Ijhar Pamariya of Laxmipur of Sarlahi district was returning home last Monday after working in his fields all day. The 50-year-old farmer wa s passing a road block erected by locals who were protesting the delay in the installation of electric transformers, when six Armed Police Force (APF) men attacked him with batons and boots.
The tired farmer did not even have the strength to defend himself against the indiscriminate beating. He died on the spot. The post-mortem confirmed death due to severe beating.
"I told them he was just a passerby, but they kept punching and kicking him and then they also attacked me," said Jamiruddin Mansoor, who was injured. Twelve villagers were also hurt, including 40-year-old Jailam Khatun who was sitting inside her home when the APF ransacked it and beat her up too.
A few months ago, a rickshaw-puller from Shivanagar of Kapilvastu district was killed by men from the APF and Nepal police near the Indian border. According to the report filed by the victim's family, Mangare Murau was transporting alcohol from across the border when the police asked him for a bribe. The poor man had nothing to offer and was beaten and kicked. Murau died two days later.
The increase in police brutality in the Tarai in recent months ironically comes at a time when the overall security situation has actually improved, and Madhesi militancy has waned. The blue-and-grey camouflage fatigues of the APF, however, have become synonymous with harassment, corruption, and physical attacks.
In the immediate aftermath of the Madhes movement in 2007, the eastern Tarai was wracked with violence by militant groups as well as the security forces. The armed groups killed and extorted, and the state responded by deploying the APF. Now the threat from criminalised gangs has gone down and replaced by high-handedness and violence by the generally non-Madhesi armed police.
Dipendra Jha of the group Tarai Human Rights Defenders, told me: "The special powers granted to the CDO and designated local authorities by Articles 5 and 6 of the Arms and Ammunitions Act, allow them to arbitrarily detain a person for investigation in the name of public security, but there has been widespread misuse of these powers".
Last year, a case was filed in the Supreme Court challenging the CDO's quasi-judicial powers under the act and argued that such powers to a single authority were being abused. The court responded by directing the government to form a committee to recommend necessary changes in the act within six-months. One year on, the act has still not been changed.
In the last six months, there has been an increase in the Madhes of cases of 'crossfire' fatalities, illegal detention, and custodial killings. There are plenty of cases where police have been found to be involved in illegal detention of innocent Madhesi youths.
Ajit Lal Karna, a 26-year-old student from Janakpur, was abducted and tortured by the Central Investigation Bureau and Mahottari police before mysteriously releasing him near the Indian border. In some cases, the victims have died of torture, but the families have no way of proving the fact because no arrest warrants or charge sheets are filed.
The state has failed to protect its citizens during this prolonged transition from the very institutions it runs to serve them. In the absence of elected representatives, people have been at the mercy of local bureaucrats and the powerful police for the last 10 years. The corruption and misuse of power has become intolerable, and young Madhesis feel targeted again.
An average of 1,000 young Nepalis leave the country every day from Kathmandu airport, many of them are young men from the Tarai headed to Malaysia or the Gulf to work. No one keeps any record of how many cross the border to find work in India. With no jobs and few prospects, the young people of the Madhes have few options but to migrate. This is a recipe for another disaster in the Madhes: the hopelessness of the youth combined with state repression.
Back in Kathmandu, a young Madhesi student who works as a barber to make ends meet told me this week: "Whenever I go back home, the police look at my clothes and hair and frisk me. How often does it happen to Pahadis, I wonder?"