Three killed in Nepal quota protests (Lead)

March 6th, 2009 - 8:51 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 6 (IANS) Two protesters and a policeman have been killed in clashes over the Nepal government’s reservation policy with violence sweeping the southern lowlands along the border with India.

The Terai plains, regarded as 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 that they say hampers their rights.

Kamal Chaudhary, a 19-year high-school student, died Thursday night in police firing in Chitwan district, a popular tourist destination known for its wildlife park, while a severely injured protester, Bipin Chhetri, died on way to hospital.

Though authorities clamped indefinite curfew in two areas Friday to bring the situation under control, hundreds of protesters wielding knives and wooden sticks went on the rampage in defiance, blocking the highway and slashing to death an Armed Police Force personnel, Kumar Budhathoki.

The protests have been called by the Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha (TKS) and Tharu Samyukta Sangharsh Samiti (TSSS), who ignored the Maoist government’s call to begin talks and said the closure would continue till the government withdrew its controversial reservation ordinance.

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

The TSSS said: “We will start talks with the government only after the reservation ordinance is withdrawn.”

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 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 the north and forced into bonded slavery.

The Tharus fear that the quota policy, which is also meant for Madhesis, people of Indian origin living in the Terai, would benefit the latter 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 a large number 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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