A Failed Attempt to Deny Establishing a Bhutanese Refugee Camp: A Bitter Encounter with Jhapa CDO

A Failed Attempt to Deny Establishing a Bhutanese Refugee Camp: A Bitter Encounter with Jhapa CDO

Right after the Southern Bhutan-wide peaceful demonstration demanding Human Rights and Justice was mercilessly crushed in September 1990, Bhutan identified and evicted thousands of citizens who participated in the peaceful protest. Among those evicted, 91 of them were most vulnerable and in need of immediate medical care. Several efforts to make such facilities available in India failed. Thus, the then senior Bhutanese leaders based there decided to transport them to Nepal with a strong belief that people in Nepal would help them and rescue them from their imminent death if they lived in India anymore. Gauri Shankar Nirola, I and Bhim Khapangey were entrusted to take them to Nepal and look after them. Thus we brought them to Nepal during the early days of February 1991.

One fine morning just weeks after we arrived at Kotihom cowshed on the bank of river Mai and were struggling to make that cowshed our home, we were utterly surprised to notice the abnormal movement of the police officers and other people around the location.

On that morning, the group’s other two leaders left for the nearby villages in search of food and other materials to feed our people. As I was also about to move towards Dudhe with my team, a familiar local policeman approached me to inform me that Mr Shree Kanta Regmi, the Chief District Officer (CDO) of Jhapa, intended to visit Kotihom to interact with the refugee population. In less than an hour, he reappeared to invite us to the proposed meeting with CDO Regmi.

I asked a few other fellow Bhutanese to accompany me. When we reached the Kotihom compound, our astonishment knew no bounds as we saw dozens of police vans and many police officers in a riot-ready position.

Then CDO Shree Kanta Regmi appeared and started addressing the crowd. He announced that the Bhutanese refugees inhabiting the cowshed must vacate and return through the same Kakarbhitta route from where they entered Nepal. He warned that they would be deported forcefully if they did not return voluntarily. I was embarrassed to hear his arrogant and brutal ways of ordering our ouster.

Just days before, he tried to deny us to enter Nepal via Kakarbhitta. As I mentioned earlier, our mission in entering Nepal was to save the lives of the most vulnerable Bhutanese who had suffered the harrowing effects of torture, rape, and other inhumane acts in their villages, such as Pingkhwa, Singye, Nichula, and Yaba. These groups consisted of children and elderly individuals. It would be difficult to save them if they were to stay more days in India due to the lack of food and medical facilities. Only after the persistent intervention of the local people at the border town of Kakarbhitta, after hours of waiting, we were allowed to enter Nepal. We were taken to the hilltop Dharamsala with the direction from the local people that we could stay there for some days until better alternatives could be arranged.

Global Campaign welcome the release of political prisoner Madhukar Monger

In a week, with the help of DP Kafley and Madhusudan Dhakal, we arranged a cowshed at Kotihom. We were relocated from Kakarbhitta Dharmasala to Kotihom on a local bus. Reflecting on how we brought severely affected, vulnerable, and evicted Bhutanese safely from the Doars of West Bengal, India, to the banks of the Mai River remains an overwhelming thought. Sleeping on the cow-dung-ridden floor covered sparsely by dry hay, eating that leftover food from the events in the nearby temples, cooking whatever we got from the Puran, like rice mixed with stones, dal, and other things in the standard place in a large pot, and sharing was our daily means of survival.

Over time, local people, including social workers, leaders, and religious people, started visiting us and wanted to help acquire food or explore avenues from which we could earn money to buy the food. Many things were happening, making us hopeful of pulling ahead the living on the banks of the Mai River.

Amidst such positive developments taking place in a very short period, the sudden visit of the CDO and his order to return through the same route we had entered stuck us with shock. The order was brutal and confined to our community. However, it also reverberated to the local community leaving prominent local leaders like Mr Kamal Mainali shocked.

As a representative of the refugees, I came forward. I collected some courage and requested the CDO not to evict us but to allow us to stay here. With a sense of urgency, I mentioned our miserable situation. However, despite my pleas, the CDO remained focused on his stance. I asked him, “Why did you allow us to enter Nepal by opening the Kakarbhitta’s gate weeks before? And now why do you ask us to return to India by the same route?”. I further told him to shoot and kill all of us but that we would not obey his order and move out of the Kotihom.

After I finished expressing my frustration and challenged CDO to kill us instead of demanding our return, the CDO’s face reddened. He started shouting, asking who I was and what capacity I had to question his order. He asked the present police officers, including the District Superintendent of Police, to arrest me immediately. With this order, I was forcefully grabbed and thrown inside one of the police vans nearby and drove towards the Surunga police post.

Many people, including local leaders, activists, social workers, fellow refugees, and others, started shouting slogans in favour of our people and me and against the CDO Shree Kanta Regmi. They marched towards Surunga and later gheraoed the police camp where I was kept.

After around 5 hours of cruel treatment inside the police post, they released me. When I returned to Kotihom, I found that everyone, including the CDO and his significant conveyance of police vehicles and personnel, had left. Our people inside the cowshed were left stressed and frustrated but were relieved of the need to return for at least now.

Without the support of the local Nepalese population, including leaders like Kamal Mainali, and Maina didi, the cruel CDO Shree Kanta Regmi would have forcibly removed us from Nepal and dumped us back into India as Bhutan did. I challenged him as I felt I had nothing more to lose and just had one life left. Even if I were to sacrifice that life for the betterment of my vulnerable people, I saw no issue.

In the course of time, thousands of other evicted Bhutanese reached us though we were still struggling to survive at the Kotihom. In no time, the erstwhile one cowshed turned into crowded refugee camps with thousands of inmates and several local, national, and international humanitarian agencies starting to operate their welfare projects.

Several other challenging occasions almost made establishing our camp impossible. Still, fortunately, our helplessness, determination, and undaunting support from the local communities helped us stay there undeterred. We successfully founded what was later called a Maidhar Bhutanese refugee camp in early 1991 and, thereby, the 7 Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal.

It is still a big mystery what transpired CDO Regmi not to allow us to come to Nepal and establish a Bhutanese refugee camp. However, I always salute those 91 people for their extraordinary courage and determination to stay united despite the issue of life and death with a hope of better days in the future. I also extend my gratefulness to the local people of Kotihom, Surunga, and the neighbourhood and their leadership, such as Kamal Mainali and others, for their uncompromising and wholehearted support, whose wishes to have us in their area ultimately prevailed.

Source : https://bhutaneseliterature.com/

Related News

Copyright © All right reserved to pahichan.com Site By: Sobij.