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Kailali's lessons



KIRAN PANDAY

Last Friday, while scenes of the cabinet preparing to meet on Kala Patthar were being shown live on tv, preparations for a confrontation were ongoing in Kailali. More than 15,000 squatters had gathered along the highway with 'orders from above' to encroach on the forest, while 2,000 security force personnel too had orders not to let that happen. When the police started setting fire to the huts, the squatters brought out their khukuris and axes. Both sides had orders not to give in. By dusk, five people lay dead. Many were wounded. Both sides took their dead and wounded and retreated, weeping and looking down.

The squatter problem is not new to the farwestern Tarai. The clever and powerful have always encroached on the forests of Kailali and Kanchanpur. There is now pressure on land from the landless, the freed Kamaiyas, from migrants from the hills and flood and landslide victims. Political parties like the NC and UML have always used this shifting population as a vote bank for elections. The Maoists used the same groups for recruitment, but after getting into government the party couldn't deliver on its promises of land to its supporters, who were increasingly disillusioned.

Three weeks ago, an all-party meeting in Kanchanpur decided to clear squatters from community forests with the use of force if necessary. So the district administration chased out 4,000 squatters who came out on the highway and started chanting anti-Maoist slogans. The Maoist leadership felt it was losing control of its erstwhile supporters, so it announced that anyone moving down to Dudejhari would get 10 kattha of land each.

In one week, more than 20,000 people were bussed in by the Maoists, some from as far away as Surkhet. The party then started provoking the squatters to confront the expected security clampdown. The ordinary folk who were enticed to Dudejhari with the promise of land did not know they were pawns in a political game, the political parties themselves were pawns in the shenanigans of the land mafia. Ordinary peasants were being readied to kill or die. The Kailali administration decided to use live bullets as the tension escalated. If the government still doesn't learn its lesson, and unless the main parties stop using peasants as cannon fodder in their power games, the problem of land is going to be much more explosive in the future.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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