Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Caste aways


RAJBIRAJ - The campus incident in this stagnant Tarai town brings together all the elements that best describes the state of Nepal today: institutional degeneration, patronage, factional party politics, partisan bureaucracy and a pliable judiciary, impunity, violence.

The overwhelming role of caste formed the undercurrent of the brutal assault on campus chief Devi Dutt Sah.
Here are the facts of the case: there had been a two week stand-off between the administration and a part of the student union. The newly elected union president Ram Chandra Yadav (belonging to a faction of the NC) had put in a dozen demands, ranging from an enquiry into appointments of temporary teachers to allegations of corruption.

On the morning of 8 June, a student called up Sah and reported that a clash had broken out at the campus. Sah called up the local SP, who promised to send forces but said they would need permission from the CDO to take action.

Sah then headed to the college, but only after having spoken to the CDO Ram Bilas Ray Yadav, who promised to give the required orders. The CDO however disputes this, stating there was no way he could have given orders because Sah had not put in a formal written request.

Once in the college, Sah was surrounded by 15-20 students, some of them from the union and others whom he did not recognise. They locked him up inside a room, and told him to resign immediately. When Sah refused, he was stabbed and hit with lathis. Sah claims he heard union president Ram Chandra Yadav say: "How dare you think a Teli (Sah's caste) can become campus chief in Saptari or Siraha?"

Sah finally gave in and wrote a resignation note. All this while, the police was right at the campus gate: either misled into believing that the campus administration and students were having talks, or waiting for the elusive CDO orders that never came, or unwilling to take action. After four hours, according to Sah, a group of students and the SP of the APF camp rescued him.

When Sah was appointed campus chief two years ago, he superseded more senior colleagues in the campus. Key appointments in educational institutions across the country were divided among parties who could choose their men. The town grapevine has it that Sah was backed by one faction of the Saptari NC. Since then, some in the teaching faculty (predominantly Yadavs, backed by another faction of NC) had ganged up to oust him.

Certain decisions taken by the chief, like the appointments of teachers, gave them enough ammunition to allege corruption. The Maoists, keen to get a foothold in the campus and curry favour with the politically powerful and demographically sizeable Yadavs, also backed the plan to get rid of Sah.

It was this alliance of some senior (Yadav) teachers in the campus, certain (Yadav) leaders of NC and the Maoists, and the (Yadav-led) student union that mounted the assault on Sah. There are also murmurs that the CDO being a Yadav explains his inertia. Sah himself alleges that in the past few months, a non-Yadav bank manager, district education officer, and other local officials have either been killed or hounded out of their offices.

For their part, the Yadavs privately say this is an upper caste and non-Yadav backward caste alliance to deprive their share of political power. The student union's Ram Chandra Yadav denies any involvement and claims he in fact helped rescue the chief. He alleges that the chief is trying to give a caste colour to what is a political battle to "protect student rights by ensuring a clean administration".

However, his argument however is severely weakened by what has happened after the incident. The police arrested Yadav and others on the basis of Sah's statements. Yadav leaders across the board waged a campaign to get them released. The Maoists and NC together, aided by Madhesi parties, led the charge. The government lawyer was threatened and he ran off without arguing the case. And the judge released the accused. Now, non-Yadav leaders of different parties (Mandals, Sahs, Brahmans and others) are brainstorming about what to do in order toprevent Yadav hegemony.

The Tarai now resembles the Bihar of the 1990s under Laloo Yadav.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)