Locals of Musahar settlement in Dhanusha and police clash over timber loggingPolicemen came to the settlement on Sunday and started harassing villagers for collecting timber from the riverbanks, claim locals.
On Sunday night, a clash ensued between the police and the locals of Shantipur Dharatol, a Musahar settlement in Bateshwor Rural Municipality Ward No. 5, Dhanusha, over the issue of timber logging. Five security personnel were injured in the clash.
The clash arose when police personnel went to the settlement to catch suspects of a timber logging incident.
According to the locals, some of them had gone to unearth old sal trees buried over the years along the banks of Aurahi stream. Locals say two plainclothes policemen—Assistant Sub-Inspector Bulendra Giri and constable Prakash Chaudhary—from the Area Police Office in Mahendranagar came to the settlement on Sunday, started harassing villagers for collecting timber logs from the riverbanks and then demanded Rs 2,000 for the logs. They claim the clash erupted when the locals refused to provide the amount.
“They asked for Rs 2,000 but none of us had any money so we couldn’t pay them” said Thakini Sada, an elderly woman at the settlement. “Now the policemen are interrogating villagers, trying to frame them. A majority of men and youths have already left the village in fear of being arrested."
Shivakaran Yadav, the chairman of Ward No. 5 of Bateshwor Rural Municipality, says that Musahars living in the area dig out buried sal wood every rainy season when floods erode the embankments. Some Musahar youths from Shantipur Dharatol, who had returned to the villages after losing their jobs in Janakpur and other market places due to the pandemic, laboured for two weeks to retrieve eight logs from the riverbanks. They were planning to sell the logs at Rs 60,000.
“We were planning to sell the logs to buy some food and other essentials. Most of us in the settlement are daily wage earners and since there is no work now, it’s very difficult to get by,” said 70-year-old Tara Devi Sada. “My husband left home on Sunday when the police came. The police arrested my daughter-in-law for allegedly being involved in the clash.”
All 20 households in the settlement have been without jobs for the past five months due to the prohibitory orders imposed by authorities to contain Covid-19.
The police, however, denied the allegations. Sub-Inspector Mohammad Mustafa said that the villagers' claim that the police demanded money from them was baseless. The investigation on timber collection from the riverbanks is underway, he added.
According to Mustafa, Musahar youths retaliated against two police personnel in plain clothes when the latter attempted to seize the collected timber logs.
Police Inspector Dipak Kumar Raya and constable Ram Biswas Pandit sustained serious injuries in the clash while three other security personnel were mildly injured.
According to Deputy Superintendent of Police Makendra Mishra, five villagers have been arrested for investigation. Police have held Rajiya Sada, Anje Sada, Nirajan Raut, Rajita Raut and Phulgen Sada for their involvement in the clash.
The Dhanusha District Court on Wednesday remanded the suspects in custody for investigation. Police filed attempted murder charge against the three men while the two women were charged for indecent behaviour.
The police have also seized the collected timber logs and informed the Division Forest Office in Dhanusha.