The mayhem in the madhes has already claimed innocent lives and many more, critically injured, are undergoing treatment. There is no telling when the turmoil in the tarai will end. But the list of victims of the violence in Siraha makes horrific reading.
Ramesh Kumar Mahato, a 16-year-old student allegedly shot by a Maoist, was from an underprivileged background. Vijay Kumar Sahani, 32, and Pramod Sada, 15, both shot by the police, were madhesi dalits, the most oppressed of all in the country. Muhammad Alam, 18, another victim of police firing, was a Musalman, a category that needs no explanation to show its exclusion. Thirty two-year-old Bechan from the Yadav community also succumbed to a bullet injury. All died in their prime for a cause they were probably not even fully aware of. That's the tragedy of all violent protests: they devour the weakest and the most inarticulate first.
The cause behind the death and destruction is consonant with universal democratic values. "We want a federal government structure and regional autonomy for the tarai ... We want the elimination of discrimination against the people of the tarai, including racial, lingual, cultural and economic," Madhesi Janadhikar Forum president Upendra Yadav told a news agency after the tragedy in Lahan. On Wednesday Janakpur burned, where is this fire going to spread next?
The Maoists were ostensibly fighting for these very rights. The seven-party alliance swears by similar democratic values. For democracy to take root, popular aspirations for the institutionalisation of local autonomy and an end to discrimination must be addressed. The ambivalence of Sher Bahadur Deuba or Madhab Nepal towards democratic norms has been well known since they were co-opted by Gyanendra's autocratic regime.
But the indifference of the Maoists to the plight of madhesis defies logic. The mainstream parties took years to degenerate into their unresponsive state. The Maoists seem to have acquired that trait within days of entering the interim legislature.
This deafening silence will de-legitimise Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai faster than their slip-ups in implementing the comprehensive peace accord. And if Deb Gurung and Krishna Bahadur Mahara harp on about a rightwing conspiracy without sufficient substantiation, that may turn out be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The extremists on the right are as adroit at exploiting genuine grievances as those on the left.
The country must face disturbing questions. Why do protestors against institutional injustice have to die to make themselves heard? How many deaths does it take to shake a government from its complacency? The government has formed a commission to investigate the violence in Lahan.
The eight-party alliance has called some groups for 'talks'. But why did it take so long for the NC to respond when Sushil Koirala has seen first-hand the anti-madhesi prejudices of government machinery in his hometown?
By choosing to ignore madhesi demands, the NC is handing over half the country to extremists of the left and right. The decline of the centrist politics championed by the party doesn't augur well for the future of peace in the country.
In asymmetric confrontations, terrorism is the weapon of the weak. The inarticulate voice their demand with mindless violence and propagate their achievements through the 'propaganda of deeds'. But the head honchos of armed rebellions seldom die, it is people like Mahato and Sada who get killed for causes they don't understand.
Last week it appeared as if we had learnt very little from a decade of violent conflicts. The seven parties and their Maoist partners must realise that it's never too late to make amends. Those who died aren't going to come back. But if their death helps make Nepal a somewhat better place-tolerant of diversity, responsive to grievances, accountable to the public-those who survive can learn to live with their losses.