Is no one responsible?A recent NHRC report on the Maleth incident undermines its intensity
Nepal Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has eventually published its report on the Maleth incident. Maleth incident got established as one of the most vivid incidents in the history of Madhes movement. But this report at best serves to undermine the intensity of the incident.
No moral ground
This report holds no moral grounds. It is superficial and the only task this report does with full honesty is to validate everything that has been presented by the forces of the state. The report clearly sanctifies the cruelty of the state and justifies it with futile examples. Further the report stresses that the protestors intimidated the security forces so much so that it makes it appear like almost the bullets were fired in self-defense. Similarly, throughtout the report it highlights the possession of spear, bhata and petrol bomb by the protestors repeatedly and also includes an image of three men where two are carrying bamboo sticks and one with an iron rod alongside three injured Armed Police Force (APF) personnel. This is an attempt to prove the protestors on the wrong side while there is no clear evidence that shows the actual use of these weapons. Further claims as deplorable as no one knew where the bullets were being fired from makes the report ambiguous. The report has thus failed to hold the security personnel and the state agencies to account.
While the report is rife with such inanities, the citation of previous incidents of Tikapur and Gaur as reference needs to be considered with much seriousness. Use of such examples has deeper implications on the entire Madhesi society and also provides an insight into the state’s perception towards Madhesis. This is not simply to say that Madhesis became violent due to given circumstances but it is an attempt to construct the image of Madhesis as people inherently violent by nature.
The use of bullets by the APF has been portrayed as an accident that was unintended. the fact that the police opened fire only when the situation started getting out of control has been repeatedly emphasised in the report. Factors like police were intimidated and chased by the protestors and were compelled to open fire can be found throughout the report. Also, the numbers of security forces present has been said to be around 1000. This number is misleading. Rajbiraj city was already heavily militarised with armed police forces deployed at almost every hundred meters in Rajbiraj town in sizeable numbers. One could already sense that something dreadful was about to unfold.
The report repeats more than one time that if force was not used, such loss of lives could have been prevented but immediately resorts to also say that the security forces were compelled to use force as the morcha cadres were growing violent and carrying lethal weapons. Thus they had no choice left but to open fire. The report does establish the fact that people were shot at point blank ranges but endorses opinions such as it was a mistake and people lying on the ground must have been shot ‘by mistake’. However the report as its biggest flaw never questions that how is it possible that all people who have been shot were shot by mistake at point blank range. In addition, it also fails to establish whether any of these people found with any of the weapons.
The report starts by holding both political parties (UML and Madhesi morcha) at equal fault for the massacre but does not hold anyone guilty. The report forwards security forces as partly responsible entity in this entire scenario as they opened fired, while highly ludicrous argument such as communication medium being snatched from the APF never to be found again has been endorsed to justify the act.
Further, the report completely ignores the backdrop in which this protest had materialised. The report tries to superficially portray it as a result of a mere rivalry between two political parties. In fact this is the sole background that has been provided to this incident. This protest was the accumulated effect of the past ruthlessness displayed against Madhesis by the KP Oli led government. However, this important backdrop has been evidently bypassed by this document.
Display of state power
Playing with the sentiments of Madhesis has been a norm of Kathmandu and displaying power against Madhesis the rule of KP Oli’s government. There has been a pattern of violence that can be observed in Madhes that is inflicted by the state, Maleth being one of the most outrageous of the events. This report at best is only one more display of power of the state and their mastery at manipulating facts. The type of quotes picked up from media reports and people interviewed, examples given and generally the language of the report are together enough evidences in themselves to illustrate that paving way to justice was not the objective of the report. The government where on one hand has used unprecedented force against Madhesis it has also tried to portray Madhesis as violent people at instances such as the President’s visit to Janakpur when enough allegations were made on Madhesis for being violent and disrespectful by nature. This report is no exception. In the name of investigation, this report has served as an instrument to extend the message of shrinking spaces of justice for those marginalised.
Amidst all this, the undeniable reality remains that innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of cruelty of the state. It should also be a matter of shame to those self-acclaimed messiahs of Madhes who have led people to lose their lives only to compromise their sacrifice in the pursuit of their selfish greed for power. At present therefore the greater responsibility lays with the provincial government to deliver justice to the victims and bring the perpetrators to rightful punishment.
Jha is the author of The Madhesi Upsurge and the Contested Idea of Nepal