Teen killed in Nepal quota protests, indefinite strike in Terai

March 6th, 2009 - 2:55 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 6 (IANS) A 19-year-old from a community regarded the Buddha’s descendants became the first fatal victim of protests over the Maoist-led government’s job quota policy as violence swept Nepal’s southern lowlands along the India border, leading to indefinite curfew.

The Terai plains, regarded the food bowl of Nepal, remained paralysed Friday for the fifth consecutive day as the Tharu community went on the rampage, clashing with security forces, blocking highways and pledging to keep up the protests till Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda withdrew a controversial reservation ordinance. The Tharu community say the reservation hampers their rights.

Kamal Chaudhary, a supporter of the Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha (TKS) that is among the organisers of an indefinite general strike, died in police firing in Chitwan district, a popular tourist destination, late Thursday night, while nearly three dozen more activists were injured.

“This government, which is an alliance of hill tribes, Madhesis (plains people) and upper-caste Brahmins, has begun an indescribable repression in the districts,” Rajkumar Lekhi, chief of TKS, said in a statement Friday. “Vigilante groups from the ruling Madhesi parties are also partners in this repression.”

The TKS and the Tharu Samyukta Sangharsh Samiti (TSSS), which is also taking part in the protests, said they did not believe the Prachanda government’s assertion that the job quotas would not affect Tharu interests.

“We will start talks with the government only after the reservation ordinance is withdrawn,” the TSSS said.

Thousands of people, including a large number of Indians, have been left stranded as the protesters have stopped vehicles on the highway and shut down markets.

The authorities clamped indefinite curfew in two areas in Chitwan Friday but there were reports of baton-wielding Tharu groups patrolling the streets in defiance.

The seeds of the discord were sown earlier this year when the Maoist government passed an ordinance, reserving 45 percent seats in all state and public service enterprises for disadvantaged communities.

A total of 92 communities have been clubbed together in the policy, including the Tharus, who were one of the first settlers in the fertile Terai plains. Once rich and powerful, they were ousted by migrants from India as well as hill people from north and forced into bonded slavery.

The Tharus fear the quota policy would benefit the Madhesis, people of Indian origin living in the Terai, at their expense. The community had called shutdowns last month, warning the government to withdraw the ordinance or face greater disruption.

According to the census, Tharus comprise 1.6 million of Nepal’s nearly 29 million population. However, Lekhi says the census excludes large numbers of Tharus, whose total number is around 3 million.

The community is asking for proportional representation in all spheres on the basis of population.

The Tharus, still regarded as untouchables in many parts and forced into bonded slavery, were among the worst sufferers during the 10-year Maoist war, tortured and killed with impunity by security forces.

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