Gangs of Tika­pur

There is still a strug­gle to come up with co­her­ent an­swers to the events of 2015 when a mas­sacre oc­curred in Tika­pur, Nepal. It will be some time be­fore the scat­tered pieces are put to­gether and the key ques­tions an­swered.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Faizan Us­mani

A mas­sacre that has no clues and may go down in his­tory as a tale of un­ac­counted for atroc­ity.

Lo­cated in Kailali district of western Nepal, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Tika­pur has every­thing to at­tract for­eign tourists. Sit­u­ated along the Beach of Kar­nali River, Tika­pur is known for its well-planned in­fra­struc­ture, banana har­vest­ing, beau­ti­ful beach re­sorts equipped with first-rate boat­ing and fish­ing fa­cil­i­ties, as well as lush green parks loaded with a va­ri­ety of flow­ers, shrubs and trees. Tika­pur Great Gar­den, com­monly known as Tika­pur Park, is one of the top tourist at­trac­tions in Nepal and nearly 100,000 vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional tourists, visit the gar­den ev­ery year.

Re­ferred to as the best mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the coun­try, how­ever, Tika­pur has a dark side too, which out­shines its grandeur and mars its scenic iden­tity. This per­tains to the con­tin­u­ous wave of fear and un­cer­tainty in the area af­ter clashes be­tween the Nepalese forces and the sup­port­ers of Tharuhat move­ment, de­mand­ing an au­ton­o­mous Tharuhat prov­ince in Nepal by shift­ing Kailali and Kan­chan­pur dis­tricts from the pro­posed State 5 to State 7.

As per the 2011 cen­sus, there are a to­tal of 125 castes and eth­nic groups in Nepal. Tharu is the fourth largest eth­nic group, con­sti­tut­ing about 6.6 per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Sup­port to Par­tic­i­pa­tory Con­sti­tu­tion Build­ing in Nepal (SPCBN) project, an ini­tia­tive of the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP), one of the key agen­das of Nepal’s stalled con­sti­tu­tion build­ing process is to re­struc­ture the coun­try into a fed­eral state, com­pris­ing a to­tal of five states, wherein the pro­posed State 5 in­cludes a

clus­ter of two eth­nic groups of the plain re­gion (Terai) and the Hills—Tharus and Ma­gars.

How­ever, both of these eth­nic groups are not in favour of liv­ing to­gether and are look­ing for a sep­a­rate state. The Tharus want a prov­ince con­sist­ing of Kan­chan­pur and Kailali dis­tricts, while the Ma­gars de­mand a Ma­garat state in­clud­ing other Hill dis­tricts, ac­cord­ing to Thakur Singh Tharu, a Nepali jour­nal­ist.

In San­skrit, the word ‘Tharu’ means ‘monk of the Bud­dha.’ The Tharus, there­fore, call them­selves as ‘the Bud­dha's peo­ple." Com­monly known as the peo­ple of the for­est, Tharu is the largest and old­est indige­nous eth­nic group that lives in the south­ern foothills of the Hi­malayas called Terai. The Tharu com­mu­nity is di­vided into many en­dog­a­mous sub-groups, such as Pur­baha Tharu, Dan­gaura Tharu, Kathoriya Tharu, Rau­tar Tharu, Rana Tharu, Aarkutwa or Chit­wa­nia Tharu, etc.

Be­cause of liv­ing in vil­lages along the jun­gles and due to hav­ing been iso­lated from the rest of the re­gion for sig­nif­i­cant pe­ri­ods of his­tory, Tharus have formed a dis­tinc­tive life­style and have de­vel­oped quite a unique cul­ture and cui­sine. They speak such Indo-Aryan lan­guages as Buksa Tharu, Chit­wa­nia Tharu, Dan­gaura Tharu, Kathoriya Tharu, Kochila Tharu, Rana Tharu and Sonha.

Through­out his­tory, the indige­nous Tharus have been in­vaded sev­eral times by other races, mostly by the Hindu Ra­jput kings from the Terai re­gion who at­tacked the well-set­tled Tharus to plun­der their re­sources and erode their in­flu­ence in the area, says Su­bodh Ku­mar Singh, a Nepali writer. He has also worked as a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at the Amer­i­can em­bassy in Kath­mandu.

Ac­cord­ing to Singh, Rana Shogun Jung Ba­hadur was the first prime min­is­ter of Nepal, be­long­ing to the Rana dy­nasty. In 1854, he pro­mul­gated the Na­tional Code of Nepal called ‘Mulki Ain,’ which cod­i­fied the indige­nous le­gal sys­tem of the coun­try and re­struc­tured the so­ci­ety into such dif­fer­ent castes as Ta­gad­hari (‘sa­cred thread wear­ing’ or ‘twice-born’), Matawali (‘liquor drink­ing’), Pani Nachalne Ch­hoiee Ch­hito Halnu Na­parne (‘untouchable, sprin­kling of holy wa­ter not re­quired for the pu­rifi­ca­tion of the body’) and Pan­i­nachalne Ch­hoiee Ch­hito Halnu Parne (‘untouchable, sprin­kling of holy wa­ter re­quired for the pu­rifi­ca­tion of the body’).

“Untouchable” castes were fur­ther sub­di­vided as ‘up­per’ and ‘lower’ castes, wherein the Tharus were placed next to the bot­tom (low­est touch­able, above un­touch­ables) of the so­cial hi­er­ar­chy, says Su­bodh Ku­mar Singh. Their low­est so­cial stand­ing led to sys­tem­atic sup­pres­sion by the state, which up­rooted them from their land and thrust them into other ar­eas, while the seized land was dis­trib­uted among gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and army gen­er­als.

In the 1950s, the then Nepalese gov­ern­ment launched a na­tion­wide cam­paign to erad­i­cate malaria in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO). “The move re­sulted in mass mi­gra­tion of peo­ple from north­ern Nepal and In­dia to claim the fer­tile land in the Terai re­gion, mak­ing many Tharus vir­tual slaves of the new landown­ers and de­vel­op­ing the in­fa­mous ka­maiya sys­tem of bond­ing gen­er­a­tions of Tharu fam­i­lies to labour more than 18 hours a day and that too with­out wages. Squashed be­tween the two, the marginal­i­sa­tion of the Tharus was com­plete," says Singh.

Gita Chaud­hary Tharu, the sec­re­tary of Tharuhat Tarai Demo­cratic Party, says over 400,000 Tharus live in Kailali and Kan­chan­pur dis­tricts, but these dis­tricts have been sep­a­rated from the Nawal­parasi-Bardiya prov­ince. She be­lieves it is a di­vide and rule strat­egy of the high-caste rulers, thrust­ing per­pet­ual slav­ery on the Tharus.

As per Gita, the Nepali state has been re­duced into a racist in­sti­tu­tion, which moves quickly to ful­fil the de­mands of the hill peo­ple. But on the other hand, it turns a deaf ear to the voices of the in­hab­i­tants of the plain re­gions called Terai. “The state has al­ways used force to sup­press the Terai dwellers. The use of force can be ef­fec­tive in quelling protests, but not in build­ing a na­tion,” says Gita.

Over the pe­riod, the con­tin­u­ous marginal­i­sa­tion and so­cial ex­clu­sion of the Tharus gave rise to the Tharuhat Move­ment, a po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal move­ment that seeks to have a sep­a­rate, au­ton­o­mous prov­ince in Nepal re­served for the indige­nous Tharus, the Bud­dha's peo­ple who have been left land­less in the land of Bud­dha.

Tika­pur, a Tharu ma­jor­ity area in Kailali district of western Nepal, came into in­ter­na­tional lime­light in Au­gust 2015 when a vi­o­lent mob al­legedly com­pris­ing indige­nous Tharus, at­tacked a po­lice con­voy pa­trolling the area and lynched eight po­lice­men on the spot. A two-year-old child was also killed on that oc­ca­sion, which led to wide­spread vi­o­lence across the coun­try. A mas­sive crack­down against the at­tack­ers was im­me­di­ately launched by the po­lice that ar­rested some 11 Tharu in­di­vid­u­als in con­nec­tion with the mas­sacre.

To in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter, the State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee of the Par­lia­ment formed a probe panel that, af­ter one and a half years, has sub­mit­ted its re­port, find­ing four politi­cians guilty of in­cit­ing Tharu ac­tivists to vi­o­lence in the Tika­pur lynch­ing.

On Au­gust 25, 2015, as per the re­port, the Tharuhat Strug­gle Com­mit­tee ( TSC) or­gan­ised a mass rally in sup­port of an au­ton­o­mous Tharuhat state in Nepal. Ad­dress­ing the protest demon­stra­tion, Fed­eral So­cial Fo­rum Nepal ( FSFN) Chair Upen­dra Ya­dav, Nepali Congress' Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment ( MP) Am­resh Ku­mar Singh, Maoist leader Deb Gu­rung and Sadb­havna Party Chair Ra­jen­dra Ma­hato, de­liv­ered in­flam­ma­tory speeches against the pro­posed 5-state fed­eral struc­ture.

The re­port says the Tika­pur lynch­ing was a re­sult of in­flam­ma­tory speeches by these four lead­ers who in­cited lo­cal Tharus to drive out hill set­tlers from their land. The panel also dis­cov­ered that demon­stra­tors were paid Rs 1,000 each to join the protest rally, while those who did not show up on the oc­ca­sion were or­dered to pay a fine of Rs 500 per house­hold.

A week ear­lier, some Mad­hesi politi­cians had al­ready promised to Tharu com­mu­nity mem­bers that if any demon­stra­tors were killed dur­ing the anti-gov­ern­ment protests, their fam­i­lies would be paid five mil­lion ru­pees each, as well as pro­vided free ed­u­ca­tion and jobs for their chil­dren. The of­fer also con­trib­uted to the Tika­pur vi­o­lence, says the re­port. Though it pro­poses se­vere pun­ish­ment to the main cul­prits, the re­port does not sug­gest any longterm so­lu­tion to ad­dress the Tharus’ con­cerns.

Through­out his­tory, the indige­nous Tharus have been in­vaded sev­eral times by other races.

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