Kapilvastu carnage : Sowing distrust among communities

It is unusual that killing of a single individual can result in the loss of countless lives and untold amount of property. As such, someone en route to riot-hit areas from Butwal will be much surprised to see large-scale arson, burning of buses and trucks right across the national highway near Chandrauta, Kapilvastu.

Moin Khan’s killing sparked the rioting. Within half an hour of his killing in the morning, arson, looting, and other killings broke out at different places including at Devipur of Vishnapur village development committee, the worst affected area. It is hardly about 2-3 km from the main road leading to Krisnanagar. Simultaneously, some people started setting fire to the buses and trucks belonging to the hill people at Chandrauta. Surprisingly, the armed force battalion posted a kilometre away from the site hardly did anything to quell the looting and arson.

Human right activists including myself representing various NGOs in Kathmandu along with local NGOs visited three camps — two in Nepal and one in India on Sept. 23. We visited Devipur (which neither police nor any other observer had theretofore visited) with the local police who were there to verify the burnt houses and collect the scattered skeletons for last rites. Earlier, we had visited the temporary open-sky camp at Chandrauta where about 1,200 people of hill origin were living. We also visited the Gandhi Adarsh Inter College at Badhni in India, the border town next to Krishnanagar, where more than 200 people, mostly from Muslim community, had taken shelter. We were told that about 500 people had also taken refuse at Dhankaula, a place near Badhni. At Sudri Danda camp, we found more than 200

people from Paththrdia taking shelter with their cattle and other belonging. Interestingly, during the last four decades, these people were first settled at Butwal, then transferred to Dalpur and then again shifted to Paththradia.

To some, all of what took place was a result of a big conspiracy. But if we take into account the historical, political, social, ethnic and psychological perspectives of this carnage, we may find other underlying causes too. Psychologically, it appears to be an act of emotion-charged revenge taken by the sympathisers of the community’s killed feudal lord, who came out of their houses with weapons to retaliate against the suspected community by looting, burning and brutal killing of innocent people. Historically, it was found that it was not first incident of the kind in the area of Devipur village, where 123 houses were burnt and some people were killed this time. In the past too, arson and killings had taken place there. Most of those whose houses were destroyed or those who were killed were not local inhabitants. They had resettled there from the Maoists-affected districts of the hilly regions.

Since most of the resettled people come from Maoist areas, it was generally supposed that they were Maoist supporters. But some of them are displaced people

who were badly affected by the insurgency. Since the Maoists had targeted Moin Khan in the past who had in turn been opposing the posting of Nepal Army at his residence to guard him and his family, the violent crowd too might have targeted the people of Devipur to retaliate.

Since Devipur had witnessed such carnage earlier as well, the current spate of violence cannot be taken only as repercussion against Khan’s killing. There must be other deep-rooted causes which have existed for a long time. One of them may be the interest of the local people in the land being cultivated and captured by resettlers who come from outside of the locality. The locals might have wanted to control the landholdings as local and real claimants. Since they have been deprived of their natural right over the land, they have been targeting the settlers so that the latter might evacuate the occupied areas. But perhaps the land belongs to no one but the government (Ailani).

Socially, it appears that the local folks are not getting on well with the people who have come to settle there from outside. Lack of social harmony between the communities might have caused the tensions. At times, ethnicity does divide communities, especially in under-developed and far-flung areas, which is, of course, not possible in towns and sub-urban areas. There is a remote possibility that resettling outsiders had some political ramifications. The real intention of the ruling class might have been to alter the landscape politically by resettling the people who are alien to the locality with the ultimate objective of influencing the cultural and social demographics of the area. All these steps might have contributed to creating mistrust among the people. If timely actions are not taken, and the trust-deficit continues, this will not only affect the upcoming CA polls but more importantly, also the country’s social cohesion.

Prof Mishra is ex-election commissioner