They are Madhesis, Not Morcha

(Editor’s Note: An edited version of this article originally appeared on MyRepublica with title, “Madhesi lives matter” on September 18. That article was about 1100 words and this original article is about 2300 words.)

Last week, when I called my sister in Nepal, she narrated the situation in Terai that has left me unsettled.
As she was describing to me about the daily protests and police chasing protesters, my three year old nephew blurted out in Maithili, “Police kehan pagaal hai”. This translates to “Police has gone mad”. I was shocked to hear my three year old nephew say those words against police, who symbolize power, safety and security. So, I inquired further. She described that two days before, as police chased a group of protesters, a teenager was caught and had been beaten mercilessly by three members of police. My nephew and her watched from the balcony of our two-storey house. One of the policemen of Madhesi origin repeatedly shouted for him to run away otherwise other policemen would beat him up but his bicycle was parked nearby and so, he hesitated. A mistake that cost him dearly. She told me further that a few members of police had entered one of our neighbor’s homes, drank water from the refrigerator and broke the fridge.

Bujhana is a milkman from my village who has been selling milk for longer than I have been alive. Like many in Terai, his son has left for Qatar, but he continues to sell milk. Every morning, he loads his bicycle with two 40L milk cans on each side and rides almost six kilometres to sell milk to his customers, one of whom is my sister. A few days ago, he was stopped by police, his milk cans were emptied on the streets, and he was assaulted for riding his bicycle in defiance of the curfew. Perhaps he did not know about the curfew or perhaps he could not sell 80L of milk in a small village. Perhaps he knew my three year old nephew was waiting for him or perhaps he was too greedy and wanted to make money by risking his life. I do not know.

While thousands of Madhesis are protesting on the streets, my sister and my nephew are among the several million Madhesis who have locked themselves inside their homes for more than a month now fearing police or a fleeing Morcha member might enter their homes.

She does not understand or care about politics but when police beat civilians as she watches helplessly and her milkman does not show up, she is forced to care. But she is a Madhesi, not a Morcha.

As the situation had worsened, the government deployed Nepal Army in my town. She told me that for the first time, she saw some strange vehicles. The Army was patrolling the streets in armored vehicles. They pointed guns at anyone who dared to poke their head from the safety of their homes even if it was to get a glimpse of the new toy in their town.

A few days before the Army was deployed, my cousin went into labor. She was rushed to the hospital despite curfew, the baby couldn’t wait. While she stayed there for a week, her brother woke up every morning at 4 am to make food and deliver it to her and returned home by 5 am because the curfew started at 6 am everyday. He has not participated in any protests either or violated any curfew. He is a Madhesi, not a Morcha.

The supply of milk, vegetables and other produce ran low during the strikes but it completely stopped after the curfews were imposed.

When my sister ran out of vegetables, she was forced to buy one kilogram of onions from a kind neighbor who had a reserve. The price of produce has doubled, consider yourself lucky if you still have access to it. She has a reserve of potatoes, thankfully. Not everyone is as fortunate as my sister, however.

Rickshaw Puller
A glimpse into lives of ordinary Madhesis. A rickshaw puller and a flute seller in Janakpur, outside Janaki Mandir. Photo by: Puru Shah

Ramkala’s husband rents a piece of our land where he stores twenty of his rickshaws. He rents these daily and earns an income. Perhaps they have a reserve too since he owns twenty rickshaws but I can not even imagine how the men who rent his rickshaws and earn perhaps Rs. 100 – 120 per day are feeding their family while prices of food items have doubled. Is he one of the Madhesis who was lured by Morcha? Perhaps. Hunger is a big driving force and can force the laziest of creatures to seek food. Humans are no different. Perhaps they could not see their children hungry or perhaps they were lured by 50 lakhs. I do not know. As it turns out, 50 lakhs reward was a myth perpetuated to undermine the uprising, this has been done basically during every Madhesi Andolan. So, it should not come as a surprise to those who can recall history.

Hifajat Miya is one of the Madhesis who was killed in Parsa district on August 31 by Nepal Police. He received a meagre sum of 15,000 rupees by a Madhesi political party to cover funeral expenses since his family was unable to do so. 15,000 is a lot less than 50 lakhs, I think.

Millions of Madhesis are mere bystanders to this unrest that has gripped Terai for more than a month. It started out with a few Morcha supporters calling for strikes and engaging in protests. The police attempted to silence them by executing the infamous ‘lathi charge’, this was the same tactics used in the protests that erupted in Surkhet and Jumla as well. After the situation exacerbated in Surkhet and three people died, the three ruling parties in Nepal added a state, announced 10 lakhs to every victim’s family and the protests ended. There was no dialogue or any discussion about boundaries, demands, past agreements or justification. The people of Karnali just did not want to live with those from Far Western region. It was not an issue of ethnicity, experts are still clueless about the cause.

The economists were surprised that State 6 which previously had about 10% share of national GDP was divided into state 6 and 7 with 3.6% and 6.3% of national GDP respectively. But it was a political decision so, economics and science were not taken into consideration, no one complained.

After this decision, political leaders representing Madhesis and Tharus became hopeful and intensified their agitation. Little did they know, they were going to get more ‘lathi charge’, bullets, derogatory remarks, accusations of being anti-nationalists, and undemocratic among others. The agitation started by Morcha supporters started gaining momentum after police beat civilians who were not part of the protests. In some cases, entire villages in Terai started supporting the agitation after innocent children and elderly died from the village. Take Bajrahi village in Jaleshwar for an example.

A 17 year old Rohan Chaudhary was killed by Nepal Police as he was returning home from a tuition class. The next day, Ganesh Chaudhary, his 80 year old grandfather was riding bicycle near a temple when he was also killed. Neither of them were killed during protests. In fact, Ganesh Chaudhary was a social worker and was awarded medal for honorary service from late King Birendra. He was a good man and a popular one in his village.

After these incidents, the entire village mourned. Did ordinary Madhesis who do not understand politics or care from that village join Morcha to torch the police stations? Perhaps. Do you blame them?

There are several incidents where innocent civilians in Terai have been killed but the media has not considered important to step out of Kathmandu to go there and investigate. It’s far too easy and Madhesi lives far less important to report that they were killed during ‘jhadap’ with police. Some non-Madhesis have had the decency to show concern after two children in Bhairahawa were killed in their homes after police fired bullets indiscriminately. Others sing the same rhyme, “Don’t send your children to the protests” without attempting to know the truth. Still worse, some accuse Morcha of using children’s death for political gains. Unfortunately, many in this camp are educated, some in foreign universities.

A glimpse into lives of Madhesis. A street vendor outside Ram Mandir in Janakpur. Photo by: Puru Shah
A glimpse into lives of Madhesis. A street vendor outside Ram Mandir in Janakpur. Photo by: Puru Shah

Many non-Madhesis argue that violent protests by Morcha is the root cause of the problem. Their rhyme is simple – end the violent protests and police killing will end. They point out police started killing protesters after the horrific murders of seven policemen in Tikapur and one in Jaleshwar. While these incidents are deplorable, that claim has little truth.

Tikapur incident occurred on August 25. Police killed three civilians on Aug 10 in Surkhet, one on Aug 18, four on Aug 20, and one each on Aug 22, Aug 23 and Aug 24. In other words, 11 unarmed civilians were killed before Tikapur happened. All except three were killed in Terai. Tikapur is not an isolated event or precursor of violence.

That is when the media paid attention, including international media. The killing of civilians, some armed and some unarmed, has continued. More than 21 people have died this month alone and only one of them was a policeman yet the media and misinformed Nepalis continue to use that incident to justify police brutality. Think about it.

The Supreme Court in Nepal issued an interim order on September 15 to not shoot civilians during protest since it violates Local Administration Act-2028, Clause (6), sub-clause (b) and the UN Human Rights document, “Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials”. Not to mention human decency and the Right to Life. On the day Supreme Court issued that interim order, four civilians were shot dead by Nepal Police in Bhairahwa. It is alleged that the police opened fire from a bridge towards a busy marketplace as the protesters fled.

The human rights organizations have documented several instances where police shot civilians in their back, while they were fleeing. In other words, protesters posed no threat and yet they were killed. Police have shot civilians in their head and chest while the laws dictate that they should be shot below their knees. But who cares about the law? The Nepali media applauds as the ruling parties busy themselves with writing a constitution that is dubbed inclusive and democratic.

The ruling parties, Nepali media and most non-Madhesis sing in unison, “But it is Morcha that does not want a dialogue”. Was there a dialogue when Nepal was divided from six into seven states? Was there any agreement? When three people died, it melted our hearts. I ask, “How is it that after more than 30 civilian deaths in Terai, we are still debating about who is not ready for dialogue?”

The sad part is that the government has not shown any compassion towards the families of those who have lost their loved ones. None of the leaders from ruling parties have visited family members to console them. As a matter of fact, while the families mourn and are in the midst of the 11-day funeral ritual, common in Hindu tradition, the government called for celebrations throughout the country for passing the constitution. It was an extremely insensitive act. If a state disregards some citizens, shows no compassion and chooses to treat its citizen differently, how will they feel equal?

The United Nations, human rights organizations, and foreign powers like India and USA have repeatedly expressed their concern about the violence in the South. They have expressed their desire to see an inclusive constitution that incorporates aspirations of most people, a prerequisite for long term peace and stability. But the Nepali media has interpreted those statements as congratulatory notes and the ruling parties have cared little because they command a two-thirds majority in the CA. Besides, why should a sovereign nation like Nepal care about foreign governments? The The fact is, every prime minister in Nepal seeks blessing from India before being elected and the next PM, KP Oli is no different. A day after the India sent its statement, he sent two high-ranking aides to Delhi to assure all is well. That unpatriotic move must have surely quashed our national pride.

The fact that millions of people from Terai elected members of NC and UML who later turned their backs on Madhesis means little when they now command a two-thirds majority. The fact that Morcha had won the first CA elections with a large number of votes and made significant gains means little when NC and UML are now in power and can violate past agreements. The media applauds that a constitution has been passed by 90% of CA members while half of the population is suppressed using Nepal Army and curfews. Even though 84.8% of CA members approved the constitution, the public polls on Nepalitimes, MadhesiYouth and other platforms show that almost 50% of people do not approve. It is all a number’s game.

A glimpse into lives of Madhesis. A street vendor near Janak Chowk in Janakpur. Photo by: Puru Shah

Morcha may care about proportional representation, how constituencies are determined, what districts are included in particular states and other details in the constitution, ordinary Madhesis do not. Millions of madhesis feel suppressed and ignored by leaders they elected even though the leaders were from the current ruling parties, not from Morcha. They feel cheated that a constitution is being passed that denies them equal citizenship rights. They feel threatened by police, armed police and Army who are meant to protect them. If a three year old thinks Nepal Police has gone mad, has it really?

Regardless, most people in Terai just want to live their life without any strikes, curfews or interference. Many of them care little and do not understand the details of this constitution. For them, UMDF, Tamalopa, Sadhwana, Morcha, Congress, UML are all the same. For them, when it comes to politics a Nepali saying, “Jun jogi aye ni kanai chireka” holds true. They do not understand federalism and care little about which districts get added or not. All of that is a political game and it continues to evolve. The demands of most Madhesis are no different than other Nepalis. They want to live with dignity, in a safe environment, free of discrimination, and be treated like an equal citizen. Bujhana is perfectly happy selling milk for the rest of his life and cares very little about protests or even curfews as it turns out. He just wants to earn a living, support his family, and live free of intimidation. He, like millions are just ordinary Madhesis, not Morcha.

Puru Shah
A Madhesi, Not a Morcha

Puru Shah

Puru Shah is the founder of Madhesi Youth. For Madhesi Youth, he primarily writes about human rights issues and articles with an emphasis on data analysis & data visualization. His goal is to promote justice, equality, sustainable development, and youth empowerment in Nepal. Connect with Puru Shah on Twitter (@digitalsubway)