More than 2,000 people have reportedly fled their homes in Nepal villages bordering India after alleged assault, rape and intimidation by Indian security forces patrolling the border.
Nearly two dozen villages in Dang district in midwestern Nepal, once a stronghold of the Maoist party, have been living in terror after repeated attacks by Indian border security forces, cowering villagers told Nepal's biggest private television station Kantipur.
Many of them are now at the mercy of the elements, living under the open sky in a forest in the Deukhuri area of the district.
Women in the border villages who go to forests to collect fodder and men who cross over the open border to go to India to buy provisions have been complaining of terror unleashed by Indian security personnel. While the men are harassed, women are allegedly raped.
Besides the Indian patrols, armed groups from India are also said to be attacking villagers and taking away young women.
In the last three years, at least 17 girls vanished from three border villages - Patauli, Sunpathri and Kalyani. They are believed to have been sold in brothels in India.
Rana Bahadur B.K., a 58-year-old from Khangra village, told the Kathmandu Post daily on Wednesday that two of his daughters, who had gone to India to visit their elder sister, never came back.
"I now hear that both have been sold in India," he said.
The daily quoted another villager as saying that Indian patrols kept villagers under detention "for months" in the name of interrogation.
While the men are allowed to go after a thrashing, the patrols "keep the women", the daily quoted Krishna Gharti, a villager from Gobardiha, as saying.
The exodus of the panic-stricken people has put the Satbariya forest in danger. Run over by the local community, the forest now faces denudation with the refugees felling trees to build shelters and for food.
While the major political parties have begun discussing remedies, the Maoists have grabbed the issue as a handle to beat the new government of veteran Communist leader Madhav Kumar Nepal with.
Barsha Man Pun Ananta, Maoist lawmaker and former deputy commander of their People's Liberation Army, broached the subject in the interim parliament Tuesday, criticising the Nepal government for being a "puppet" that had failed to protect its own people.
On Wednesday, when the Maoists began a 10-day public protest against President Ram Baran Yadav and held sit-ins before the district administration offices in all 75 districts, they also raised slogans against Indian "expansionism" and tyranny.
Nepal's home ministry was asked to submit a report on the border attacks.
There was no immediate reaction from the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. The Kantipur daily had earlier reported that that it had no official information about the alleged attacks.