Terai Deaths a Blot on New Constitution
Terai police killed four innocent citizens in Bethari, Bhairahawa town, in Nepal’s Rupandehi District.
The incident took place on 15 September, a market day. The police, who were probably escorting trucks, had been attacked by stone-throwing protesters, near the Tinau bridge, on the East-West Highway, about 500 metres from the local market.
Local citizens visit the local market below the Tinau Bridge, to sell and buy consumer items.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reports that the police were travelling in vehicles around 5 p.m. in the afternoon, when 30-40 protestors apparently tried to stop them. Some of the protestors started throwing stones at the vehicles. The police then fired tear gas canisters and the protestors ran away, in multiple directions. Immediately after firing the gas canisters, witnesses said the police immediately started firing live ammunition. Some of the firing by police from the bridge was towards the local market, 500 metres below.
Two of those killed were Pahades (of hill origin). The dead included a 4 year old boy, a 12 year old girl, a 28 year old man and a 35 year old man. None of the dead were protestors. 40 others were injured in the violence.
The AHRC reports they were unable to confirm numbers or to determine the condition of most of the injured, due to curfews enforced by police.
Witnesses also said that as well as firing guns towards the Market, police also fired at local houses. Bullets pierced the walls of several houses.
The Asian Human Rights Commission report said:
All four victims who died received bullet injuries above the knee. A four-year-old, Chandan Patel, was struck on his head and died on the way to hospital. A 35-year-old, Binod Lacaul, was also hit on the head; the right part of his head was blown off. A 12-year-old Ranjana Kshetri, making tea inside her house, was shot when a bullet entered through a window. And 28-year-old Raj Kumar Barai was shot buying groceries at the market.
This is not the first time the AHRC has reported police killings in the Terai.
Bethari is an industrial area between Lumbini and Bhairahawa near the airport, explaining the presence of the trucks and the police escort.
The dead four-year-old boy, Chandan Patel was at the market with his mother and had nothing to do with the protests.
Four of the injured were treated at Universal Medical College, Bhairahawa. They were reported to be Nandini Pandey, 40, Purnabati Dhobi, 60, Saugati Murau, 50, and Dipendra Sahani, 25. Pandey received bullet injuries in her left thigh and Dhobi in her left shoulder. Murau and Sahani received bullet injuries in their eyes and left thighs.
Ironically, also on the 15th, Nepal’s Supreme Court issued a stay order banning the use of lethal force to control mobs, because it breaches the Local Administration Act, 1971.
AHRC reports that over the past three weeks, Rupandehi District has had the highest number of killings in the Terai. Of the eight people killed in the District, four were killed in police firing and four were killed by the group that retaliated against earlier protests by the Madhesi front. Locals say these people were killed by plainclothes police, but that has not been proven.
AHRC also says the Bethari killings have weakened the confidence of the local people, particularly Madhesis and Tharus. From their point of view, the police killings are communal attacks. Madhesis believe that security personnel can kill with impunity, and because one community controls all the State organs, they believe there will never be justice for victims’ families.
Nobody believes the State is serious about solving any of the ongoing issues in Terai. The Nepali State has killed Tharus and Madhesis, and without showing any signs they are serious about those killed or injured, the state has now called for dialogue.
The state is preoccupied with celebrating the completion of their Constitution, and its promulgation, set for September 20, as though that will solve all their problems. The Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, appears to be much more interested in attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next week, so he can share the new Constitution.
AHRC says “Without addressing these kinds of killings, and the political grievances that are behind them, the national celebration with a declaration of public holiday, will further humiliate these communities in the Terai as losers. And, this might further escalate violence in Nepal’s Terai.”
AHRC says the UN General Assembly should be more interested in the issue of violent killings in Nepal, than with the new constitution. There are around 50 identified and many hidden deaths of Madhesis and Tharus, including police officers. The Prime Minister should be pressed to furnish an accounting for these killings.
In the case of the incident at Bethari, responsibility for the killings and injuries to innocent citizens inside their own houses and in the open markets lies with the State and therefore with the Prime Minister.