Violence begets violence

  • The excessive violence by police against protesters in Gaur follows a well-established pattern
- Dipendra Jha
Violence begets violence

Apr 14, 2015-

The recent protests in Gaur against the government’s decision to expand important service centres, such as the Land Revenue Office and Survey Office, and their brutal suppression by the security forces followed a well-established pattern. The National Human Right Council (NHRC), the constitutional human rights body, has accused the police of having excessive force in its crackdown on violent protests in Gaur. But, as is seen all over the world, when state organs, particularly security bodies, engage with a community that is not adequately represented in government, excessive force is often used in the name of maintaining law and order.

Madhesi marginalisation

Rautahat is one of the most backwards districts of the Tarai. Literacy rates are the lowest in this district. If service centres are eventually transferred out of Gaur, as is suspected by many of the protesters, it would deprive the Madhesi-dominated southern parts of the district from whatever little business opportunities were being created by the existence of those service centres. This was the rationale behind the protests, but the protests were met with excessive repression.

The police’s crackdown on protesters in Kalaiya and Gaur, cities with predominantly Madhesi populations, reflected a bias inherent in the security forces. Madhesis are a relatively powerless community, having suffered discrimination for decades at the hands of the Pahadi-dominated administration. Madhesi youths are gradually reaching a tipping point with this kind of treatment.

Additional Armed Police Force personnel were brought in from Hetauda to Gaur to calm the situation, but given the ethnic make-up of this security force, they tend to view the darker Madhesis as enemies. When they see Madhesis clad in dhotis, they tend to become more aggressive. The police’s indiscriminate use of batons against Gaur protesters reflected how they perceived themselves to be dealing with an enemy, not their fellow citizens. Kathmandu, by maintaining a relative silence over this police brutality, expressed tacit support for the police’s tactics.

Plain to see

With the growing prevalence of social media, this reality is becoming harder to ignore. JP Gupta and some other political activists posted a video and pictures of violence in Gaur and Kalaiya that showed police brutality against Madhesi protesters. Pictures of expired tear gas canisters that were fired during the Gaur protests were posted on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. A local rights activist reported that the police had raided his house, shouting, “Who brought you here from Bihar?” Police also beat up one Bishnu Prasad Subedi in his own room. Even Jean Kumar Magar, a Pahadi Janajati who participated in the protest alongside Madhesis, encountered similar violence from the police.

The released video shows police using excessive force against people who pose minimal threat. Police used tear gas, indiscriminately rained batons on protests who were non-threatening or unable to run for cover. The NHRC condemned the excessive use of force in a statement on April 5, clearly saying, “Police have allegedly entered the house of local residents and thrashed them, the media persons deployed to collect the news and human rights workers involved in monitoring the situation endured unprecedented violence, common citizens were thrashed and the local community and women were rebuked and abused.”

The 1990 UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers requires the member states to step up efforts to prevent the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers by ensuring that reported cases of excessive use of force are effectively investigated, alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions. But it is doubtful whether the Gaur violence will ever be investigated.

Politically-driven

The issue of the service centres is being ideologically driven to keep communal tensions alive for political mobilisation along the East West Highway. In the period post the Madhes Movement, Pahadis and Madhesis have begun to forget their animosities. The enforcement of the decision to expand service centres only served to revive old tensions between the two communities. When the country is engaged in a federalism debate, why did the government take such a decision? The controversy has created a situation where Pahadis could view Madhesis as obstacles preventing the transfer of services to their areas. Such differences between Pahadis (residents of the northern belt) and Madhesis (residents of the southern belt) provide political advantages to the ruling alliance by placing their voters in a single block.

Max Weber once wrote that violence “is not the normal or sole means of the state, but it is what is specific to the state.” The state “is the sole source of the ‘right’ to exercise violence,” and it “must maintain its monopoly over violence in order to force those who are ruled to comply with the claimed authority of those actually ruling.” In this regard, it is interesting to note that Madhesis face more violence from the state whenever the CPN-UML holds the Home Ministry portfolio. In 2010, OHCHR Nepal documented 57 credible encounter killings of Madhesi youths, most of which took place when the UML led the Home Ministry.

More interesting is that the UML leadership at the Home Ministry never faces any criticism or fear of prosecution, as most human rights activists in Nepal are associated with the party. However, such unnecessary and excessive use of force may result in the delegitimisation of the state’s right to rule over its citizens.

Jha is an advocate at the Supreme Court

Published: 15-04-2015 08:41

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