Agitators participate in a protest rally in Lahan, Siraha on Friday.
LAHAN, March 11: On January 19, 2007, the East-West Highway was blocked in Lahan to pressurize the government to release Upendra Yadav, the then President of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, arrested for burning copy of interim constitution.
A team led by Krishna Bahadur Yadav had blocked the highway demanding Upendra’s release.
At around 1 pm, vehicles that carried Maoists leaders and cadres reached Peepal Chowk of Lahan for blocking the highway. Around 10 protestors on the spot including Krishna Bahadur stopped the vehicles. Inquisitive passerby started gathering behind them. Among these onlookers was a 15-year-old school boy, Ramesh Mahato. A resident of Majhaura village, Mahato was suddenly shot. Following heated dispute with other side, a Maoist cadre had taken out his pistol and opened fire. He collapsed on the spot.
As a commoner was killed, the incident took an ugly turn. The incident gained political color and protests flared all over Madhes pretty soon. ‘Madhes is burning’, Forum stated. Consequences were too bitter. Unrest in Madhes grew and culminated in the deaths of 52 people. Five of the deceased were from Lahan alone. Over ninety percent of those who were killed had nothing to do with politics. They were not active political party cadres.
On September 12, 2015, Madhesi Morcha announced strike in the region citing dissatisfaction over the constitution. Six days later, on Friday, September 18, police opened fire following scuffle with the Morcha protestors. Thought it was opened ‘as the mob was going uncontrollable’, victim of the incident was also not a political party cadre. The victim, Rajiv Rawat, was son of a peasant family. He was on his way to buy fertilizer but was shot on the chest and died on the spot. Another victim was Ram Krishna Rawat, 60. He was shot by security force in front of a Paan (betel leaves) shop. He died on the spot. The retired staff had no active affiliations with any political party.
Again on November 21, 2015, another civilian Birendra Ram was shot by security force in Bhardaha. He too was not a political party cadre. Altogether six people died in Mahottari. Other victims of this protest were Rohan Chaudhari, 15, and his grandfather Ganesh Chaudhari. Both were shot in different locations. Rohan was shot while he was returning from tuition class. His grandfather was shot by police when he was returning from market. Ram Shila Mandal, who also died during this phase of Madhes protest, however, turned out to be cadre of Rastriya Prajatantra Party. Or else, all the five others were not affiliated to any political parties.
The victims cited here from Siraha, Saptari and Mahottari are just representative cases. People, who were not actively engaged with any political parties, being killed during protest is common, if the casualties of Madhes protests over the years is analyzed. This has simply continued this time, too.
Those killed and injured by security force on Monday were all civilians. They had simply joined the mob while Madhesi Morcha was creating hurdles against the CPN-UML’s Mechi - Mahakali campaign. Security forces claimed that they were forced to open fire in order to keep the situation under control. The claim is however contended by locals. They say that security forces could have shot below waist line if it wanted to avoid casualties.
Whatever the arguments, it is apparent that most of the victims during protests are common people running their daily errands. And political parties don’t miss the opportunity to claim these victims as their cadre.
Rakesh Gupta, an intellectual from Siraha stated that killing of innocent under any pretext should be stopped. He stated that there are grievances of the people of Madhes but then commoners are not really ready to come down to street only to get gunned down. “They are not interested in making leaders of Madhes happy though they do want their voice to be heard. It is the state which should treat them with due seriousness and save their lives,” he said.