Nepal is turning into a police state for marginalized ethnic groups, regions, and classes. A police state is one in which the police represses people instead of protecting them. In a democracy, the police works to protect people. But some of the recent incidents clearly indicate that our state is deploying the police to repress unarmed and hapless people.
In a democracy people have the freedom to speak, write, express dissent, and the freedom to assert their full rights. But what kind of a state is it where the police that is fed and nourished by people violate their rights without facing any action? You have to call it a police state. Ironically, those living in comfort and the clean and well-dressed folks of the capital will not find this definition helpful in understanding their state, because the security apparatus exists precisely to serve them. For elites in the government, in particular, the apparatus even provides opportunities for exchanging briefcases.
The district police office of Saptari put Mohammed Rahman into custody for 20 days for posting a negative comment about the police on Facebook. He was then brought to the Kathmandu district court. The court ordered his release on condition that he paid a bail amount of NPR 5,000. This was Rahman’s Facebook comment that the police deemed unlawful: “How can they have improved when I had to pay them 50,000 to retrieve my stolen motorcycle?” It was just a passing remark about the lack of improvement in police administration. How could such a casual remark be against the law? The police does not have a convincing answer. But the innocent Rahman has already served his punishment.
After the newspapers reported Rahman’s detention, there was a lot of outrage in the social media. If the anger in those comments could be gauged with a thermometer, they would certainly beat Rahaman’s original post. But unlike Rahman, none of the people who posted those comments have been taken into custody. In fact, as far as this writer knows, none of Kathmandu’s enlightened social media warriors who routinely slam the entire Nepal government and ministers have had to face action so far. This is not to say they should face action; only that Rahman, too, is entitled to the same rights as them. Then why did he become an easy prey for the police whereas others did not?
Do the police look for easy targets to demonstrate their strength? If so, they will find easy targets in people who are already marginalized. Rahman is a member of the minority Muslim community of Saptari. What kind of state is this for citizens like Rahman? For him, the state is an entity that can violate his rights willfully and arbitrarily. The only right this democracy has given him is the right to cast a vote. All other rights are in the pockets of the police who live off the taxes he pays.
This incident took place a week ago. A few days before that, the police attacked unarmed citizens in another marginalized region, Dolpa. Two Dolpalis lost their lives, dozens were severely injured. While the police are busy trying to make false charge-sheets, the citizens who have lost their loved ones are swallowing their tears and living in terror. It was reported in this very newspaper that the police attacked unarmed villagers amid a heated dispute over the fees collected from yarsagumba pickers. According to a long field-based report by two reporters of Kantipur, thousands of yarsa collectors from other areas flock to the grassy slopes of Dolpa to pick yarsa during harvest season. Not only do they pick yarsa, they also destroy the pastures on which the locals graze yaks and horses. After the yarsa collection, there is not enough grass left for these animals. Many carry yarsa to Tibet without paying taxes. Locals of Dho village were angry that thousands of outsiders were being allowed to collect yarsa in this reckless manner. To reduce outsiders’ control over their resources, the villagers started collecting fees themselves. It turns out that the police attacked them saying the fees they had collected were illegal.
There, too, the police unleashed their brutality on people. They killed Dhondup Lama, who was ill, by trampling his chest with their boots. Tsering Phurwa, another local, died during the clash. Family members of the victim who was shot were forced to sign a charge-sheet that stated he died after falling off a cliff. The victim’s family members have not been able to return home. They are hiding in the lowlands fearing more brutality from the police.
The field report sheds light on another fact. None of the officials or administrators who have been ruling over the locals of Dho village and making decisions about how to use their resources can understand the local language. Shey Phoksundo National Park has formed a Buffer Zone Management Committee in Dho village, which falls in the Park’s buffer zone. The committee is responsible for managing the area’s natural resources. The chair of the committee is a Mahat. The chief of the Armed Police Force unit deployed there is a Malla. The locals cannot have meaningful dialogue with either of these men. They cannot explain their problems to them. Nor can they express their grievances to the Chief District Officer, Krishna Prasad Khanal. That’s why they say, “The police called us ‘bhote’ and beat us mercilessly.”
This is an autocratic state for people like Mohammed who belongs to Saptari’s Muslim community, or Dhondup Lama of Dolpa. The state can neither understand their language, nor empathize with their pain. The yarsa belongs to them. But the police who live off the revenue collected from yarsa do not listen to them. The Park officials whose incomes come from that revenue cannot understand their problems. The CDO whose monthly salary comprises a portion of the same revenue could not become their friend. The state exists only to repress them. It will not be far-fetched if they perceive such a state as a police state.
From extrajudicial killings in the Madhes to the repression of people in the highlands, the state has shown its discriminatory character everywhere. It is to reduce such discrimination and ensure justice for all that the state needs to be restructured. At a time when state restructuring is being discussed in the Constituent Assembly, the government elected by the people has turned more and more discriminatory. The police have turned their guns on the suffering masses. They are searching through Facebook posts of marginalized citizens to dig out “illegal” content. The ruling parties have tacitly endorsed this. In their vision, the role of the state is like that of a market middleman who simply manages and regulates the market. The state will bare its fangs and act as a police state against its own people.
Translated from Nepali by Shradha Ghale. This article was originally published in Kantipur on June 24, 2014.
Cover photo: Police guard Dho village in upper Dolpo. Sey Namkha Dorje