the same year and all others were married with children.

The Teej Festival Massacre[3]: On Sept. 8, 2002—roughly two months after the Rajakot jungle incident—another horrific episode occurred in the village of Baakhre, Phoolbari–4. As part of the Teej Festival, some villagers were sharing buffalo meat when the security forces, chasing the Maoists, arrived in the village. The Maoists escaped past the villagers, and the soldiers, alleging that the villagers were also with the Maoists, randomly fired on them, killing six people. Ram Kumar Nepali, Top Bahadur B. K., Manoj Nepali, Choodamani Shrestha, Dharam Nepali and Top Bahadur Nepali died on the spot. Punaram B. K. and Bhakta Bahadur Nepali were forced to dig graves for the six people who were killed, and the soldiers then beat these two men close to the point of death. Despite medical treatment, Puna Ram B. K. died in October 2003, and Bhakta Bahadur Nepali died the following month. A total of eight innocent people thus lost their lives in this incident.

Conclusion

Dang is one of the districts worst affected by the conflict. Its headquarters, Ghorahi, was brutally attacked by the Maoists on Nov. 23, 2001. Three days later the government declared an emergency in the country, which in Dang lasted for four years. The district remained consistently in the headlines of the national newspapers because of the brutal incidents occurring there. Dang is considered one of the principle territories of the Tharu community, and many Tharus were badly affected by the conflict. Dalits and other marginalized communities were also severely affected.

These simple people, who never knew the meaning of the emergency, became the targets of the guns of the security forces at festivals or in forests and for no reason. Even those who were simply thatching their roofs were brutally murdered. These innocent people, who were killed by the State, are still considered as Maoists by the government, which has made no effort to investigate and find the truth.

After the deaths of the male heads of the family, who were the breadwinners, women with a low economic status are now having trouble feeding their children. Unable to bear the pain of their husbands’ deaths, some women, like Radha Nepali, have committed suicide. On the other hand, some widows, such as Meghi B. K., are leading a social transformation. Moreover, there are women who were physically abused by security personnel when looking for their missing husbands. Doctors have failed to identify the disease that has afflicted such women as Sita Basnet who have lost their beloved ones. Doctors have advised them to laugh; but not having the medicine that could aid them to laugh, these women are living in a pool of tears. Meanwhile, women whose husbands were killed by the Maoists, like Sabitra K. C., are treated cruelly even by their own family. Although few women were killed during the conflict, they are the ones who are now most affected by it.

Notes
[1]. The Khalyan is a public threshing place where the entire village gets together and harvests their crops.
[2]. The Pendya is a festival which is celebrated, especially by the Tharu people, after the harvesting of rice.
[3]. The Teej Festival is a weekend-long Hindu festival in which women have to fast and pray to the god Mahadeve for a good husband and long life.