Nepali Times
"Wasn’t the war supposed to be over?"



MAKING DO: Asha Shrestha tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life near her tent at Jabdi.

This is where the Kosi bursts out of the mountains into the plains, and its blue waters reflect the scenic mountains to the north.

But the scenery is lost on the 150 people who have been living in makeshift tents by the banks of the river for the past week. They aren't victims of a natural disaster, but have fled for their lives after threats from one of the militant groups active in the Eastern tarai.

The displaced are all from the village of Haripur, 30km to the south bordering the Kosi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, who collected all their belongings and fled their village on 24 November. Besides the 30 families here in Sunsari's Jabdi, Haripur refugees have also fled to Morang and Jhapa.

Bhuban Singh Magar was beaten unconscious and his clothes set on fire.

Seventh-grader Anita Rai has stopped going to school for a year because of harassment. Now she has fled with her family.

"They were masked and carried guns, they hit me on the chest with the back of a pistol," recalls 20-year-old Asha Shrestha, who was dragged out of her house. Her husband, Som Bahadur was also roughed up and their mobiles taken.

Sixty-four year old Bhuban Singh Magar was attacked the previous day by five armed men in masks. They kicked him and set fire to his clothes and said if he didn't give them Rs 10,000 within three days they'd kill him. They took away all his chicken, a radio and watch.

The Shrestha and Magar families are among hundreds who fled. They were not poor, many had two to four hectares of fertile land. Magar had his entire ripening paddy crop destroyed, and he has heard the attackers have sowed dal on his land.

But the threats are not new. Ever since the Armed Police Force killed a Madhesi tiger militant in July and the group retaliated by killing Haripur village elder Tek Bahadur Kunwar, the villagers have been terrorised by the militants.

It is clear that the extremists are using the madhesi cause to rob and loot, and that in essence this is all about land.

"I had three hectares of rice- they destroyed it all, I'm now a beggar," says Om Bahadur Shrestha who owned three hectares.

When Nepali Times interviewed them on Wednesday, the families were sitting on the sun drying their damp clothes and looking completely lost. "We tried to stay for as long we could since it was our home. But we just couldn't take the torture anymore, we fled for our lives," says Harka Bahadur Rai. Most refugees say the gunmen are few and can be easily identified. What puzzles them is why they were allowed to terrorise them for so long using the madhes issue as an excuse.

So far, the Red Cross and the local branch of the FNCCI has helped with tents and rice, but most families go to bed hungry every night. The cold is taking its toll on the 30 children who are here, many have lung infections and cough a lot.

The children had stopped going to school last year, while still in Haripur because they were harassed by the Tigers. "They used to abuse us and hit us when we went to school, so we just stopped going to class," says seventh grader Anita Rai. Her father Harka Rai says the children just refused to go to school. "By now they have forgotten what they learnt." In Jabdi, the children help with foraging for food and firewood. Sunsari CDO Chrianjibi Adhikari has promised shelter, and so has the local Maoist commander Tika Rai. But so far, the refugees are still in tents.

Chitra Bahadur Karki is a father of three, and says simply: "Wasn't the war supposed to be over?"

Promises unkept

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)