An Interview with Mathura Shrestha, KantipurOnline.com
Dr Mathura Shrestha, a prominent human rights activist, visited Gaur a day after the carnage, in which 29 persons died. Dr Shrestha served as Health Minister in the post-1990 interim government. He attended a meeting of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) in Delhi and met also Chief of Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, Jaya Krishan Goit a couple of times. Dr Shrestha out-rightly rejects Prachanda’s view of outlawing MPRF. He suggests that addressing the Madhesi people’s problems and implementing the decisions taken by the SPA plus Maoists thus far will help restore peace and democracy in the country. Dr Shrestha shares his opinions and recounts eyewitnesses’ account on the Gaur carnage with Puran P Bista and Ghanashyam Ojha of The Kathmandu Post.
Q: How do you recount the gory incident of Gaur after your recent visit?
Dr Mathura Shrestha: Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) had made an announcement through mikes five days ago for holding a public meeting in Gaur at 11 am on last Wednesday. The Madhesi Mukti Morcha (MMM) set up the stage for the carnage after it, too, decided to hold the public meeting on the same ground at the same time on the same day.
The locals feared something. As a result, president Deo Padayar Gupta of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Rautahat branch, invited the MPRF and MMM cadres to attend a meeting on Wednesday morning at around 8:00 am.
But none of them attended the meeting. At around 10 am, rallies of both the parties began. Some of the participants of the rallies had come from the adjoining VDCs. Both parties’ rallies met near the district court. The participants of the rallies waved, clapped their hands and welcomed each other’s rally, showing an understanding on the holding of Wednesday’s public meeting. The locals took this incident as a good gesture that MPRF would hold its meeting first, and then MMM would do so, on the same ground but at different times. Then, the Maoist rally passed through Gaur, while MPRF’s rally converted into a public meeting at the Rice Mill ground.
The ground is near the district court. First, the MPRF cadres dismantled the MMM’s stage built for the public meeting. A few MMM cadres present there were beaten up. These MMM cadres left the ground to inform their leaders about the incident. Chairing MPRF’s meeting was Ram Prasad Biswas. No sooner did Biswas took his chair as the chief guest, than the MMM cadres entered the field and began to disrupt MPRF’s meeting. Then, from the southern and western sides, some people fired shots at the MMM cadres. Later, some MPRF cadres fired at the MMM cadres from the stage.
According to eyewitnesses, the MPRF cadres used socket bombs and small firearms, besides sharp weapons and cleft bamboo sticks. I think MPRF had hired notorious higher killers.
Q: How can you claim so when you were not present there?
Dr Shrestha: Within two minutes, over a dozen MMM cadres were killed (on the spot). Then, the MPRF-hired professional killers chased the MMM cadres. Some of the MMM cadres, not acquainted with Gaur, entered the nearby houses for safety. They were dragged out and killed. Some of the MMM cadres were chased as far as eight kilometers and killed. Some of the dead bodies were buried in a water canal.
I was told by eyewitnesses that eight of the killers were local Nepalis and 25 others were Indians. The three locals are Balru, Hafij Mukhiya and Binda Hasin Sahani. The eyewitnesses recounted that “the police force could do nothing”. But local police contradicted this statement saying that “they blank-fired to stop the killings”. Some local people even claimed that Upendra Yadav was staying at the house next to Dr Tayab and the superintendent of police escorted him up to Barganiya near the Nepal-India border.
What was heinous was that five of the women were raped in public. Two people caught their legs and other MPRF cadres raped them in public. Later their breasts were chopped off and burnt to deface their identity. Gagan Singh, Bhusan Singh, Baban and Guddu Jha were involved in raping and chopping-off-activities. Two local Muslim girls were taken away and their whereabouts are still unknown.
Q: Are these rapists local or Indian criminals?
Dr Shrestha: They should be local people because the local residents knew them well and everyone could pronounce their names clearly. Twelve of the MMM cadres were killed at Hajmonia, some 12 kilometers away from Gaur. They included three women and nine men.
Q: According to your assessment, what was the police force doing at that time?
Dr Shrestha: Police could do nothing when government offices were set on fire by the MPRF cadres some weeks ago. The police force has been unable to wipe the sign boards written Madesh Sarkar in government offices. What can you expect from them?
Secondly, you must understand that King Gynendra conducted municipality polls. All the political parties boycotted the polls except Kamal Thapa’s. And you must have learnt that the highest turn out in the country was at Gaur – almost 72 percent of the voters cast their votes in Gaur municipality polls. And Kamal Thapa’s candidate got 92 percent of the votes polled. Now you can think of the situation there. Recently, all the government offices have been set on fire. By whom?
A girl of late 20s raised a question. She asked me, “Dr Sahab, is political change meant for criminals or the people?” I was shocked to hear such a question from a girl who I think was forced to leave her studies. Then, I asked a few more questions. Her response was: “there is none who supports MPRF at Gaur and I do not know other places. But whatever MPRF wants, it happens here. We can do nothing in the presence of MPRF because of criminalization of politics, culture and religion”.
Until the restoration of democracy 1990, there had been a mafia group operating in Gaur. This mafia used to smuggle hashish, gold and idols, and traffic women. But the restoration of democracy led to an emergence of another mafia group. This group killed the leader of the Panchayat mafia in Janakpur. The locals say that the democratic parties have given this mafia group a political protection. Whenever they are arrested, the parties ask the police force to release them. The NC, UML and other political cadres feed and pay them. During the early 1990s, there had been clashes between these two mafia groups. Today, they have joined their hands and the dacoits across the border have also been working in tandem with these two mafia groups.
So, it looks that these groups have been very active in Gaur and its adjoining districts. The locals say that MPRF is a mere mask. These two mafia groups are active in the name of MPRF. Even human rights activists cannot release any report on these mafia leaders as they threaten to kill them.
Q: How could these mafias be hired by MPRF to the extent of butchering so many MMM cadres?
Dr Shrestha: MPRF hired professional killers. They paid them money. Eight of them were Nepali criminals and over 25 were Indian professional killers. I am talking about only those who fired gunshots. Today, the cost to hire the professional killer groups comes to 15 million rupees.
These killers are used during the elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states also. You do not have to campaign if you pay 15 million rupees to these professional killers. You win the elections. I was shocked to hear such stories from a girl who was forced to leave her studies by these local mafias.
I was further told that a girl cannot get married to a man of her or her family’s choice in Gaur. These mafias come and ask the girl to get married to their choice. If she refuses, she is threatened to be taken to a nearby mango tree and raped to be left a prostitute. Such incidents are common in Gaur. These mafias have been very active since King Gyanendra’s regime conducted municipal elections. Now they are being used by MPRF.
These are the tips of the iceberg. In fact Gaur is ruled by criminals and the SPA government, until recently, considered them its allies. Apart from eight Nepalis and 25 Indian professional killers, some MPRF cadres hit with cleft bamboo sticks. Each MMM cadre killed and injured had deep cuts in their heads. You see a cleft bamboo stick is as sharp as khukuri. And you can’t survive if you are hit with a cleft bamboo stick on your head. They used other sharp weapons too. All the hospitalized had head injuries. One MMM cadre, who left the hospital after a doctor advised her to leave, was later caught and hit by a cleft bamboo stick. Now that girl is on her death bed. I was shocked to learn that MPRF hired professional killers to kill unarmed MMM cadres.
Q: Whom do you blame for the carnage?
Dr Shrestha: What I have been advocating for the past several months is that we should not have opposed MPRF-organized protest programs. The main reason that let the Maoists oppose the MPRF organized protest movement is that the SPA gave up its stance on addressing the Madhesi problems. First, the SPA gave up its stance on federalism in the interim constitution. Second, it gave up its stance on proportional representation. Third, it raised the issue of public opinion and later it gave it up. All this disappointed the Madhesis and other ethnic groups in the hill and mountain.
Now we must realize that democracy did generate hope but doubts are undermining our hope for democracy. I see this is the emergence of people’s resentment. It is there in Madhes, hill and mountain. The movement in Madhes was not started by MPRF but by Nepal Sadhbhawana Party (Anandi Devi). MPRF shot into the fame only.
I agree there are politicians in MPRF. I met Upendra Yadav personally and informed him of SPA’s stance on the demands. I advised him to give up the political demands since the SPA government was preparing to address his demands. Secondly, I told him to use peace as a weapon to raise the demands. His response was “we have been put behind bars, now all our cadres are out of our control”, adding that “it will be a peaceful movement.” He had assured me that he would even hold talks with the janjati groups, which he did not do so. Let us not talk of him now. He is not the right kind of politician. He was just a village level leader though he may claim himself a national leader.
Second, the primary concern is that the second revolt (April uprising, even if you call it a people’s movement) brought the eight parties into a single platform. If these leaders of eight parties continue with leg-pulling politics, then the Gaur carnage is the beginning. These leaders take decisions but fail to implement them. What is the reason behind the failure to implement or delay in implementing and blaming one another? This is not the way of playing politics.
Q: But the SPA continues to insist on arms registration before the formation of eight-party government. Isn’t it?
Dr Shrestha: Arms registration is not a big deal, nor is it the problem. The Nepali Congress did raise arms against the establishment, not once but twice. If we add the incident of Okhaldhunga, it raised arms thrice. When the NC reached an agreement with the then government, it did not surrender all the weapons; so did the Marxists after the Jhapa killing. The Marxist and NC did not surrender all the weapons they had in their possession.
So, history clearly tells us that registration of weapons is not the primary concern. The Maoists have agreed to join mainstream politics. Why can’t the SPA be accommodative now? The Gaur carnage is an outcome of Maoist pride and the anarchy let loose in the country. There are several counter-Maoist groups unleashing anarchy. Unless the eight parties come together and build trust among themselves, the country will continue to reel under violence.
Posted on: 2007-03-26 10:37:38