Nepali Times Asian Paints
Decisive Decade
Smouldering anger in the Madhes


KUNDA DIXIT in SIRAHA


Nearly three months after they witnessed an unprecedented explosion of violence, the towns of the central and eastern Tarai are limping back to normal. But the ethnic polarisation of Nepal's plains may be an enduring legacy.

Here in Lahan where it all started in mid-January, many hill residents who fled back then have returned. Protests by the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) do not seem to have the same energy these days, especially after the Tharus refused to join, following the massacre of Maoists in Gaur three weeks ago.

The atmosphere is still charged, cross-border crime is widespread and there is a general sense of lawlessness. Kidnappings for ransom, mainly of hill people, by one or other of the Tarai militant groups, are a daily occurrence. Attacks and death threats against journalists have forced many to move out. Few think proper elections can be held in June.

"Things will never be the same again," says one Lahan resident, "Nepal is now divided and the border is the East-West highway."

Indeed, election politics and new ethnic polarisation could create a volatile mix in Siraha and its adjoining districts as campaigning for elections heat up. The Chure-Bhabar agitation is a direct response to a militant Madhes and represents the interests of the Tamang, Magar and other hill-ethnic groups that live along or north of the highway.

Meeting Madhes demands for re-demaraction of constituencies by plains people will short-change hill dwellers, and vice-versa. Highway towns like Lahan are where these interests intersect, and delineating voting units north-south will favour Madhesis while hill ethnics living here will benefit from an east-west arrangement. All this is made much more complicated by past gerrymandering.

The most direct impact of the last three months is that the Maoists are now 'internally displaced people' from the eastern Tarai, and everyone who didn't like them (from royalist land-owners to local political party cadre) are happy with that. But unlike the rest of Nepal, which has experienced a year of ceasefire, the war never ended here.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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