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.
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.