Tikapur Indicent: Indiscriminate act of brutality, arbitrary arrests and amnesty

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The forgotten brutality of Tikapur incident. The overlooked incident of random arrest, game of ensnaring innocents while striving to release genuine culprits.

-Krishna Adhikari: Centre for Investigative Journalism 

The Tikapur incident of 24th August 2015, dubbed as the "worst mass murder" in Nepal's recent times is gradually fizzling out from the people's minds. Nevertheless, a section of the populace is rummaging around to find the reality amid repetitive assurances from the concerned side to carry out a thorough investigation into the incident. However, a serious concern is whether this incident would end up turning out to be a fairy tale with the authority, who then took to indiscriminate arrests is now striving to release the genuine culprits en mass. Here we try to present the inside story of intending of arresting the innocents and releasing the real criminals.

Babu Devkota and Reshma Chaudhary

Coincidentally, the Tikapur incident occurred when a four-year long love affair between Babu Devkota, a Brahmin who migrated from Achham to Tikapur, and Reshma Mahato Tharu – daughter of Tikapur's native family, had reached a tipping point. Tikapur witnessed a brutal confrontation following the respective rigid stance between the supporters of Akhanda Sudur Paschimanchal Side (Integrated Far-western Side) and Tharuhat Swayatta Pradesh (Tharuhat Autonomous Province) resulting in the murder of eight security personnel and an 18-month old toddler. Tharuhat supporters wanted to keep Kailali and Kanchanpur in the proposed Tharuhat province while the Akhanda supporters wanted the two districts to belong to the undivided Far-West province.

Hours after the incident, some 70 houses of Tharu families were plundered and set on fire when a curfew was in place. The incident took place when the process of drafting a new constitution was at its final stage. In fact, the security forces, which had received strict instruction to exercise utmost restraint from the Home Ministry, appeared hapless before the demonstrators. The reason behind giving strict instruction to exercise restraint in Tikapur could be because the security forces were earlier criticized of using excessive force in Surkhet and Saptari demonstrations.

The clash that ensued between the security forces and Tharu demonstrators on 24th August 2015 ended up in the carnage. Security forces seemed ‘not well prepared' internally. Following the incident, a curfew was clamped for a month when frenzied demonstrators killing eight security personnel and one and a half-year-old baby. Police arrested 25 leaders of Tharuhat Struggle Committee (TSC) in connection with the attack and issued warrants to 58 TSC cadres. 33 of them are still at large.

The incident brought a sharp division between the two communities of Tikapur (migrated Achhame community and local Tharus) which lived in social harmony for years. Their age-old social harmony turned into betrayal, distrust, and suspicion with each community considering the other as a foe. Love-birds, Babu and Reshma were especially worried because of the animosity between the two communities. Both of them received detrimental phone messages aimed at creating a rift between each other's community. This hostile situation led to the postponement of their marriage from Asoj 2072 BS to Baisakh 2073 BS.

However, the affair between Acchami Brahmin boy and a local Tharu girl ended up on a positive note despite all odds. Their marriage on the 5th of Baisakh 2073 BS proved to be congenial between the two hostile communities. Recalling the 21-month old incident, bridegroom's father Tanka Prasad Devkota says, "In fact, it is the magnitude of love that matters. The issue of Pahade or Tharu community is trivial." Consenting to Devkota's views, Reshma's father Upendra Mahato says, "Forget to be a Pahade or a Tharu. We are humans first, and unity matters, not community."

Simmering relationship

Resentment between Tharu and Pahade community in Tikapur, though not boiled to the surface, has not been pacified yet. The society is yet to be linimented or comforted since people from both communities are still grappling and have not been able to walk freely in each other's dominated area. Says Babu Devkota, "Even now, Tharu youth hesitate to walk in the Pahade people's settlement." Residents of this area are still grasping with fear. This was, in fact, a psychologically gripped incident since it had both direct as well as indirect deep-rooted grievances. The then Maoist's, during their armed conflict, had declared Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya, and Dang as Tharuwan Autonomous State on the basis of ethnicity. The Tharus, in one way or the other, were ‘involved' in the insurgency aimed at providing right and identity to different communities. Some 17 hundred Tharus lost their lives while 400 disappeared during the decade-long insurgency.

Settled residents:who are not in voters list

In fact, even as the Pahade community was against the Maoist idea of creating a separate province encompassing Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya, and Dang, they suppressed their voice due to fear of being thrashed. However, people's voice spilled over soon after the integration of Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army which later gained momentum to raise their voices in favor of Akhanda Sudur Paschimanchal (Integrated Far-western Side). Even Maoist leader Lekhraj Bhatta stood in favor of Akhanda Sudur Paschimanchal. 

Not wholeheartedly relying on the Maoists, the Tharus formed their own party – Tharuhat Party. While the Maoist called the Tharuwan Province, the Tharus rechristened it as "Tharuhat" proposing its border up to Chitwan. Despite having some differences between the Tharuwans and Tharuhat supporters, they united to retaliate to the growing influence of the Akhanda Far-western Region supporters. The discord between these two factions reached a new high during the end of Constituent Assembly (CA) tenure resulting to a 32-day long bandh (strike). The movement fizzled out with the dissolution of the first CA.

 The Unified CPN-Maoist that boasted of garnering a majority in nine far-western districts received fewer votes than expected limiting itself as the third largest party. Influential party in the Terai – Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) won the constituencies of Kailali 1 and 3. The Maoist, which advocated for the Tharus shrank. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) and some other Madesh-based parties joined hands and spearheaded a campaign to separate Kailali and Kanchanpur from the hilly districts. Awareness campaigns and training were conducted in villages that incited hatred towards the Pahade community. Even as the Maoist's influence diminishing, the party's agenda got stronger. On 24th Shrawan 2072 BS, three major parties (Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Maoist) agreed to demarcate the country into six provinces with Kailali and Kachanpur in Province No 6 and Banke, Bardiya and Dang in Province No. 5. The parties' decision fuelled agitation in Surkhet and Jumla claiming four lives. Considering people's outrage, major parties decided to add a seventh province by delineating some districts of Provinces 5 and 6. On Bhadra 4, 2072 BS, major parties decided to include Kailai and Kanchanpur in hilly districts.

While the Tharu population in Bardiya is 53 percent, Kailali and Dang have 42 and 30 percent respectively. However, debates on integrated far western region continued to rise in this region creating further discord between the Tharus and Pahade communities. Leaders of the pahade community considered this as an issue of prestige further fuelling resentment among the Tharus. The antipathy between the two communities affected in the old-age tradition of celebrating Gaura (a festival celebrated by Pahade community) and Atwari (Tharu festival) making them unexciting and wishy-washy.

Grieving Yasoda Saud holding photo of lost son.

While the Constituent Assembly was finalizing the draft of the new constitution in Kathmandu, disputes between Tharu and Pahade communities were in all-time high. Taking advantage of the situation, some leaders of Madhes-based parties organized a program in Dhangadi protesting what they said "discriminatory" draft of the new constitution, which was however foiled by Akhanda Far Western Region cadres. Shortly on 28th Shwaran 2072 BS, Tharuhat and Tharuwan Joint Struggle Committee organized a mass meeting in Tikapur where Madesh-centric leaders including Upendra Yadav, Rajendra Mahato and Nepali Congress leader Amresh Kumar Singh delivered inflammatory speeches inciting local Tharus to drive out hill settlers from Tikapur. This inflamed Tikapur with minor skirmishes happening on a daily basis.

On 7th Bhadra, the agitators were all set to hang the boards of "Tharuhat Autonomous Province" in all government offices. Hundreds of agitators converged from different Tharu-dominated places abiding by the strict instruction of compulsory presence of ‘two persons from each house' in the demonstration. Those defying this instruction were obliged to pay a fine of one thousand rupees. To be on a safer side, Mabalal Chaudhary of Munuwa Latakaniya encouraged his ninth grader son Shrawan to take part in the demonstration. Thousands of Tharuhat supporters marched towards Tikapur. They gheraoed the security forces from all sides resulting in human casualty. Since the incident, people of Pahade and Tharu communities are unreceptive even now.

A local teacher narrates a painstaking story on the issue. He said, "I was chatting with a shopkeeper when I saw a Tharu guy coming towards the shop with his daughter in her early teens holding her father's hands. Surprisingly, as they were entering the shop, the daughter pulled her father towards a nearby shop owned by a Tharu. I watched them returning from the shop making some purchases just to realize that the shop that I was sitting belonged to a Pahade and the Tharus were boycotting the shops owned by a Pahade. This is the situation."

During the curfew imposed in Tikapur, protesters looted and vandalized more than 70 shops/offices including Fulbari FM radio station mostly belonging to Tharu community. Surprisingly, neither those involved in the attacks were arrested nor the victims have been provided with compensation. This infuriated the Tharu community thus frustrating their hopes on the state with the self-realization that they have been discriminated in a planned manner.

Politics of warrant, arrest, and release

15-year-old Shrawan Chaudhary returned home on the 7th of Bhadra 2072 and got into his usual task. However, to his surprise, police arrested him after 20 days of the demonstration and filed a murder case against him. The arrest of his teenage son has deeply troubled his father Mebalal, who refuses to accept that his son had murdered a policeman. "How could a 15-year-old do that?" Mebalal asks adding, "There were more than 10 thousand demonstrators in the rally. My son came home in the evening," he claims. It's been almost 21 months that the police arrested his son ‘for necessary investigation'.  Shrawan, a 10th grader, is currently facing charges of murder and is kept in a rehabilitation center. "I have so far spent more than 150 thousand rupees to fight for my son's case and I am not quite sure when my son will come home after the final verdict," Mebalal says.

Bandhyadevi Chaudhary's (second from left) family

Meanwhile, people leading the demonstration, instead of taking responsibility for the crime of murdering 9 people, including a toddler and 8 police personnel, sneaked away. Police took to random arrest where several innocent families were victimized.

According to Police Inspector of District Police Office case section, Iswari Pandey, out of 25 people arrested for their alleged involvement in criminal activities in Tikapur, 23 have been kept in detention for trial while two underaged have been sent to a rehabilitation center in Pokhara. "A case for murder has been filed against those arrested," the inspector informed.

In fact, the fact that several innocent people have been victimized in the Tikapur incident has been ruled out. The incident has almost been forgotten but the case is yet to be settled. A committee, which has been formed under the coordination-ship of former justice Girish Chandra Lal to investigate into all the Terai Madesh incidences, is yet to come out with its report.

Cases have been filed in the Supreme Court demanding the withdrawal of the cases. Chances of Tikapur incident getting a way out seem slim. Arguments for and against withdrawing is gradually getting a political colour thus fuelling chances of those accused of getting released and innocent put behind bars.

Singha Durbar, the government secretariat, too cannot remain aloof. The government had on Jestha 4 decided to entrust the Ministry of Law to withdraw cases by labeling the Tikapur incident of being an incident of ‘political nature'. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) too condemned this government's decision alleging the government of unnecessarily politicizing the issue. In a statement, the NHRC said that withdrawing cases against the accused would promote a culture of impunity.

The issue of murder, indiscriminate arrests and release have been widely politicized by political leaders. Pradeep Chaudhary, a central member of Nepal Loktantrik Forum and leader of Tikapur emphasizes on withdrawing the cases filed against the accused as well as to those against whom arrest warrants have been issued in the Tikapur incident. Referring to withdrawal of cases from 2007 BS to the 2062-63 BS political movements he asks, "Had warrants and cases against Prachanda and the current Speaker not withdrawn, imagine what would be their fate now?"

However, central vice chairman of National Human Rights Social and Justice Alliance and Tikapur Civil Society Coordinator, Firulal Chaudhary stresses on identifying the culprits and innocents. He says, "Culprits have to be identified first. Releasing the arrested in the name of withdrawing cases will give rise to the culture of impunity. Innocents, who have been facing a jail term since the last 20 20 months have to be released immediately." He emphasized on the formation of a high-level judicial investigation committee to probe into the issue.

Bandhya Devi Chaudhary, mother of Pradip Tharu, who has been charged with a murder case.

Latakniya village lies approximately 4 kilometers from Tikapur. The election has not gripped our family so far. Police have filed a murder case against my 12th grader son alleging him of his involvement in the murder of security forces. We sent our son to participate in the movement as per the strict instruction by the Badghar. We had no choice than to send our son or face consequences. He returned home in the evening. Police arrested him after 20/25 days. Police searched our house three to four times even after his arrest. Police seized some photos and documents of our son. His studies have been badly affected. Parliamentarian of Forum Democratic Janak Lal Chaudhary briefly visited our house when he was in this village to attend a marriage. No leader, except him, has visited our house since the arrest. Now, during the election time, some leaders frequented our house to ask for votes. We categorically told them that we will cast votes only after the release of our son.

Jag Bahadur Saud, grandfather of an 18-month old baby killed in the incident.

Jag Bahadur Saud of Tikapur Malika Tole was sharing lychees from his own garden with some children. He gave some lychees to this correspondent. His voice trembled, his face debilitated when he recalled his grandson killed some 21 months ago in the Tikapur incident. With a heavy voice, he said, "My grandson (Tek Bahadur Saud) would have been enjoying fresh lychees of my garden with these children now. These sinners killed my grandson. Leaders come to ask for a vote. They do not utter a single word about the incident. I have no interest in the election. I would have actively participated had my grandson not been killed." Complaining about the government's decision to withdraw the cases against the culprits, he said, "How can the incident be a political one when they killed my grandson who was playing in the veranda? How can this be a political issue when security forces were killed with knives and stones?" he queried. He warned of a legal fight against the government if it withdrew the cases.

Saying that he has heard of innocent people being put behind bars, Saud says, "Innocent should be released. But the culprits should not be released in the name of a political incident." Mother of the toddler, Yashoda's eyes gets wet when he recalls the incident. Her behavior has been changed after the incident. She does not speak much. "Forget about the election, those involved in my son's murder have to be punished," she says.

Pabitra Saud, wife of police head constable Lalit Saud killed in the incident.

"I have two children. I received some relief materials from the armed police. I am construction a house in Tikapur with the money that I received from the armed police force. The murderers should not be spared. I have heard that the government is planning to withdraw cases. The government had earlier announced of giving a job to the family of the deceased. I am now 24 years old and have the responsibility to look after my two children and old in-laws. Now I want a job to look after my family. Leaders who came to ask for vote assured me of supporting me but I cannot trust them. But I will vote."

Pradeep Chaudhary, a central member of Loktantrik Forum, whose house was vandalized and looted.

"I was out of my home when the incident occurred. My wife was all alone. She saved her life by hiding in a neighbour's house. My house was looted and vandalized. I could not go to my house for a week because of lack of proper security. The report prepared by the probe committee formed to investigate the incident of my house noted that the there has been a loss of one crore 98 lakhs rupees. However, I have not received a single penny till to date."

 

 

Tikapur municipality, which has a mixed population of 60 percent people of Pahade origin and 40 percent Tharus has 39 thousand 192 voters. Major parties – Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Unified CPN-Maoist have Pahade leaders as their candidates while the Nepal Loktantrik Forum has Tharu Mayoral and vice-mayoral candidates. The slogan of "Tikapur towards peace" has been gradually heard. The soon-to-be parents Babu Devkota and Reshma Chaudhary are in favour of a peaceful Tikapur. Babu says, "Firstly, the incident has to be thoroughly investigated. Culprits have to be punished and innocents have to be released." Reshma adds, "Tikapur will be a peaceful and beautiful place to live if culprits are punished and innocents are released. Let the mayors and deputy mayors think over it."

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