Nepal: thousands flee vigilante terror

Violence continues to escalate in Nepal, with 64 Maoist guerillas reported killed in a gunbattle with security forces in western Rukum district April 14. (Reuters, April 14) A page 3 story in the New York Times April 12 notes that thousands have fled across the border to India in recent weeks, and that vigilante groups are beginning to emerge to hunt down guerillas and their sympathizers in rural villages. At least 50 are confirmed killed in vigilante violence, mostly hacked to death. The Times strongly implied a government hand in creating the vigilante groups. "We have a feeling that the people want to fight against the terrorists," King Gyanendra’s deputy, Tulsi Giri, said in an interview in Katmandu. "Perhaps there will be mass uprisings organized against them, plus military action as well." (NYT, April 12) Days earlier, Nayan Bahadur of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) told Reuters some 500 homes of suspects guerilla sympathizers have been burned down in the vigilante terror. (Reuters, April 7)

Despite the odd article in the NY Times, the world is paying little note to the worsening crisis in Nepal. King Gyanendra is about to make his first trip abroad since he declared a national emergency and suspended civil government in the country in early February. His destination is Indonesia, where he will attend ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Bandung conference. Tension is expected with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has spoken out against the repression in Nepal, but regional powers China and Pakistan are supportive of the king. (India Business Standard, April 15) China’s Xinhua news service notes that Bill Gates has just pledged to invest $185,000 in rural electrification for Nepal. (Xinhua, April 14)

Meanwhile, an April 14 report in Massachusetts’ Hingham Journal sheds some light on why there are so many angry peasants in Nepal ready to join the guerillas. Local photographer Eva Kasell has a show at the Hingham public library of her recent work documenting the poverty and exclusion imposed by rural Nepal’s caste system, under which dalits ("untouchables"), as well as women generally, are denied education and all but the most marginal employment. Kasell said visiting Nepal’s villages was "like going back two centuries." This Sunday, the library will feature a presentation by Nepalese rights activist Bishnu Pariyar of Empower Dalit Women in Nepal (EDWIN), who will speak on the ongoing discrimination and oppression in rural Nepal.

A March 21 report on the Rising Nepal website, sparked by the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, noted a 13% literacy rate for dalits, compared with an overall literacy rate of 50%–despite an official constitutional ban on caste discrimination. Of the 17% of Nepalis in abject poverty 80% are dalits.

See our last blog post on the Nepal crisis.