In an incident that will add to the tense internal confrontation within Nepal and to chill in bilateral ties with India, the Nepal Police has killed an Indian citizen while firing at protestors in the Nepali border town of Birgunj. India has expressed ‘deep concern’ at the killing of ‘an innocent Indian’, even as Nepal has claimed that he was killed when police was trying to restore order after clashes with protestors.
The incident and clashes on Monday are a set back to the ongoing dialogue process between the government and Tarai parties, and could cause even greater disruption in supplies across the border, sources indicated.
The incident happened as tensions escalated in Birgunj when the Nepal Police, early on Monday morning at 5 am or so, attacked Madhesi protestors and burnt tents at the border to clear way for movement of goods. Images of the burnt tents were circulated by Madhesi parties as proof of the action and harassment.
The border has been blocked for almost 40 days with groups in Nepal’s Tarai using it as a tool to generate pressure on Kathmandu to oppose the new constitution and seek amendments.
Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs described the day’s events differently. It denied the use of any force when the police tried to clear the border in the morning, alleged that the protesters had pelted stones, and claimed that among those arrested from the site, were two Indian citizens.
It said that during the period when the border was open till 10.30 am, over 200 Indian trucks stranded on the Nepali side moved to India, but the Indian side, according to the statement, did not release vehicles from the Indian side.
Dissenting Madhesi parties reacted against police action, thousands of Madhesis congregated in the town and at the border through the day, and confrontation escalated even as local officials imposed a curfew.
Ashish Kumar Ram aka Sonu Ram was a resident of Raxaul. According to a Nepal Police statement, Madhesi protestors had burnt a local police office on the Nepali side of the border; they turned more aggressive when the police used lathi-charge and tear gas; and then the police resorted to firing, in which Ram was injured. The Home Ministry added that Ram was a part of a group of protesters using and throwing ‘petrol bombs’.
But this version was disputed by an eyewitness and human rights groups. Sunita Sah, a Madhesi district leader, who was at the border, told HT on the phone from Birgunj, “It was about 1.30 in the afternoon.
We were protesting against Nepal police for its brutality when they resorted to force. I saw a young man, handsome looking, in a black vest, using an alternative route through the adjacent village return from Birgunj towards Raxaul. The police caught him.” Sah said they begged the police from a distance not to harm him - but the police shot him point-blank.
In a statement, the Tarai Human Rights Defenders Alliance said it was deeply concerned at Ram’s killing and said he ‘received a live bullet on his head when police opened fire on protestors’. It quoted his father, Ashok Ram, as confirming that Ashish had gone to Birgunj on some personal work and was shot on his way back.
The organisation added that another local resident had been seriously injured and said that the police had been using live ammunition despite the stay order against use of excessive force by the Supreme Court.
The incident has caused anger in the bordering Indian town of Raxaul. Mahesh Kumar Agarwal, a local businessman who has been running a mess for the Madhesi protestors, told HT, “Till now, Nepal police had been killing Madhesis. Now they are killing Indians also. We want action against them and compensation for the family. The boy was an only son and comes from a poor background.”
In a statement, besides expressing deep concern at the firing and the killing of an ‘innocent Indian’, the Indian embassy reiterated that the issues facing Nepal were ‘political’ and could not be resolved by force.
“Causes underlying the present state of confrontation need to be addressed by the Government of Nepal credibly and effectively.” The statement said that Indian transporters and freight operators had again voiced concern at the ‘deteriorating situation’ and India had advised them to ‘exercise caution and not put themselves in danger’. With increased protests on the Madhesi side and the tense standoff, border crossings were closed on Monday with even the limited supplies shrinking.
Indian sources told HT that Monday’s incident once again confirmed the logic of why India has been urging Nepal to find a political resolution to the Tarai crisis and its cross border ramifications.
The border is open, there is free movement of people, unrest in Tarai is bound to affect Indian citizens and interests. “Nepal government is playing with fire. It needs to get its house in order and this can only happen if it talks and listens to disaffected sections of the population, not through force.”
The security crackdown is expected to cause a setback in the government’s talks with the Madhesi parties. On Sunday, the government had officially agreed to review the issue of federal demarcation through a political agreement. But the current environment, Madhesi leaders said, made them doubt the government’s intentions. They promised to intensify the agitation.