Nepali Times
Black Wednesday


All that the terrorists of the Ansa al-Sunna group managed to do with the monstrously cold-blooded murders of 12 innocent Nepalis was earn themselves the curse of civilised people everywhere.

No injustice, no wrong can justify barbarism of this kind. And it is even more abhorrent when it is carried out against poor people who just wanted to earn a living, who had overcome tremendous odds to be able to go abroad in search of work. Such is the desperation of Nepalis today that they are willing to go to Iraq knowing full well what could await them there.

If the terrorists thought they hit back at the Americans for occupying their country by killing Nepalis, they are tragically mistaken. The international media was more obsessed by two French journalists held hostage by another group. It is hard to imagine a motive for such wanton cruelty other than to say it was perpetrated by psychopaths who crave violence for violence's sake.

Back in Nepal, anger started to boil over on Tuesday night itself. By morning, there were full-blown riots in Kathmandu and other tarai towns. Some of the rioting could have been spontaneous, but there couldn't have been simultaneous arson attacks with similar modus operandi all across the Valley without someone directing it. Besides the 110 or so recruitment companies, the targets were Nepali Muslims in the capital and tarai towns in the first serious outbreak of communal violence in this country. What was remarkable was the restraint and lack of revenge shown by Nepali Muslims against their attackers in the villages of Banke.

We did it again. Instead of expressing our anger at murderers in a desert faraway we chose to hurt fellow Nepalis. The culprits were in Iraq, but we punished Nepalis in Nepal. This is not the first time we have done this. The Hrithik Roshan riots of 2000, which made us the laughing stock of the world, spring to mind. In venting our rage, the riots ended up damaging the very sector that props up the national economy and provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of fellow Nepalis.

Terrorism has no religion. By unleashing anger against a minority at home, we have shown ourselves capable of the same irrationality that made the Nepalis in Iraq victims. Who was hurt by the destruction of the records at the recruitment agencies? The contract workers they sent abroad. Who benefited? The crooked middlemen who want to hide records of the money they have gouged from poor Nepalis.

All this has happened amidst a virulent Maoist insurgency. The rebels have just blockaded the Valley, forcing major businesses to close, shutting down schools in large parts of the country and killing and threatening journalists. The Maoist aim is economic dislocation and to create chaos, which is why they have gone for the main revenue-earning sectors of the economy. The businesses that have been closed for the past three weeks include one of each segment: tourism, transportation, carpet, garment, manufacturing. There was one sector still intact, the one propping up the economy: Nepali migrant workers.

Last year, the estimated 1 million overseas Nepalis sent home $1 billion. With the riots of 1/11, Nepal just lost this safety valve. Some of the anger against the recruitment agencies may have been spontaneous, but it looked too synchronised and coordinated to be random. The destruction of recruitment offices with their computers and records will have far-reaching consequences for the labour export sector. Besides the revenue loss, there is also the heightened frustration of young Nepalis who now have nowhere to go.

When the situation becomes less volatile there will have to be a post-mortem of the entire crisis: from the government's miscalculation of the seriousness of the situation when news first came that the hostages were taken, the fact that the hostage takers never articulated their actual demands for their release, the government's unpreparedness for the backlash against the killings even though trouble was already brewing on Tuesday night and the appalling absence of state security on the streets while the vandals went on the rampage. On Wednesday, it took two hours for the first patrol to reach the Kantipur group after mobs ran amok in its premises. There is a lesson here for a time if the bodies of the 12 are ever found and brought home for their last rites.

In the end we have to ask ourselves: had the murders not taken place in Iraq but in Nepal at the hands of other Nepalis would there have been this outrage? No sect or creed has a monopoly on brutality.

Let us remind each other that we have shown ourselves as capable of equally gruesome public beheadings, blood-curdling torture and slaughter of innocents right here in our homeland against our own people.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)