By Ajit Kumar Singh
At least one person was killed and 42 others were injured in three separate incidents of explosions in moving passenger buses on three consecutive days from March 25 to 27, 2011 in the Terai region of Nepal. An Improvised Explosive Device exploded in a moving microbus near Milanchowk in the Butwal area of Rupandehi District on March 27, injuring at least 23. One of wounded later succumbed to injuries in the morning of March 28. In a similar blast, on March 26, seven persons were injured in the Nepalgunj area of Banke District. No group claimed responsibility for these two blasts.
However, another explosion injured 13 passengers near Bhediyachowk in Rautahat District on March 25, and was claimed by the Terai Janatantrik Mukti Party (TJMP). The group’s leader, Abhay Singh, stated that the bus was bombed for defying a bandha (shut down) called by his party on February 23. On the same day, another explosion was carried out by the Madhesh Mukti Sangram (MMS) at the Women’s Development Office in the Gaur area of the District. No casualties were reported in this incident.
Concerned by these blasts, Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), on March 28, urged all concerned parties to abstain from violence. In a press statement MoHA spokesperson Jaya Mukunda Khanal urged the concerned parties to stop terrorizing the people by exploding bombs at public places and on public transport.
In addition to the series of explosions, an attempt was made on the life of Balwa Village Defense Committee secretary, Shiva Ram Pandey, as he was shot at by unidentified assailants in Mahottari District on March 28. He escaped unhurt.
Moreover, Security Forces (SFs) foiled a number of other attacks too. On March 29, the Nepal Army bomb disposal squad defused a pressure cooker bomb planted at the City Police Office in the Traffic Chowk area of Biratnagar in Morang District. Brochures of the Janatantrik Madhesh Mukti Tigers (JMMT) were found from the incident site. Another, bomb was found near the Biratnagar City Police Office on April 1. Further, the Kalaiya District Police arrested Dev Narayan Paswan of Sihowa in Bara District, along with a pistol, bullets, two bombs and a rifle, from his house. They also recovered a ‘donation pad’ of the Tarai Utthan Krantikari.
Meanwhile, three cadres of different armed underground outfits operating in the Terai were killed in separate incidents in the border areas on March 31. Those killed were identified as Chhotelal Patel of JMMT, Shekhar Singh of the Samyukta Janatantrik Mukti Morcha (SJMM) and Prabhu Thakur of Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM). Warning of retaliation, Avay Singh, the Bhojpur District in-charge of the JTMM, declared, “Nepal Police is behind Ranabir’s murder.”
The simmering violence in the Terai is worrying Kathmandu. Describing the present upsurge, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, on April 1, observed, “The ongoing activities of violence taking place in the Terai region are intended to make the Government a failure… The forces that are against the timely (framing of the) Constitution in the country are engaged in waging violence.” He, however, stressed that all problems would be resolved with the drafting of the new Constitution.
Meanwhile, a report published by the Democratic Freedom and Human Rights Institute on March 25 stated that the state and various armed groups were competing to perpetrate extra-judicial killings in the Terai. The report, “The Series of Extra-judicial Killings in Terai”, claimed that the state was involved in 133 extra-judicial killings, while armed groups were involved in 128 cases during the 2007-2010 period. Among the various armed outfits in the Terai responsible for such killings, the Jwala Singh faction of the JTMM (JTMM-J) topped the list with 28 murders, followed by the Madhesh Mukti Tigers (MMT), which had killed 12 persons. On the basis of geography, Dhanusha District saw the largest number of extra-judicial killing (31 cases) followed by Saptari, Bara, Parsa, Siraha, Rautahat, Banke, Rupandehi, Dang and Kapilvastu. According to the partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, a total of 354 persons including 144 civilians, 84 Security Force (SF) personnel and 126 terrorists were killed in the region through 2006-2011 (data till April 2, 2011). During this period overall fatalities in Nepal stood at 754.
Fatalities in Terai: 2006-2011
*Data till April 3, 2011
Nepal is divided into three regions: the Himalayan, Hilly and Terai regions. The Terai is located along Nepal’s the Southern border with India, and the name is used interchangeably with Madhesh, and its people are described as Madheshis or Madheshyas. 23 per cent of Nepal’s total land area of 147, 181 square kilometers and approximately 30 to 40 percent of the population falls within this region. Out of the country’s 75 Districts, 20 are located in the Terai, including, from east to west, Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara, Parsa, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi, Kapilvastu, Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kalaiya and Kanchanpur.
Violence in the Terai escalated after the Government of Nepal signed a peace agreement with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist in 2006 to end a 10 year civil war. Groups targeting both the State and the Maoists, polarizing citizens along ethnic issues largely unaddressed during the civil war, pushed the region towards mayhem. Though they represent a large portion of the Nepali population, the Madheshis lack proportional representation in Government and have long experienced discrimination by Kathmandu as well as the dominant ethnic groups in Nepal. The failure to address these issues is claimed as the justification of violence by the armed Madheshi groups.
In 2007, the three largest Madheshi political formations, the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Terai Madhesh Loktrantrik Party (TMLP) and Sadbhavana Party (SP), joined forces to create a coalition called the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF). With the stated goal of transforming the Terai into a single autonomous province, Madhesh, the UDMF has sought to reconstruct the identity of the people living in the Terai against those outside of it. They have succeeded exacerbating ethnic divisions and violence at the grassroots level.
The Madheshi struggle for autonomy is, however, deeply divided. The moderates, who primarily demand an autonomous Terai region within a Federal Nepal, include the MJF, Nepal Sadbhavana Party-Rajendra Mahato (NSP-RM) and Terai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP). Notably, on November 16, 2007, MJF chairman, Upendra Yadav, explicitly declared that the forum was against the demand for a separate Madheshi state: “We oppose the concept of a separate Madhesh. What we want is an autonomous Terai within a federal Nepal.”
In a positive development, the Central Committee meeting of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal on March 29, 2011, decided to join the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML)-led Government under the leadership of Chairman Upendra Yadav. However, on April 1, senior CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal reportedly told the CPN-UML standing committee that the five-member talks team formed to convince the Nepali Congress and Madhesh-based parties to join the Jhala Nath Khanal-led Government had failed in its mission.
However, 30 radical groups – who seek an independent Terai – continue to engage in an armed campaign. The most prominent among these are the JTMM-J, Madhesh Mukti Tigers, JTMM-Rajan), JTMM, Madhesh Rashtriya Janatantrik Party (Krantikari) and Terai Mukti Morcha.
Moreover, criminal activities, particularly extortion and abduction, have become the order of the day. Armed groups and criminal gangs abduct children for ransom, and have, in many cases, murdered them. At least 28 children were abducted in the Terai region during 2010, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) survey based on English-language media, with nine of them killed and two girls raped by their kidnappers. The HRW said the evidence pointed to much broader criminal activity across Terai. “These armed groups are willing to risk children’s lives to extort money from poor shopkeepers, farmers, and teachers,” said Bede Sheppard, senior children’s rights researcher at HRW. Another July 2010 report said that armed groups are engaged in murder, abduction, explosions, robbery and forceful collection of ‘donations’. The prominent groups engaged in such activities include the Terai Tigers, Madhes Terai Force, Janatantrik Terai Mukti Mahasangram, and Terai Tufan Yuva Group, among others. These groups issue threats to the general public, industrialists, businessmen and employees, both of the Government and the private sector. In the wake of repeated threats by underground outfits, secretaries of all 84 Village Development Committees (VDCs) in the Rautahat District had resigned en masse on July 6, 2010. On March 21, 2011, secretaries of all the VDCs in Sunsari District resigned, citing extortion and rising security threats as the reason. The VDC secretaries were receiving death threats from several underground groups.
As the security apparatus in the Terai flounders, the Government has invited all “armed political outfits” active in the country to the negotiating table. However, Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, Barshaman Pun, on March 29, stressed that the Government would hold talks only with the armed outfits of a political nature and not with those involved in criminal activities, a distinction that appears far from tenable in the confusion of the Terai violence.
Unless a majority of the armed groups can be brought to the negotiating table, any alternative scenario of a dialogue with the few who are willing, would have little impact on the prospects of peace in the region. Moreover, a strong and stable Government in Kathmandu, willing to provide proper representation of the Madhesh people, will have to prevail long before the Terai can be restored to tranquility.
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
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