The Dalit Struggle Committee of Dhanusa organized a protest on Thursday, July 2, in Janakpur to demand justice for Shambhu Sada and Raju Sada, two young Musahar men who died in police custody and a government quarantine facility, respectively, in the last month. Police fired tear gas and warning shots into the air, and charged the protestors with batons, seriously injuring Bijap Kumari Sada, Kalyan Kumar Sada, and Ramchandra Mahara–who are seeking treatment in hospitals in Janakpur and Dharan–and injuring at least a dozen others. One police officer is also reported to have been injured.
Protests had been going on in Janakpur since mid-June, when Shambhu Sada, a 23-year-old truck driver from Sabaila Municipality was found hanging in the bathroom in police custody. Many, including Sada’s mother, believe that the police murdered Sada, while others think that the police drove him to suicide, through physical and emotional torture. Anger grew when a couple of weeks later, 16-year-old Raju Sada died for want of treatment for diarrhea while waiting for his COVID-19 test report in a government quarantine facility–he later tested negative for the virus.
While government probes were launched to investigate both incidents, protestors say that necessary action was not taken in response to either of the events. According to Pacchu Majhi, a member of the Dalit Struggle Committee, the protestors’ immediate demands include compensation for both of the deceased mens’ families, and the suspension of police officers and medical supervisors held responsible for the deaths.
According to journalist BP Sah, between 4,000 and 5,000 people, mostly from Dalit communities around Janakpur, had come to the town in tractors and gathered in Barabigha field for the protests. The protestors made their way from Ramananda Chowk to Piradi Road through to Madhes Bhawan, where Pacchu Majhi said that there was an altercation.
“We had told the protestors to keep everything peaceful and not cause any trouble. The plan was to hold a minute of silence for Shambhu and Raju. One person threw a rock at the gate of the Chief Minister’s office, and that’s when the police became violent,” Majhi said. “We controlled the crowd and told the police officers that the remaining proceedings would be completely peaceful, but they started beating old people with sticks and firing shots in the air.”
BP Sah told The Record that the police mostly beat the people who were at the tail end of the protesting crowd, who were mostly elderly people and women. Sah was detained for a couple of hours for allegedly “instigating” the protests.
Janakpur SP Ramesh Basnet refused to answer questions about why a journalist was detained, but said that the protestors had created chaos and that force was necessary.
“There was stone-pelting outside the Madhesh Bhawan and a vehicle’s window was also broken. That’s why we began the lathi-charge,” Basnet said.
Both Sah and Majhi believe that the police escalated the violence even after the stone pelting stopped.
“Shambhu’s mother made a narrow escape. She was directly in the line of fire outside Madhes Bhawan. The police were threatening people, telling them that they would go to their villages and shoot them,” Majhi said.
Journalist Bhola Paswan, who has been following issues pertaining to Dalits closely for many years, told The Record that Dalit Struggle Committees across the country have been holding meetings about how to take the movement forward.
“The anger from one incident has barely died down when another gruesome event happens. I think the protests are likely to continue to grow. I have been witnessing a lot of organizing happening,” Paswan said.