Muslims displaced from Riot Areas
Muslims displaced from Riot Areas
— By Kashish
September 21, 2007: Ramadan, one of the most important months in the Islamic calendar, is being observed between 13 September and 12 October this year. However, ethnic riots today have forced local authorities to temporarily evacuate the entire Muslim community of Tulsipur, Dang, and relocate them in nearby security forces’ camps. The measure was taken after riots targeted at the community flared in this western district yesterday, when several Muslim-owned shops were looted and their homes vandalized. One was even burnt down, and was still smoldering late this evening.“Tulsipur has never had any ethnic or religious tension in my memory,” a long-time resident said, requesting anonymity, “But most of these rioters seem to be from nearby villages, and not our bazaar, and maybe even YCL (Young Communist League) members.”
An indefinite curfew in the area has been imposed since late afternoon yesterday. However, a mob of young men defied it this morning and attempted to burn down the local mosque, forcing security forces to blank-fire and disperse the mob. Yesterday a similar mob dragged a man through the bazaar and left him there after he fell unconscious.
The cause of the riot has been understood as a ripple effect of the assassination of Mohit Khan, an influential Muslim member of the community in Kapilvastu, on Sunday. During his years as an armed leader of an anti-Maoist resistance group, Khan’s younger brother was killed in an attack on his home by the Maoists. The assassination prompted immediate rampages in Kapilvastu and neighboring Butwal on the same day, resulting in deaths of civilians as well as an Armed Police Force officer. The National Human Rights Commission reported that 119 homes were burnt down and about a total of 500 homes vandalized.
Khan had recently been associated with the Madheshi Democratic Forum, and it has been reported that many rioters and instigators came from the Indian side of the border town.
While Nepalgunj, a predominantly Muslim town, has yet to feel consequences of incidents in Kapilvastu and Dang, “the Muslim community is already very edgy,” a local human rights officer said.
This isn’t the first major ethnic riot associated with the Nepali Muslim community in recent years. On 1 September ‘04, Kathmandu experienced violent attacks against its Muslims from early morning because news had arrived the day before that 11 Nepalis had been killed in Iraq by a radical Islamist group. By late morning, Nepalgunj had been brought to a stand still too and the situation remained tense in most of Nepal’s urban centers in the Terai, where the Muslim community makes for a large demography. Curfew had been imposed in Kathmandu and several other volatile regions.
Today, Home Minister Krishna Sitalua has hinted that there are certain groups inciting the unrest for their vested interest. On the other hand, the CPN- Maoists, of which the YCL is a sister organization, has blamed the local authorities for letting the riots get out of hand and blamed “regressive” forces for the unrest.
During a mass meeting in Khula Manch on Tuesday, the radical Communist party declared that they had left the government and was starting another people’s uprising. The government’s inability to agree to their demands, including declaring a republic Nepal before the elections, was cited as the reason.
“The next three weeks is a trailer and then after that you’ll see the full film,” Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the senior party leader declared. The ‘trailer’ includes street agitation, disruption of activities by the government and the electoral commission and a public relations campaign amongst other ideas. They have also vowed to disrupt the planned Constitutional Assembly election planned for November 22.
While locals confirm the participation of YCL cadres in the Tulsipur riots yesterday, their party cadres in Kathmandu were involved in an incident of their own. Taxi drivers in the city had staged a protest against the government’s inability to supply fuel, which has, for the last three months, forced all vehicle owners to wait in line for more than twelve hours to get a limited supply. Though the protesters largely consist of genuine taxi drivers, it is common knowledge that many YCL cadres have now taken up the profession in the city
Police officers move damaged taxis.
Several of them were present at one such street-blocking protest outside the Pulchowk Engineering Campus, where a student was assaulted by a taxi driver. Within seconds, a mass of such drivers were hurling bottles and bricks into the campus. The students inside, who have been historically affiliated with non-Maoist political parties, if any, retaliated with an experienced ease. By the end of the hour-long showdown, five taxis were severely damaged though no injury was reported. “We have called for more party workers,” a YCL cadre had declared early on. “If you are not going to go in then let us go inside and take care of those students,” his colleague later yelled at a police officer trying to diffuse the situation. The police had convinced the students to stop pelting rocks by this time despite the initial obstinacy. The college was, in fact, distributing admission forms, so many would-be students were in the premises during the clash.
Students stay on guard, prepared to re-engage if needed
Back in western Nepal, it is not yet clear when the Muslim residents of Tulsipur can go back home from the camp. The National Human Rights Commission estimates that about 3,000 people have been displaced from Kapilvastu alone. And now, transportation company owners and drivers have threatened a general strike in the region if they are not compensated for the damages done to their vehicles during and since Sunday.
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