Senseless violence in the land of Buddha’s birth
–ARUNA UPRETY in KAPILBASTU
It is difficult to believe that this is the district where Lord Buddha was born. The people of Shivapur village look dazed as they walk in the ashes of their burnt-out buildings. Two weeks after the arson and pogroms, they are still too shocked to speak. They are Muslim and Hindu families, they are madhesi and pahadi women all walking around like they’re in a dream.
“They came in buses with knives,” recalled one woman, “they just went house to house selecting what to burn. Our sons sent us money from Saudi Arabia, and we’d bought trucks, they burnt all of them. Nearly 50 houses were burnt in this village alone.”
“Since this happened, not a single person from the VDC or the CDO has come to see,” said one elderly man who is living in a shelter and being taken care of by neighbours.
When a group of human rights activists drove into the village, they were the first outsiders there in ten days. The villagers surrounded the visitors hoping they’d brought food and other help. Because it is Ramadan, most villagers here were fasting, but there is not much to eat in the evenings when they break their fasts.
“As soon as we heard that Moid Khan had been killed, we expected looting and we sent word to the CDO, but no one came to help,” said a villager from another community. “Just look around, you see the result.”
Hundreds of refugees were spending their second week in a local shelter. Many were sick with infections. A pregnant woman was going into labour. As a doctor, I was asked to help, but after examining her I could tell that the baby was dead. It was now important to save the mother and she needed immediate medical evacuation. With help from the ICRC and UNFPA we got her out to Butwal. But there are hundreds more who also need medical attention and food.
Because the people in Kathmandu and the district capital have been so slow to react, local civil society and activists from all communities have united to provide food and take care of the displaced with the little they have.
At Chandrauta, the epicentre of the organised arson and looting, there was no one on the road because of the curfew. Some policemen were walking around aimlessly. Although the media for the most part had restrained coverage, there were some reports of irresponsible reporting by local FM stations of mosques being burnt which was not actually the case.
From everyone we heard the same lament: “this wouldn’t have happened if the government had acted on time.” “We were the first to be hit,” said one trader. “They just looted everything from our shops and set them on fire. The police were nearby but they did nothing.” They recognized some local hooligans among the crowds, but most were new faces.
A local health worker had a small pharmacy, it was looted and the house set on fire. “I don’t know why they did it,” said the 26-year-old owner, who like many we spoke to did not want to be identified. Many of the 18,000 refugees are now living on the Indian side of the border waiting for the situation to stabilize. The people there were mostly Muslim and their pain was the same as the displaced people on the Nepal side.
“We had to leave Nepal in a hurry, our trucks were burnt, our shops were looted and we know the people who did it,” said one refugee, who has taken shelter with his family in a local college. He added: “This is done deliberately to destroy harmony in Nepali society. The government should find the culprits and punish them.”
Local Indian politicians have visited the refugees, who are seething with anger that the administration in Nepal stood by as the riots spread. “We will go back only after we get assurances of security from the government,” said one Nepali.
Sad and shocking as the violence was, what gives us hope is that Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, pahadis and madhesis are working together to help each other. They all blame motivated forces who tried to use the violence for political ends. Identifying these forces clearly and punishing them will be very important not to allow a repetition of the riots.
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