Madhes protests cost Saptari 11 lives in 19 months

March 30, 2017 08:22 AM Jitendra Kumar Jha

Residents, leaders and activist call for peaceful protests

SAPTARI, March 30: Rajiv Rawat of Bhardaha was a happily married man. He was a commoner who never had affiliation with any political party. On Tuesday, 18 August 2015, Rawat was shot down by security forces during a scuffle with Madhes movement protesters. He died on the spot. 

It was devastating news for the family. The government compensated the family with Rs one million. However, the compensation has not filled in the void created by his absence, said his widow. Apart from emotional and financial support from husband, social goodwill and acceptance is what Rawat’s wife Nilam misses since his death. 

“When your husband dies or leaves you, the society looks at you differently. Only a widow can understand the sorrow of a widow,” she lamented. “No matter how much documents, certificates, identity they provide, I am simply called a widow now. My children are looked as the ‘unfortunates’,” she added.  

When Rawat died in the movement, the country was preparing to promulgate the new constitution. Madhesi Morcha had protested against it stating that the constitution was not in favor of the people of Madhes. For six more months, Saptari remained the epicenter of the movement. Compared to other areas of Madhes, it saw more disturbances and bore more losses. While six persons lost lives during the protests, dozens were injured. Some of these were severely injured and are yet to recover.

Others who lost lives during the movement were Ram Kishan Rawat, Birendra Ram, Dilip Sah, Nageshwar Yadav and Shiva Shankar Mehta. None of these were political cadres. They were killed either while coming home from somewhere or watching the scuffle and most of them were peasants, labors or businesspersons. 

It was the third Madhesh movement, which has not settled yet. Since then, during several protests, 11 people have already lost lives. Ten of them were killed due to police firing. During CPN-UML’s Mechi-Mahakali campaign Sanjan Mehta was shot dead in similar scuffle earlier this month. Other five died, too. Many were injured. 

According to human rights activist Shambhu Nanda Chaudhari, real protestors know how to save themselves. They only create scene, provoke the security forces and run away. When the provoked security personnel open fire, it’s the onlookers who become their victims. “If we look at the series of such protests, it is only the passersby or onlookers who have been shot by the security forces. The protestors are clever and they know how to save themselves,” Chaudhari said. 

Families of the innocent people who lost lives during the movements are not happy with the state or the agitating political parties. They feel that they lost their family members for nothing. Even though the government provided them financial support, things cannot be fixed, say the families members.

“When a wife loses husband or children lose their parent, it cannot be compensated by money. So, saving lives must be the first priority,” said a civil society member, Badri Narayan Jha. “Saptari has lost so many lives so far and in the view of where and how the movement is heading, loss of precious life seems insignificant. I feel that Madhesi Morcha and the government need to change their attitude and spare the innocent people,” he stressed. 

Jha urged the government and agitating Madhesi parties to do some introspection and take wise steps to settle Madhes issues and tension through negotiations. He further shared that the people of Saptari have begun to feel that Saptari is paying high cost of the entire movement. Every time when agitations flare in Madhes, Saptari is paying high price. And the locals are fed up of this ‘meaningless price’ they are paying, Jha said.

“This opinion has been expressed several times by Saptari locals, basically youths. They are not convinced by the protests waged by Morcha or others. It does not mean they are happy with the government either,” he said. “They want the state to own the demands of Madhes and solve the issue. The sentiment of Madhesi people needs to be respected and addressed,” he added. 

Bikash Tiwari, a local level politician, called on political parties and the state to give priority for dialogue stating that late veteran leader Gajendra Narayan Singh whom he consideres as the father of Madhesh ideology, always urged for non-violent protests.

“Singh was a pathfinder and he seriously wanted the people of Madhes to get their rights. But these days political parties are exploiting people’s sentiment and pushing them into violence. It’s high time that we think of peaceful ways to press the state for fulfilling our demands,” he added.

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