A month after vigilantes went on the rampage, villages near the birthplace of the Buddha are still in shock. In Hallanagar, 25 km west of Lumbini, families stay close for safety, many wear vacant looks as they rummage among the charred ruins of their homes. There is little food.
On 16 February, hundreds of fellow-villagers went house-to-house here looking for Maoists. Fed up with rebel atrocities and intimidation, villagers attacked fellow villagers and many innocent farmers became victims of lynch mobs. In all 42 people were killed. ('Villages in ashes', #237)
Maoists were among the dead but so were farmhands, rickshaw pullers, tailors and farmers. One elderly man, Prem Bahadur Raskoti, who had lost his entire family in a flood 10 years ago, was hacked to death with an axe.
The arrival of the security forces finally brought the situation under control. But by then only 20 of the 325 houses in Hallanagar were intact.
"We feel much safer now that the soldiers are here," says Khuman Singh Pariyar whose house was destroyed. Pariyar's family migrated here from Gulmi 35 years ago, and he recognised familiar faces of local jamindars among the attackers. Ironically, the villagers suspected of being Maoists had themselves fled rebel atrocities in Rolpa, Pyuthan and Argakhanchi in recent years.
The Kapilbastu violence had sinister communal and ethnic overtones against hill settlers. Activists fear the vigilante violence here could turn into a Bihar-style caste war. Perhaps sensing this but also to protect vigilantes from rebel revenge, the army has set up a camp at Ganeshpur. "The people have helped us with information on Maoists," says Major Sunil Ghale at the army camp.
Sita Debi Malla lives with her family in the ruins of her house. It has no doors and a blue plastic sheet serves as the roof. Sita cooks outside, her children study for their final exams in the open. "We don't have money to rebuild, we never did anything wrong," says Sita whose family moved down from Pyuthan four years ago to escape the conflict. ActionAid is providing food but the need in Kapilbastu is much greater.
"We are not Maoists," says another young villager, "we don't even like them, we came here to escape them."
Villagers say their offensive was successful because the Maoists have been driven out. "There may still be a few left but we'll flush them all out," says Birendra Mishra, a leader of the anti-Maoist vigilante group.
Asked why innocent villagers were targeted, Mishra told us: "We have nothing against them but if they give shelter to Maoists we will not spare their village." A week after the attacks last month, senior government officials visited Kapilbastu and gave the vigilantes a pat on the back.
But despite Mishra's bravado, on 26 February, Maoists dressed in combat fatigues shot dead two brothers in cold blood. Their father, Abdul Rahman, was forced to watch. "I told them to spare my sons and kill me instead," said the 65-year-old farmer. His wife stood by sobbing.