Threatened, beaten and murdered

Stories from the frontlines of the defence against illegal sand mining

Om Prakash 'Dilip' Mahato, 24, Murdered
Sripur, Dhanusa

As the oldest of siblings, Om Prakash, or Dilip as he was known, was the ideal son -- socially responsible, active in the community, and with hopes of supporting his family as an engineer. But on January 10, 2020, he was found dead on the banks of the Aurahi river, the same water body that he had worked so hard to defend from illegal sand miners. He had been brutally beaten and crushed under the wheels of a tipper truck.

His family alleges that his body was run over by a truck to make it look like an accident. It is largely believed in the community that Dilip was murdered by sand miners with whom he had butted heads countless times in the past over their extraction of sand from the riverbed of the Aurahi. The case is currently sub judice at the Dhanusha District Court.

“My brother lost his life fighting against environmental exploitation. We hope this will not repeat again,” said Sangam Mahato, Dilip’s younger sister.

Sanjay Mahato, 27, Attacked
Batteshwor Rural Municipality, Dhanusa

On the night of May 2, Sanjay joined his friends and neighbours in marching to the Badahari river which flows a few hundred meters north of his home. Like numerous times in the past, they demanded that miners excavating the river for sand stop working past the 6pm deadline. The argument escalated quickly, and when they were returning home, the protestors were attacked, with Sanjay struck on the head by a metal lever. He had to be rushed to a hospital in Kathmandu to treat the deep wounds.

“I vaguely remember the first few blows before collapsing to the ground,” he said. “People later told me that the miners would have buried me alive if it hadn’t been for villagers who came looking for me.

”Since the attack, Sanjay isn’t as physically fit as he used to be, which has impacted his family’s finances. As the sole breadwinner for his family of five, he is worried about not being able to take up as much work as he used to because of his poor health. “I can’t lift heavy things anymore and my head still hurts because of the injury.” he said., “But I can’t stop working so I try to find light work that my body allows me to do.”

Nanda Kumar Silwal, 50, Threatened
Mithilanagar, Dhanusa

Last December, local sand mining operators on the Basahi river threatened to burn down Nanda Kumar Silwal’s house when he and his neighbours protested against the unrestrained extraction of sand. A few weeks later, news about Dilip Mahato’s gruesome murder in a nearby village spread like wildfire, and that instilled fear in everybody.

“Earlier, everyone would get together to confront sand mining operators, but now they find excuses to not go to the river. People are scared now,” said Silwal. “Even those who used to take the initiative to organize villagers are fearful now.”

Rajkaran Mahato, 28, Attacked
Journalist, Mahottari

Rajkaran Mahato has received countless threats in his 10 year career in journalism, but nothing came close to what happened last April. Mahato was reporting on the activities of crusher companies in Gaushala, Mahottari district when he and his colleagues were chased by a group of around eight-to-nine workers. The journalists ran for their lives and managed to make it out without anything unfortunate happening.

“I have received several direct and indirect threats for my work, but nothing like this physical intimidation,” said Rajkaran.