By Chirendra Satyal
Agitating groups in western Nepal that oppose the idea of dividing the region into ethnic-based states have been called by the government for talks after paralyzing the western region for 14 days without respite.
The 12 groups cut off electricity in much of the region on Thursday. “Our mobile medical van cannot move, we were told to close all our offices, our school is closed because of the bandh [strike],” said Sister Rosita Kavilpuraidom from the western town of Surkhet. “Everything is shut down here.”
Some people were injured as scuffles broke out Thursday, according to Norbert D’Souza, the local parish priest in Pokhara. He said the town has shut down.
Protests around the nation over how to divide the country’s administration and ethnic rights are heating up ahead of the May 27 deadline for the drafting of a new constitution.
“Either way, the government cannot declare anything before the 27th,” said Rabindra Khana, professor of political science at Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan University. “It is starting to look like ethnic and indigenous groups backed by Maoists and Madhesi, and even Muslims, may gain the two-thirds majority needed in the constitutional assembly.”
A nationwide strike by the upper-caste Brahmin-Chettri organization entered its second day on Friday. Both upper castes and dalits (untouchables) have demanded to be included as ethnic tribes. In Kathmandu, almost a hundred people were arrested on Thursday, and at least 10 vehicles that tried to defy the strike were vandalized.
“The feeling of caste and ethnicity runs very deep in Nepal, so we have got groups causing vehicular strikes on different days demanding their own states or opposing the idea,” said Jesuit Father Amal Raj in the eastern town of Damak. “Our work with Bhutanese refugees goes on in the camps here, but Suryodaya School remains shut.”
Rights groups and the United Nations have issued circulars expressing concern over supply of medicines, food and vital supplies. It is now difficult to get medical aid or reach the few hospitals of Nepal.
Ongoing strikes have also caused a shortage in the supply of petrol, diesel, cooking gas, and even drinking water around the country.