Sons of soil shut down Kathmandu valley

June 1st, 2009 - 2:54 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 1 (IANS) Nearly two dozen people were injured as skirmishes broke out between riot police and protesters here Monday. A community that has been residing in the Kathmandu Valley for more than 1,500 years shut down the capital and 10 more districts, demanding an autonomous state for themselves and the scrapping of a reviled urban development plan.

Kathmandu and its neighbouring Lalitpur and Bhaktapur cities were paralysed by the closure called by the Newars, a people famed for their business acumen and extraordinary craftsmanship.

Nine Newar organisations, including those affiliated to Nepal’s major political parties, closed schools, shops, markets and business establishments. Men brandishing bamboo sticks and red flags bearing the image of an autonomous Newa state paraded the streets menacing vehicles, including ambulances and cycles.

Tension simmered in Kalimati, Kathmandu’s main fruits and vegetable market, as hawkers opposed the strike. Demonstrators turned rough, forcibly shutting down the stalls with their ware spilling out on the streets.

Clashes were also reported in the Kuleshwor area, where current Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s family home is located, and in Pulchowk in Lalitpur district. At least five vehicles came under attack for having ventured out.

Though police said they were escorting stranded tourists to their destinations, the streets were full of beleaguered men and women trudging on foot in angry misery towards the airport or from the airport to hotels.

Effects of the closure were also seen in nine other districts outside Kathmandu valley, ranging from Sindhupalchowk in the north to Makwanpur in central Nepal.

“We are protesting against the government’s authoritarianism,” said Malla K. Sundar, famed human rights activist and leader of a Newar organisation, the Newa De Dabu.

“Newars have lived in Kathmandu valley for over 1,500 years and comprise 42 percent of the population in the area once known as Nepal Mandal, which stretched over 12 districts. They are the sons of soil and yet, are now becoming marginalised in their own land.”

The community wants an autonomous state carved out of the 12 districts, including Kathmandu valley, where they form the majority. They also want the government to drop its valley development plan.

“The plan centres power in the hands of a council to be headed by ministers,” Sundar said. “It can take over any land in the valley in the name of development and pay compensation to the owners as per its wish. It also says such takeover can’t be disputed in court. We think it is highly objectionable and should be scrapped.”

This is the first strike faced by the week-old government of Nepal that is still floundering to name a full cabinet due to continued jockeying for key ministries among its main allies.

Besides the Newar discontent, the Nepal government also faces protests from the Maoists from Wednesday, which will include sit-ins and chakka jams or transport strikes.

To add to the government’s woes, an organisation of backward communities, asking for 33 percent reservation in all state organs, has also called an indefinite closure in the southern Terai plains from June 16 if the state fails to heed its demands.

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