ALL PICS: DAMBAR KRISHNA SHRESTHA
Khati, 40, worked at the state-owned Janakpur Cigarette Factory and had a wife, two daughters and a son. Like hundreds of other families in the eastern Tarai, Khati's brother Yubaraj has decided to move the entire clan, including his 72-year-old father, to Kathmandu.
"The Jwala Singh group had warned they'd kill a person of hill origin to mark their anniversary, and they made my innocent husband the target," says Khati's wife, Kamala.
"I am from Mahottari, but even I am thinking of moving out."
Janakpur Zonal police chief,
"I will hire 10 hit men for protection, but I'll stay in Janakpur."
Former mayor, Krishna Giri
The war has never ended here in the eastern Tarai. But in recent months, fear of criminal gangs, terrorist and political militant groups has increased the exodus of families. Local and national media, wary of unleashing a backlash against Madhesis in the hills, have under-reported the extent of this internal displacement.
No one is keeping exact count, so reliable figures are hard to come by. There is anecdotal evidence that out of the 900 non-Madhesi families in Janakpur municipality, 700 have left. CDO Sambhu Koirala estimates that half the hill-origin people from Mahottari have moved north. "Those that remain are living in fear and terror," he says.
A 70-year-old man who has lived in Janakpur's Pidari Chok most of his life has just sold his house for Rs 2.2 million even though it would have fetched Rs 4.5 million. He is now living in a rented flat nearby. "My sons moved to Bardibas, but I don't want to leave, this is my home," he says.
The government's recent decision to classify 92 groups as 'Madhesi' not just fuelled the Tharu movement this month, but also made people of hill-origin even more insecure.
The police seem incapable of dealing with the criminalised politics. "Even if we nab someone, we have to let him go because of political pressure," says police inspector Yadav Raj Khanal. Police sub-inspector Bigan Ram Yadav concurs: "There are more guns confiscated in Janakpur than in Hanuman Dhoka."
Former Janakpur mayor Krishna Giri, whose family has lived here for two generations, says for every one Pahadi that has been killed by a Madhesi group, two Madhesis have been killed by Madhesis. Yet he says the level of fear is greater among people of hill-origin.
Brij Kumar Yadav, Editor of Janakpur Today says that the crime rate has gone up since the murder of his colleague, Uma Singh, in January. He says: "The criminalisation of politics has fostered impunity."