The war was used by many to settle personal scores, and the sense of revenge still remains in the Tarai
A minor land dispute in Bargdawa of Nawalparasi district is an example of how the conflict period was used by many to settle personal scores and property disputes. The two sides pleaded for help from the Maoists and the state. When it all ended, 13 people were dead, 39 families were permanently displaced, and eight years after the war ended none of them have received any relief.
It all began 40 years ago. Golahi Chamar came to live as a farm help at Nanda Kumar Chaudhari’s household. He had bought half an acre of land from his landlord for Rs 300. Ten years later Garbhi Dhobi, another helper, bought an acre for Rs 14,000 from Chaudhari. Neither land sale was officially registered.
When Chaudhari died in 1987 all his land, including what was sold to the two servants, was divided among his sons Bhagwat, Satya Narayan, and Bharat Mani. All three asked those who had bought land from their father to pay more money before agreeing to register the transaction. They refused.
“We were already rightful owners of the plots when we bought it back then,” says Dhobi. “And we poor servants did not have any more money.”
The VDC told them the brothers’ demand was legitimate and asked them to pay the present-day value. Bhanu Prasad Chaudhari, the coordinator of a local peace committee, said he had mediated between the parties and got them to agree to a compromise. But two sides sought support from the state and the rebels, which were fighting a war.
In 2001, Chamar’s son Ram Kishun Harijan wrote to Chinak Kurmi, the Maoist chief in Nawalparasi seeking justice. Even after three years of Maoist threats, Bhagwat refused to give up the land so the rebels kidnapped his youngest son in November 2004. In December Bhagwat gave in.
After losing their land to Chamar, Bhagwat’s family attacked Dhobi’s family at home and vandalised property. In revenge, the Maoists dragged Bhagwat’s eldest son from the house on 1 January 2005, took him to a school 300m away, and shot him dead.
Bhagwat survived because he wasn’t at home. But his family had nowhere to turn to except the district’s Retaliation Committee, one of many vigilante groups trained and armed by state security forces to curb Maoist activities.After convincing them
Ram Kishun and his father Golahi collaborated with the Maoists to kill his son, Bhagwat had Ram Kishun kidnapped and killed on 18 March, 2005. Ram Kishun’s daughter-in-law Shanti recalls that his body wasn’t found for days.
So far, the two sides had killed one each. But the revenge blood-letting didn’t stop there. To avenge Ram Kishun’s murder, the Maoists bombed Bargdawa on 15 April 2005, a day after new year saying they were targeting members of the Retaliation Committee.
Eleven people were killed that night. Kamal Dhobi was dragged out of bed and shot, as was his youngest brother Chandrabhan. Ram Suraj Yadav’s 14-year-old son Hridayesh was shot and killed in front of his own mother.
“They also killed my nephews Kamlesh and Bharat,” remembers Ram Suraj, whose brother Ram Preet fled to India.
Ram Preet is still living across the border in Uttar Pradesh. He breaks down when asked what happened a decade ago in his village in Nepal. He still owns an acre and half of land back in Bargdawa. He wants to return home, but is worried about his safety.
“We did nothing wrong, we were caught in the middle between the two armies. No one, not even the Nepal government have reached out to us,” says Ram Preet.
On the landlord’s side, Bashistha Prasad Chaudhari’s brothers Dipendra, 19, and Dinesh, 16, were shot inside their homes. Bashistha was in the Gulf, so he survived. Teacher Bijay Chaudhari and son Abhimanyu were dragged out of bed and shot in their temples. His wife Premani Devi ran away with their son and daughter.
“We survived, but we are dying every day as we live. No one cares about our suffering,” says Premani Devi.
Others killed that night were Rajendra Loniya of Jahada, who was staying over at Harish Chandra Loniya’s place, and 14-year-old Dinesh Kohar. Says Dinesh’s elder brother Munnar: “They killed my brother and bombed our house, but no one gave us commiseration, let alone compensation.”
Because this incident happened during the insurgency, the police is not accepting complaints. Altogether 13 people were killed over six months in Bargdawa over a dispute over a small parcel of land, but it is still classified as an ‘insurgency-related case’ that cannot be investigated.
Bhagwat Chaudhari and his family of 14 also fled across the border to Belaiha, Uttar Pradesh. In Nepal, Chaudhari was a teacher at a local high school and earned Rs 12,000 a month. His 3 acres in Bargdawa produced enough for his family. Now he has to make do with the INR 4,800 he earns at a private school across the border.
“After they kidnapped my son, I gave them what they wanted. They didn’t have to kill my son,” says Bhagwat. “I am ruined. If I felt safe, I would return home.”
Garbhi Dhobi also lives in the same neighbourhood as Chaudhari in Belaiha, but they don’t speak to each other. The Retaliation Committee later destroyed Dhobi’s house saying he was a Maoist supporter. His son Chandra Ghosh was a policeman but had to resign and moved to India too.
“Everyone blamed me for the trouble, so I had to leave. I can’t go back,” says Dhobi.
As the conflict got worse, both the Maoists and the state treated the villagers as spies and traitors. Families who could live off the land were forced to flee to live as labourers and servants elsewhere.
Golahi Chamar died in 2010 without obtaining ownership of his land. The disputed two acres lie fallow, barren and unclaimed.
(Centre for Investigative Journalism)
Read original in Nepal
The Nepal Army formed Retaliation Committess in all of Nawalparasi’s 16 VDCs to hunt down Maoists. Among its 400 vigilante members, 200 were escaped convicts from India. They were trained for 15 days by the border security wing of the army’s Bajradal Battalion in Tribeni, and armed with low-grade weapons. Murari Kushwah, Munna Khan, and Radhe Mukhiya were most-wanted criminals across the border. Today Radhe Mukhiya is in jail in Bihar, convicted of a dozen crimes including theft, kidnapping, and murder, while Bhagwat Chaudhari (pic) is also in India but because he fears for his safety.
PICS: KALPANA BHATTARAI
The Retaliation Committee declared all Dalits Maoists and attacked all Chamars, Dhobis and Harijans. From Ram Preet Chamar’s (pic, above) house, they stole chickens, goats, grain and clothes and stabbed Ram Preet above his hip with a spear. He was rushed to hospital and had to mortgage his land to meet the Rs 40,000 hospital bill. But Ram Preet couldn’t pay his creditors and was forced to give up his land. He has not received even a rupee in compensation.
Women had it worse
When the Maoists attacked Munna Khan’s house ten years ago, Mainuddin Miya of Paklihawa was also killed, just because he was walking along the same road. Fearing her in-laws would kick her out of the house, his wife Aisha Nesha married his brother. But after her new husband returned from Malaysia, he married another woman. Says Aisha: “I am fighting for my property in court now, but my husband and in-laws are forcing me to give it up.”