Caught between organised crime gangs and anti-India feelings smouldering in Nepal, the kingdom's Marwari community has warned of new sectarian flare up if the government doesn't act soon.
Marwaris, who form about one per cent of Nepal's nearly 27 million population and dominate the business sector, find themselves targeted by organised kidnapping gangs while policemen refuse to take action.
In the last 30 days, at least six Marwari families had a member kidnapped and had to pay various amounts of ransom, yet no one raised a cry.
"When a member from the hill community is kidnapped, Nepal's media raises a cry," Banwari Lal Mittal, owner of domestic airline Shree Airlines, said on Thursday while addressing the annual conference of Marwaris in the capital.
"But when a Marwari is kidnapped, no one takes up his case."
Two jewellers, three traders and a businessman running a cosmetics shop in the capital have been targeted by kidnappers in the last one month.
"We gave police the number plates of the cars used by the gang that had kidnapped my son," one of them said. "We gave them the make and colour of the Santro used and told them it had a damaged window and doors. There are a limited number of garages in Kathmandu and the police could have easily found out the culprits. But they did nothing."
Atmaram Murarka, acting chairman of the Nepal Rastriya Marwari Parishad, says from being the safest city in Nepal, Kathmandu today has virtually become its crime capital.
"Every day there are looting and murders," he says. "Earlier, when gangs targeted businessmen in the border towns, we blamed criminals from India's Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states. But now such things are happening in Kathmandu. There is no sense of security anymore."
In addition to organised crime, Marwaris also fear a repetition of the violence that erupted in 2000 over an anti-Nepal statement wrongly attributed to Indian film star Hrithik Roshan that triggered riots and businesses owned by Marwaris and other Nepalis of Indian origin came under attack.
Marwaris have been freshly alarmed by the sectarian violence that erupted in the key administrative town of Nepalgunj in western Nepal after Christmas, widening the traditional rift between the kingdom's hill community and people from the Terai plains in the south, near the Indian border.
"The Nepalgunj incident raises the spectre of such violence again," says Binod Chaudhary, president of Confederation of Nepalese Industries and former chief of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
After a party of plains people, the Nepal Sadbhavana Party, called a Terai closure on Christmas Day to protest against the alleged exclusion of plains people's rights in the upcoming constitution, a rally taken out by the party came under attack and rioters ran amok, looting shops and setting merchandise on fire.
"Marwaris are identified with plains people," says Chaudhary. "Of the nearly 100 shops that were attacked in Nepalgunj, several belonged to Marwaris.
Whenever there is sectarian violence, our community becomes the first victims, especially since we are neither militant nor in majority."
Yet another peril dogs the community since the signing of a peace pact between the new government and the Maoists.
"There is now election politics," says Chaudhary. "Trade unions of different parties, with an eye on the vote bank, are targeting businesses with unreasonable demands. If this continues, there could be a flight of capital."
As the ninth annual meet of the community finalises its new strategy in view of the fresh political developments in Nepal, Chaudhary has a warning for the Girija Prasad Koirala government.
"Though we believe in negotiations and not shutdowns and chakka jams, we should not be taken for granted," he says. "Economic development is an important aspect of progress and we have a key role to play in that."