|FAR FROM HOME: Over 2,000 Nepali madhesi have fled to Duduniya village of Uttar Pradesh, 3 km from Krishnanagar, uncertain whether they can ever return home
Naved Khan tries hard to calm himself but the assassination of his father, Abdul Moid, has shocked him so much he says he cannot rest till he finds the killers.
Khan is now in India, and says he isn't sure who killed his father. He is only half convinced the Maoists had a hand in it even though the killing has worked to their advantage. The Maoists have strongly denied a role in the murder.
Moid Khan had been their most hated enemy since 2003, when he switched from being an ally to become the leader of the anti-Maoist Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha in Kapilbastu, where he was so well protected the PLA couldn't touch him.
Khan's political U-turn in 2003 led to a spate of killings by both sides. The Maoists blamed him for the death of more than 36 cadres, and they in turn killed his brothers and nephew.
A month ago however, the two sides buried the hatchet with a pact mediated by local NC leader Deep Kumar Upadhyaya. Khan shook hands with the senior Maoist in Kapilbastu. The war was apparently over.
"For the first time he looked happy and travelled alone, and stopped slating the Maoists as enemies," his son told us in the village of Budhuniya in Uttar Pradesh, 3km from Nepal's border, "but in the last few days, he said his life was at risk." The Maoists say they were planning to work together with Khan's group.
The suspicion for Khan's murder is on groups seeking to provoke war between madhesis and pahadis. Historically, Kapilbastu has seen friction between hill settlers and Muslim landlords. But the Hallanagar area, the epicentre of past tension, was untouched in the recent violence. ('We will flush them out', #240).
Did a madhesi group have a hand in Khan's assassination? Some, notably the JTMM-Goit faction, were angered by his refusal to help them disrupt the Constituent Assembly elections. JTMM-G cadres have also travelled to Budhuniya, where Khan's relatives and more than 2,000 displaced madhesi have taken refuge. While his family are in a mood to forgive and forget, the JTMM-G cadres seem to be working actively to incite them to take revenge against pahadis.
The Goit faction is also accused of misleading local Indian reporters with stories, now picked up by national and regional Hindi-language newspapers, that pahadis are to blame for Khan's death. Fearing more violence, the Kapilbastu administration has banned Indian papers.
The Maoists and madhesis are stepping into the political vacuum left by the absence of government. Large squads of uniformed YCL cadres patrol madhesi villages, assuring pahadis the Maoists will protect them. Things are quieter, but the fear is still so great that neither pahadis nor madhesis want to return to their villages.
"Whoever killed him and whatever happened after that is very regrettable but we should be able to go back, and pahadis should too," says Moid Khan's younger brother Parvej. But he adds that until the YCL stops mobilising its cadres and removes them from the villages, no madhesi will feel safe to return.
There is no sign of the new three-member commission headed by Rajbiraj Appellate Court judge Lokendra Mallik, set up to investigate the incidents and recommend compensation. Many madhesis believe relief aid is mainly going to pahadi victims. Some feel the government, rather than trying to restore calm, is keeping tensions high by imposing curfews and making their return difficult.
So far, only madhesi rioters, four of them Indians, have been jailed in Kapilbastu. No action has been taken against pahadis who set fire to a mosque and attacked madhesi villagers.
A group of women had gathered in Shovaram Sunar's house in Bisanpur to celebrate Tij. At 9AM, a mob suddenly forced its way in and started beating them up. Everyone fled.
Sunar helped female guests hide in the nearby sugarcane field. But he and his younger brother, Dil Bahadur, could not escape the rampaging crowd, who murdered them with spears and homemade weapons. Bahadur had been married a month ago.
"We didn't know Mohid Khan had been killed until the madhesi attacked us, shouting 'You are celebrating while he is dead,'" Sunar's neighbour, Aruna BK, said.
Dhan Bahadur Basnet was killed mercilessly. Hemraj Basnet and his family were hiding behind their house. His wife Sumitra begged the attackers to spare her husband but they ignored her pleas.
Another victim was Mohit Bahadur Sunar who had travelled with his neighbour, Bimal Kunwar, from his village, Shivagari, to Bisanpur to buy a cow. If he had not had to delay his departure from Bisanpur, he would probably have lived. But he had to find change for his Rs 1,000 note to pay Bhiku Musalman. When he returned with the change, a mob armed with spears and knives attacked him.
"Mohit fell down and I was severely wounded, but I managed to run while my friend was dying," Kunwar said.
The attackers selectively killed those who were leaders or were educated. Sunar was a local leader, popular among both madhesi and pahadi residents.
"What had my husband done?" cried Sunar's wife, Dilsari. "He had not harmed any madhesi."
There are at least 1,500 displaced families in Kapilbastu alone, many have fled to the hills of Argakhanchi. Hundreds of people, both madhesis and pahadis are still missing. In Bisanpur alone, more than 61 families out of 126 are missing, according to local Muslim leader Ahmed Abdul. Almost every house has been burnt.
Many who survived are spending their third week in schools in Chandrauta and Sundari Dara. Madhesis have fled across the border to Gonda and Barni in Uttar Pradesh. Most families have decided to never return to Kapilbastu, preferring to move back to their ancestral villages in the hills.
Mukesh Pokhrel in Kapilbastu
Kapilbastu diary >>