Monday, August 31, 2015

Violence in Kailali: Beyond the Protest

Photo Cred: Vice News

On August 24, Nepal was introduced to Kailali- a district in the Western region— far, in many ways, from Kathmandu, her people, pop-culture, and the policy makers of the country.

News media reported the death of seven police officers. Thousands of demonstrators clashed with security forces and a curfew was imposed. The incident received massive coverage, especially because of its very violent outcome.

A senior police officer was stabbed to death and another burned alive.

Immediately, social media sites and blogs were filled with posts condemning the event. Some were certain that the riots were inflicted by external agents. Others claimed that ideas of identity politics are parts of a conspiracy to divide and weaken Nepal. And there was a widely-circulated piece in the Huffington Post declaring that the protest was an act of terrorism.

Since August 24th, folks in Kathmandu and abroad who live far away from Kailali have suddenly become experts on people and politics of that region.

There are those in complete disbelief that such a brutal outburst has taken place in Nepal, and right after the tragedies surrounding the April earthquake. Posts confused at the anger of protestors and their cause troubled the Nepalis who question the “current” disturbance of unity in Nepal.

This sentiment is an example of the dominance of disconnect that exists between the upper caste, higher class, cosmopolitan-Kathmandu Nepal and the Nepal that is less privileged in those terms. Denying or dismissing the dissatisfaction of the people living in Kailali and wondering why anyone would resort to rioting demonstrates a lack of awareness of the geographical, historical and political context of this protest.

Kailaliis not Kathmandu. It is a district with the highest concentration of Kamaiyas (bonded laborers). The majority of them are Tharus who are indigenous to the south of Nepal yet have the least ownership of land, property and power there. Often children of Tharu Kamaiyas are sold into indentured servitude. Fifteen years post legal prohibition, this tradition continues largely due to a lack of proper compensation by the government for the families to re-start their lives.

Kailali is also a district that was hit by the Maoist conflict on an immense scale. It lost a tragic number of people to the conflict and continues to have unsolved reports of children who went missing during that period.

Kailali, like many other districts in centralized Nepal, has been deprived of schools, health centers, employment opportunities, security and government assistance easily granted to most of Kathmandu.

I am not sure who was fighting on the streets that day. Of the thousands of angry men, women, and children, I don’t know how many were outsiders paid to protest and who among them were the “real Tharus.” But given the violence forced upon this place and its people, I am not surprised at the rage that escalated to the incident on August 24.

The second most popular response to the Kailali conflict seems to be outcries of nationalism; The “We are all Nepalis” flag that is flown high with pride every time a minority community speaks up against their oppression.

Nepal needs unity. There is no doubt or alternative to that. But this unity should not be at the expense of those who currently are and have been historically marginalized by the state and its policies.

This nationalist uproar for unity reminds me of the “All lives matter” Americans who seem to care about racial equality only when black folks are literally fighting for their lives.

Nepal’s progress depends on peace among its citizens. That harmony is attainable only with equity among all Nepalis living across the country. When we expect silence from minorities in the name of patriotism, we are perpetuating the state violence that these groups are already living with. Especially with the new constitution’s failure to implement justice for those who have been oppressed since the creation of this country.

The author of the Huffington Post piece demands serious action against those who were responsible for the death of those police officers.
“I worry: doesn't ignoring terrorism have serious consequences? Would it not encourage other attacks? If we turn a blind eye to labelling what is right and wrong -- of course it's not always black and white -- aren't we allowing and often giving a green light to such acts of terror? Doesn't it strain the country's moral fibre?”
The irony of educated, progressive, liberal Nepalis using rhetoric resembling the right- wing of the United States did not stop with this author. Rhetoric questioning the nationality of Tharus has surfaced everywhere. There have also been reports of death threats, physical attacks, etc. to many from that community as well as those speaking on behalf of them.

Part of me understands that these sentiments come from a place of grief. The police officers who were murdered in Kaliali represent the Nepalis in blue uniform who risked their own lives and families to rescue our people during the devastating earthquake just a few months ago. These women and men work for the state but represent the working class and, also usually, the oppressed communities of Nepali society. Their loss was wrong, and tragic.

But what I am emphasizing here is the possibility of mourning their death and condemning those responsible without dehumanizing the protestors and dismissing their fight for justice.

The above mentioned author’s biggest concern seems to be her perceived lack of strict repercussion against the protestors. According to reports, a curfew was imposed right after the clash and the national army deployed to the area with an order to shoot anyone violating the curfew on sight. Also, along with the police officers, four Tharus, including a child, also lost their lives. Yet, the author is troubled about semantics.

I am not an expert on the politics and people of Kaliali. After all, I am also from Kathmandu, currently abroad, and far away from the realities of Nepal outside the valley and academic discourses. But I am a concerned citizen. And I am troubled by violence. Not just the kind that manifests in protests such as the one on August 24, but also the violence that causes such rage.

We cannot prevent national tragedies by criminalizing protests. Demonstrations are sometimes a response to nation-sanctioned violence, a larger tragedy that should be criminalized.

The said author ends her piece with a definition of terrorism.

“The use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political goals.”

I agree. So let us not forget the violence and intimidation that is directed toward Nepalis in pursuit of political goals in the interest of social and economic privileges of other Nepalis.

Written by: Neha Rayamajhi


  1. Very heartfelt and (i feel) true assessment of the tragic event that unfolded in Kaliali. But the fact is, the country doesn't have the resources to support the current lifestyle of we (the concerned citizen) unless some part of the population is marginalized. #lifewithouthotshower

  2. Then I guess it is about time that we evolved from being just a "concerned citizen" to a more conscious citizen. We should not need that lifestyle, if it comes at an expense of all that is forced onto some Nepalis. #lifewithoutliberation > #lifewithhotshower

  3. Hi Neha, Thank you for writing an unbiased article. Most of the articles that I have read in several leading newspaper in Nepal show only one side of the story and are biased.

    I would love to read more such articles from you. If you could cover the incident of Birjung where 4 protestors killed by police and also that police fired in hospital zone, that would be great! Hardly any media has covered it.

    Keep up the good work. Glad to see good journalism still exists.

  4. I can really relate to the writer’s point of view. The mere fact that we cannot really understand the point of view of the protesters, and dismiss the dissatisfaction of the people living in Kailali shows how disconnected we are with the situation in Terai. As most of us privileged people in Kathmandu cannot empathize with the situation in Terai since we, personally are not harmed by the current system.
    What happened to the policemen and what is happening right now is heinous and tragic. But we cannot dismiss the voice coming from the marginalized group just because of the protest turned violent.
    United Nepal is not the country where the people accept the unfair system and keep quiet. The long lasting unity is ensured with an equitable unity where people check their privilege, empathize with each other's situation, and work towards a more equitable system.
    Thank you for writing the article.

  5. Of course violence and terrorism is not an acceptable way to place their demands. I am not sure how the incident of Kailali occurred or who is primarily responsible. I do not understand as to why the security force and such a senior security personnel not prepared for what might happen. But no matter, whoever was responsible, the government or the security forces need to restraint themselves and not use force on the innocent. Whoever dies, both the protestor or security personnel, a Nepali dies and their family suffers. A life is a life, irrespective of the ethnic background and cultures and should be valued as such.
    I am surprised by the lack of trust in the marginalized communities especially by us Brahmins and Chhetris. Maybe it is the fear or losing control over these communities. We need to take a major share of the blame for the state the country is in today. These communities had very little say on how the country should be run and look where we are today. So, now if these communities want to participate in this process and are standing up for their rights, why not? Why can't we support them instead of shouting and screaming all over social media that this will divide the nation and this should not happen. The gap has become so wide, mainly because of the politics in the last couple of decades, looks like it will be impossible to bridge this in the future. I believe that marginalized communities should be given fair chance of representation and for governance and do not see the need for the mistrust or lack of trust.
    I do not support the mindset of the people in power to demarcate the country into specific territories, especially based on their own vested interests to monopolise the power and ensuring prosperity to their local and regional cadres, rather than anything else. Ethnicity I think is only one excuse used by these politicians to control power. The problem with Nepal is it has become an autoratic state. Everything is run by few politicians who do not need to answer to the public. Just look at the refusal to incorporate the views of the people to directly elect the chief executive, reservations of the seats in the parliament for nominated representatives and their reluctance to conduct referendum on contentious issues.