Nepali Times
Covering the Battle of Gongabu

PHOTOJOURNALIST IN THE NEWS: Kumar saves a policeman from being lynched, the next day on 11 April, he was shooting a raging street battle at the same spot when he was shot and carried away unconscious. Kumar in his hospital bed.

For Kumar Shrestha, Day Five of the pro-democracy demonstrations on 11 April began routinely enough. He had packed his helmet, several handkerchiefs and water to ward off the tear gas, and headed off towards Gongabu.

This area near the Bus Park on the Ring Road had been a hotspot, but the demonstrators that afternoon started peacefully enough. Party flags raised pro-democracy and anti-king slogans and taunted the police. It started raining and the protests died down somewhat.

Suddenly there was the sound of a rapid burst of automatic gunfire. Some demonstrators had started throwing stones at the house of Additional Inspector General (AIG) of Nepal Police Rupsagar Moktan and security inside the house started firing back with SLR and pistols. The sound of gunshots spooked the riot police who were already conditioned into believing that the Maoists had infiltrated the demonstrators. In fact Home Minister Kamal Thapa a few days before had said Maoists had fired shots in the Gongabu area.

The riot police were out in front facing a narrow side street leading into Gongabu. The blue-uniformed Armed Police Force were lined up behind them on the Ring Road and then there was a unit of the army that had taken up battle position as soon as they heard the shots.

Kumar Shrestha, who films for Himalnews and and is an occasional contributor to Nepali Times, decided to investigate where the shots were being fired from. He saw five security personnel firing out of the windows of the house. Bullets were ricocheting all around and Kumar thought this is getting a bit dangerous. The riot police then gave charge down the narrow street and there was pandemonium.

"I literally don't know what hit me," recalls Kumar, "I remember thinking oh no I've been hit by a stone and then I because unconscious. Next thing I knew I was being x-rayed in hospital three hours later."

Kumar was lucky-it was a rubber bullet from the riot police and not the guns inside the police inspector's house. And it hit his shoulder. A week later, Kumar was back on the streets, with a smaller camera because he can't use his hurt arm.

It is conceivable that the rubber bullet came from the policeman that Kumar himself saved from being lynched the previous day in Gongabu itself. Eight policemen were cornered during a pitched street battle, and one of them was being badly beaten up by the angry demonstrators.

"I crouched and took pictures for a while," Kumar says, "but after a while I thought I have to save this man otherwise he's going to be killed." A while later, photojournalist Narendra Shrestha arrived and the two dragged the policemen away. "Take him away," the boys with stones in their hands told Kumar, "otherwise he might die." --END--

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)