|ILLICIT JOYS: Firecrackers were popular but expensive this Tihar, with Maoist cadres cornering the resale market.|
Last week in Kathmandu, the Maoists dispensed vigilante justice. In Kapilbastu, they're on the receiving end.
The anti-Maoist vigilantism that began in February 2005 is becoming institutionalised here. The security forces continue to protect vigilante groups, citizens' groups say, and provide them with much-needed resources in this proxy war against the Maoists.
People are scared to speak openly, but a local political leader in Sihokar village told us: "Forget about the peace process, eliminating the Maoists through the use of armed vigilantes was always the plan, and the army continues to help them." The Nepal Army is still camped out in the compound of vigilante leader Abdul Mohit Khan's home.
Like the Maoist militia, the vigilantes are also potential spoilers in the peace process. But unlike the rebels, the only talks about managing them are happening at the local level. Shortly before Dasain, Kapilbastu human rights activists, journalists, and civil society groups held meetings with vigilante and political leaders to try and negotiate a tripartite agreement. The vigilantes refused to talk to the Maoists.
"If we don't deal with this now, we're going to see the vigilantes being used by all kinds of political forces to do their dirty work, and again civilians will be victimised," said Drona Raj Subedi, a local civil society leader who brokered the talks.
In the villages, the vigilantes are now openly building networks with gangs from across the border, and seeking political protection and support from the Tarai Janatantrik Mukti Morcha ('Tarai tinderbox', #310). Some vigilante group members we spoke to said they feared Maoist retaliation, and see their best option as latching on to the TJMM. As in February last year, the vigilantes' actions are directed against the Maoists as well as hill migrants in villages like Bishnunagar, a hotbed of vigilantism. Small arms are easily procured from across the open border with Uttar Pradesh.
Subedi says some vigilantes are seeing the advantages of moving into mainstream politics after NC leader Chitralekha Yadab's recent visit here. Yadab made a fiery speech about tarai rights to a rapt audience of 10,000 at the launch of the Loktantrik Madhesi Mukti Morcha Nepal-Bharat Maitri Sangha in Bahadurganj last month. A number of Indian politicians attended the function.
The vigilantes are defiant. One said, "We'll continue our war against the Maoists until they stop extorting our villages."