My KTM Post Op-Ed

When I’m in a situation that feels beyond control, especially socio-politically, I write. I write what I know in order to get a handle on things. When I think it’s useful I share my writing with others. This last Tuesday I wrote about the shocking discrepancy I observed between how the Nepal security forces were dealing with the protests in Birganj and the way they dealt with the student activists protests during the Movement against Regression from 2003-2006. I was in the thick of those protests in Kathmandu from 2004 through 2006. At that time it was very clear who were the protesters and who were the onlookers. Yes, innocent passerbys were inadvertently exposed to tear gas. However, not once was I warned that I need to run when the police come because “bullets do not have eyes.” In Birganj many people have made this plea to me. This is the difference between my time on the streets in 2004-2006 and in Birganj this past week.

I decided to share the piece I wrote documenting this discrepancy. A sanitized version has been published in Kathmandu Post: http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2015-09-04/a-mood-swing.html .

Here is what I wanted disseminated (and below is a list of edits KTM Post made and the updates I made to the original submission):

Discrepancies: The Mood On the Streets of Birganj

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Birganj for the third day trying to write since I can’t pursue the fieldwork I’ve come here to do. On Monday around noon I snapped pictures of a Nepal Army patrol making their rounds through the Bypass Road where a no-protest zone had been declared the evening before. After a few meetings, I heard that a curfew had been enforced from 4pm. I rushed across town to reach my hotel. Things were obviously tense as I crossed the main bazaar from Adarshanagar at 3:45. I was scared for the young men who were on the street vandalizing shop signs. The rickshaw driver took gullies through Maisthan and past Birganj Public College to avoid Ghantaghar and the bus park, places, I later found out, where clashes between police and protesters had taken a serious turn. I reached my hotel’s gully at 4:05 and people were looking southward on the Bypass Road toward Nagua chok. Rumors were flying about how many had been shot and how many had died. I was skeptical but again nervous for all the young men who were lingering on the road around me.

Army patrol through Nagua chok, Birganj at 12:30 Monday, August 31, 2015. Three hours before the indefinite curfew was announced.

Army patrol through Nagua chok, Birganj at 12:30 Monday, August 31, 2015. Three hours before the indefinite curfew was announced.

A tall guy approached me and said “Jai Nepal.” I asked if he was Congress. He replied, “Not Congress. Not Maoist. Not UML. Only Nepali.” He lifted up the arm of the man next to him and declared, “He is our leader. His is the sekuwa dal.” I recognized this man as a sekuwa wala from across the street. I jokingly responded, asking him if his chaap was a skewer of meat. They all laughed and the tall man explained, “He’s our leader because his heart is as big as his belly. If only all leaders had such big hearts.” And then, in a more serious tone, he urged me to return to my hotel, explaining that they couldn’t keep me safe. If the police come, he quipped, “we’ll be thinking about our own safety.” After returning to my hotel room and watching the news, I found out one person had already died, shot with live ammunition, and a number others were injured. On Tuesday, working in my hotel room, I rushed out every time I heard shots. At 5pm on September 1st, the death count was officially up to five in Birganj, with dozens more injured, some seriously so.

What has struck me since I arrived in Birganj on Sunday is the palpable difference between the current mood on the streets and the mood during the many months I spent observing student protests in Kathmandu Valley during the Movement Against Regression from 2003-2006. I didn’t worry for the student activists during that time like I’m worrying for the young men on the streets down here. Perhaps I was naive but there never seemed to be a risk that democratic student activists would be shot for being in no-protest zones in 2004. At that time, tear gas shells seemed sufficient to disperse protests. Yes, student activists were arrested for demanding a republic, for burning effigies and photos of the king, and for felicitating five dogs to mock the royal felicitations during the king’s village tour in 2004. The students were charged with sedition and then later released. Admittedly, I was nervous during the 2005 state of emergency. It was an unprecedented time in post-1990 democracy. But international organizations such as the Red Cross tracked down and publicized the locations where student activists and party leaders were being detained so that they would not be disappeared. Bar association lawyers filed habeas corpus cases with the courts demanding their release. They had the privilege of notoriety and that kept them safe.

Democratic Activists tussling with the police in Baag Bazaar, Kathmandu in 2004.

Democratic Activists tussling with the police in Baag Bazaar, Kathmandu in 2004.

That does not hold true for the young men here in the south, whether or not they are politically aligned. The preemptive mobilization of the army has set a tone of external occupation, even if the army was called in to assist local civil authorities. Reports documenting the excessive use of force here in the south have been released by human rights and nonpartisan organizations such as Third Alliance and the International Crisis Group. I can only draw conclusions based my own observations; however, I wonder why latis and tear gas sufficed to disperse student protests in Kathmandu during the Movement Against Regression but are insufficient at this time, in this place.

I want to underscore the conversation I had on the street with the young man who declared he’s “Not Congress. Not Maoist. Not UML. Only Nepali.” Lives are being lost. The loss of life has now surpassed the number of days the bandh has been ongoing in the Tarai. These lives are the lives of police, activists, onlookers, Pahadis, Madheshis, and Tharus. Twenty-three Nepali lives lost. Lives of brothers, fathers, sons, and friends. Isn’t that enough?

———————————————————–

It is only fair to point out the edits Kathmandu Post made to my original submission as well as the updates I had made to my original submission.

KTM Post’s edits to my original Submission:

#1 Title change:
The original title was: “Discrepancies: The Mood On the Streets of Birganj”

It was changed to: “A mood swing”

with the byline:
“There is palpable difference in the mood on Birganj streets now and 2003-2006 protests in Kathmandu”

#2 These subtitles were inserted into the KTM Post Op-Ed to frame the narrative:

Just Nepali
Now and then

Updates I made to the original submission:

I also want to highlight the changes I made in the updated version I hoped would be published. These updates reflect the change in fatality numbers, additional references to analysis that had since been released since I had originally wrote the piece. And also my updated understanding on the loopholes around army mobilization since I recognize that phrases like “preemptive army mobilization” are contentious.

Paragraph One:

— The updated version changed the order of events so they are in chronological order and dated the piece from the third day of the curfew rather than the second day.

Paragraph  Four (Penultimate Paragraph):

— I changed the opening sentence to reflect what people were telling me, that many of the injured young men were not politically aligned but in the wrong place at the wrong time.

— I added more explanation on army mobilization, stating: “, even if the army was called in to assist local civil authorities” with a hyperlink.

— I called out and included a link to the International Crisis Group’s report.

Last Paragraph:

— I updated the number of casualties and rephrased the point comparing the number of days of the bandh and loss of life: “The loss of life has now surpassed the number of days the bandh has been ongoing in the Tarai.”

13 Responses to “My KTM Post Op-Ed”

  1. Aditya September 4, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    One major difference, which you conveniently omitted was the fact that about half a dozen policemen and a two year old were mercilessly killed by the agitating parties less than a fortnight ago. That could be a major factor accounting for the ‘discrepancies’. Back then, Policemen were sure none of those protesters came with a well set plan to kill them.

    • Amanda Snellinger September 4, 2015 at 9:47 am #

      Aditya, I appreciate your comment. But I’d like to I remind you there was a civil war going on at the time of the Movement Against Regression. Democratic student activists were not lumped in with the Maoist rebels. But protesters in Birganj were assumed to be connected to the unfortunate events in Tikapur? My point is that one Nepali life lost over state demarcation is one too many no matter who’s it is.

      • Aditya September 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

        Agreed on the fact that even a single loss of life in unfortunate, no matter the cause or the political inclination. My point was I did not see you acknowledging the effect Tikapur incident has made on security personnel all over the country. That may be the reason are going for bullets instead of opting more moderate measures. I unequivocally advocate for the Right to Life, be it a policeman/woman or a protester. Life is valuable. No one should be subjected to deaths as unfortunate and gruesome as those unfortunate souls, may they rest in peace, in Kailali and Birjang.

        • Ajay September 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

          In the last few days when I posted on social media about what I thought was the unnecessary use of lethal force in Birgunj by the police against protesting citizens, some told me that it was necessary to prevent the repeat of Tikapur.

          Necessary? That’s an utter disregard for human life. The government displayed lack of restraint. This compels one to wonder if use of lethal force is selective.

    • rajeev September 6, 2015 at 2:45 am #

      Do you have any idea on what really happened at Tikapur? Can you believe any particular version of story that were published? Have reasonable doubts about the news that followed after incident cross your mind? The way you people give logic and reasoning clearly you guys don’t seems in mood of reconciliation. But dude in this age of internet and age of knowledge no one enforce anything on anyone…if Nepal, Pahadi people, Rulers don’t understand the depth of crisis i won’t be surprised geography changes in this part of world…

  2. Lallan September 4, 2015 at 8:51 am #

    Can you send me a copy of your article in Kathmandu Post ? My email address is: dammhan.lall.com

  3. Amanda September 5, 2015 at 1:52 am #

    Dear Amanda,

    I appreciate your courage, energy and love to understand the native ethnic people situation first hand. I am sure, your thirst will grow to understand Nepali society differences. I suggest, you do anthropological research on key word “Nepali”. This will help understand, rulers not only forcefully dismiss owner from Property, State, rather also from Heritage and Name. Yes, names are stolen too.

    The bullying tradition of last 250 years can be gauged from the fact that not a single notable Architecture is gifted in 250 years. All the notable architecture you see in today’s Nepal is gifted/constructed by Newari kings or non-rulers people.

    Coming back to seeing the current street violence from another Editor’s perspective, read http://myrepublica.com/editorial/story/27581/under-a-cloud.html . He/She justifies Police violence in terms of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory.

    But, no one goes to think why? why is there people on street?

    Regards
    Ram Manohar Sah

  4. Arvind September 5, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    Dear Amanda,

    Thank you very much for accurate coverage of Madheshis voices and government act. Madheshis in Nepal are not human for Government and Non-Madheshies people and they have crossed their humanity to kill Madheshis.
    Media, Human Rights, Government Officers all are against Madheshis and nearly no international media or human rights are helping Madheshis.
    Hope for your accurate coverage in future and help to explore the issues of Madhesh everywhere.

    Thanks
    Arvind

  5. rajeev September 6, 2015 at 2:57 am #

    I request if you could please make Tikapur incident your research topic…we genuinely believe what actually happened there will not be out, without an independent eyes like your’s!! tc

    • Amanda Snellinger September 6, 2015 at 3:14 am #

      Rajeev, I have never researched in the Far West nor closely with the Tharu populations, except the Tharu community in Parsa. So I don’t think I’m positioned to provide good analysis of the Tikapur incident. Luckily there are some very smart researchers, both Nepali and foreign, who have been doing ongoing research in the Far West. I’ll defer to them for analysis of the incident. Did you read this: http://kantipur.ekantipur.com/news/2015-09-04/20150904075549.html

  6. JP Sah September 7, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    Dear Amanda,

    Your research-based unbiased expression of findings is praiseworthy. It is unfortunate that the Kathmandu Post, a reputed journal, could not remain unbiased while publishing your article. However, this is not surprising when it is viewed how discrepancy is entrenched in behavior of Nepal’s ruler class politicians and their followers of particular ethnicity. One aspect of the reasons for the excessive use of fire power in Birgunj is getting overlooked by many, and possibly you may find in your research too, is that the status of Birgunj as the gateway for essential goods much needed in Capital and other regions there. Since the protests and demonstration in Birgunj cause an obstruction in smooth transportation of goods, creation of a situation that would keep the protesters and blockers out of the road could be the major intent of the administration and security. Unfortunately, lives of innocent people did/do not have any value while they are following the order of their masters who always think that there are differences in right of living dignified way among the peoples of different regions.

    Regards,

    JP Sah

    • Amanda Snellinger September 8, 2015 at 3:13 am #

      JP Sah,
      Thanks for your thoughts. You are correct in that the intense security clamp down was due to protesters trying to obstruct police escorted tankers along by-pass road on Sunday August 30th. This is the very reason why the Big 3 are not entertaining the demand of two states, Tharu & Madhesh, in the Tarai. They want to ensure that there is ample access to the Indian border to ensure that Kathmandu is not held captive by border closures. The unfortunate aspect of this calculation is that it does not take into account why southern political parties call strikes and the public observes them. There would be no need for such forms of protest if there were other avenues through which people could air their grievances and they were addressed. If the dignity of people and their communities are respected and they feel they’ve got a chance at a good life, then they are rarely motivated to agitate because such agitation comes with risks and hardships for them too.

      Incentives encouraging people to invest in Nepal need to be instituted, especially for young people. I’ve been inspired by so many Parsa youth who are investing in their communities in amazing ways. They would love to scale up or at least feel their investment was part of a larger national project. Based on this I do see a way out. To my mind, the government has squandered so much human capital and potential by not incorporating Nepal’s diversity into state restructuring.

      On another note, my research is biased in the sense that I speak from my point of view and what I’ve seen. I’ve got a social justice proclivity that some may find impractical. I also want to emphasize that I was not accusing Kathmandu Post of anything surreptitious. You are right, they are a reputed journal. I believe they are trying to provide balance in very polarizing times. Inevitably people are going to be disappointed that their views are not wholly represented. There are deep routed biases on all sides that are clashing. That is why empathy, trying to see things from others’ perspectives, is so important. That is ultimately the best way to come together. In the wise words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along”.

      Thank your for your thoughtful vishleshan. Amanda

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