We write this article in response to two consecutive articles  written by Ms. Sushma Joshi. We appreciate that she admitted to factual inaccuracies. Had she done the fact-check in her first op-ed, it would have saved her from this embarrassment. We also note her claim that despite all the factual-inaccuracies, her surmise of the HRW report still stands. As a rational person, with emerging new facts, we expect the theory to change to align with new facts. Realizing the time and space constraint, we’d try to be concise, because truth does not need to be verbose.
Ms. Joshi agrees that Mr. Rob Penner has been right in questioning the critics of HRW report, while alleges that the “army” of Mr. Rob considered him beyond criticism. She fails to elaborate who this “army” are and how they stop her from critiquing Mr. Penner. The very fact that there have been articles, including by herself, written in national dailies contradicts the claim. There have been slanderous articles against Mr. Penner in mainstream national daily where one particular writer accused him as Mr. Troll and a harasser, while maintaining a facile decency of not disclosing his name.
Ms. Joshi agrees that the report is well-researched but claims that it fails to address the provocation which might have triggered the violent response from the state. She attributes this provocation to the blockade led by Madhesi protesters. As per AHRC report, 36 civilians were killed before blockade. Hence, it can be inferred that the state was using excessive force even before the blockade. Next she claims that HRW failed to give proper space to the severity of the blockade. The HRW categorically mentions that the blockade has created severe shortage of daily commodities across country. Also, the report was published on 16th Oct, 2015 and the blockade continued till 5th Feb, 2016; its severity increased later. We can’t blame a report for not predicting the future, can we?
Ms. Joshi allegation that the report only exhaustively described the violence on protesters and ignores security officials, falls flat as the HRW had documented all 9 police officers killed, but documented only 16 out of 39 civilians killed by the time report was prepared.
Ms. Joshi portrays INSEC as one of the most active NGO in Madhesh. What amuses me is despite presence in multiple districts of Madhes, INSEC remained silent about HR violations in Madhes. Mr. Subodh Raj Pyakurel, an HR activist, who is associated to INSEC, even made bolder claim that Thaman BK, a policemen, who was dragged out of ambulance and murdered, was omitted from the HRW report.
Mr. Penner challenged Mr. Pyakurel on this fact and mentioned that there is a whole chapter on Thaman BK in HRW explaining the details of the gruesome murder. To this, Mr. Pyakurel publicly asked the government to investigate Mr. Penner and potentially deport him.
Later Mr. Penner was deported on a flimsy case, which is still in the Supreme Court. Ms. Joshi speaks highly of the credentials of Mr. Pyakurel as a HR defender, which is questionable when it comes to HR violations in Madhes.
Ms. Joshi downplays the systematic racial discrimination against Madhesis by saying that, “If such racial discrimination was the motive for state persecution, surely the state would have been doing that persistently and over a period of time (as in Sri Lanka or Palestine), not just in that specific timeframe?” The Madhesis are 32.2% of the population, their presence in Army and Police is merely 2%. Under King Mahendra’s Rapti Valley resettlement program, the Pahadi actively settled in Madhes and their population grew from 6% to 33% in Madhesh within a decade, which in essence is a form of internal colonization. We leave it to the readers to judge if these outcomes don’t point out to systematic discrimination.
Ms. Joshi alleges that Ms. Tejshree Thapa, the author of HRW-report, probably does not know about the ultimatums given to Pahadis to evacuate the Madhes, and made a bold claim of “ethnic cleansing” of Pahadis in Madhes few years back. This protest, in particular, did not show any sign of communal violence against Pahadis. In fact on August 24th, 2015, Mr. Shailendra Srivastav was attacked by a Pahadi mob in Rupandehi and except few other incidents of some Madheshi beaten in Kathmandu, there was no sign for communal violence from either side. The help provided from Madhesis to Pahadis after the earthquake exemplifies the bonhomie at people to people level. The very fact that the percentage of the population of Pahadis is still the same in Madhes, remains a testimony to the fact that no such alleged “ethnic cleansing” ever happened.
In her follow up article, after apologizing for being factually wrong, Ms. Joshi claimed that the major points of her previous article still stand. She alleges that the HRW report did not reflect all the historical complexities. The HRW report was only about the human rights violations in 2015; therefore, We don’t see the scope of this report to document history.
Ms. Joshi disputes the verbal abuse by the police as it has been historically abusive on all people, not just Madhesis. Does it not make Nepal Police look even worse? Was it a Freudian slip, we wonder? For Ms. Joshi, the police killing “appears” to be extrajudicial, with fleeing people shot in the back and despite admitting that there’s no evidence to corroborate that protesters were carrying burning sticks, she concludes that attack was done on the police. The OHCR reported 57 extrajudicial killings during 2007-08 by security forces. So far so now, not one single police official has been charged for any of the extra judicial killings. Police has history of such extra judicial killings.
Ms. Joshi condemns the violent protest, but fails to acknowledge non-violent movements like, “Manaw-Sangalo (human chain)” protest. A human chain was created throughout east-west of Nepal; hundreds of thousands of Madhesis joined hands to form it. This peaceful protest was largely ignored, and few ruling-elites ridiculed it. Prime Minister Mr. Oli commented that it is “Makhe-Sanglo”, which in essence was word play for “Housefly-chain” in Nepali language. When the establishment ignores and ridicules the peaceful protest, it essentially pushes the mass towards violent protest.
Ms. Joshi alleges that this report could probably create more conflict. Nowhere the report justifies or condones violence. It did break the categorical silence of media and some “active” HR organizations which irked the ruling-elites as their well-kept secret was exposed.
Lastly, we do agree to Ms. Joshi’s comment that, the Constitution is just one single document, a wide set of practices. And such an important document should be pacifying, not conflict inducing. In case of Nepal, the new constitution has given rise to conflict such that it has lost its existential value. And with all due respect, want to convey her, “No, Ma’am, the Human Rights Watch is not biased, maybe you are!”