There are indications, and apprehensions, that the UDMF’s agitation seems to be “going out of its control”
The protests across central and eastern Tarai launched by the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) are increasingly turning violent. On Thursday the UDMF had decided to intensify its stir, and, at the same time, to allow ambulances and medicine-laden trucks to pass through the Jogbani customs point, but its cadres appear to have gone on the rampage. Since then, ambulances carrying sick people have been attacked and damaged, and a medicine-laden truck torched, apart from vandalizing and setting ablaze a number of other motor vehicles. The district of Saptari has become very tense following violent clashes between police and the UDMF workers on Saturday night. At least two protesters have been killed and several others were injured when the police opened fire. It has been learnt that the clashes started when hundreds of agitating activists began to round up the police personnel patrolling the highway, apparently to escort vehicles heading towards their destinations at night. The police say protesters in large numbers carrying sharp traditional and home-made weapons attacked the police, prompting the security personnel to open fire in self-defense. The agitating side on the other hand dismiss the police version and maintain that the security personnel used excessive force, unprovoked. More protests and violence broke out in several parts of Tarai on Sunday. Reports coming out all day indicated Saptari had virtually turned into a battle ground. Citing deteriorating security situation, police have stopped vehicles along the highway in Rautahat and Sarlahi. Hundreds of vehicles heading for the east were stuck at Siraha’s Lahan, Dhanusha’s Dhlakebar, Mahottari’s Bardibas, Sarlahi’s Hariwan and Nawalpur and Rautahat’s Chandranigahapur. Thousands of passengers have been stranded. Police officers said that they had stopped the vehicles to avert the untoward incident.
UDMF leaders needs to introspect and assess if the nature of their agitation is going against the very concept and spirit of democracy. They have every right to make their demands and protests, but these should not come at the cost of others’ right to hold different opinions or refuse to participate in their activities. They are also supposed to respect others’ right to travel freely, so such acts as their blockade on the highways and throwing stones at vehicles or attacking drivers and passengers, trying to disrupt others’ rallies, even goodwill rallies, and threatening the news media for airing news and views not to their liking are simply unacceptable in any democracy worth the name.
There are indications, and apprehensions, that the UDMF’s agitation seems to be “going out of its control”. To this concern the UDMF leaders should pay adequate attention. The country, including the people of Tarai-Madhes, will suffer more, and so will the parties spearheading the current agitation in such an event. Certainly, violence and vandalism will not take the UDMF any nearer to achieving its goals. As the adage goes, violence begets violence. Such activities may on the contrary trigger off a backlash, including from the general people of Tarai-Madhes.
An uphill task
A government task force has said that more than 52 million cubic feet of timber will be required for the reconstruction of the ancient monuments, temples, shrines, public schools, government buildings and private houses damaged by the April 25 earthquake and its aftershocks in as many as 40 districts. The task force submitted its report to the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation along with its recommendation about the arrangement for timber. The report has said it will require at least 50 cubic feet of timber for rebuilding a damaged private house in the rural and urban areas. Around 100 cubic feet of timber will be needed to reconstruct the government building on the average.
The major challenge for the ministry is to collect such a huge amount of timber from various parts of the country and distribute it to the needy people in rural and urban areas. This is an uphill task for the government as the timber has to be collected without causing much harm to the government and community-managed forestry as well as provide it to the people at a fair price in a transparent manner.
A version of this article appears in print on November 23, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.