09/07/2015, 00.00
NEPAL
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Thousands of minority students flee to India because of constitutional protests

by Christopher Sharma
Students take advantage of a brief break in the curfew imposed 27 days ago. Protesters tried to get them to join the protest action. Dozens of people have been killed in clashes in Nepal’s Terai region. Young students feel their future is not safe. Catholics are coping better than others with the curfew.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Thousands of young ethnic Tharu and Madhese took advantage of a break in the curfew imposed by the government in the Morang District, in the Terai, to flee to India. This comes 27 days after the authorities imposed a curfew on Nepal’s Terai region.

Leaders of the two ethnic groups complain that they will not be protected by the country’s new territorial division into six, later seven provinces, as provided under the new constitutional draft now before parliament.

Faced with protests by minority Tharu and Madhese, the government sent in the army. So far, clashes have left dozens of people dead.

Last week, the political representatives of the two minority groups walked out of the Constituent Assembly during the latest round of constitutional discussions.

Students have been caught up in the violence. "Protesters tried to force us to participate in the protests,” said Laxu, a young 21-year-old ethnic Tharu, who spoke to AsiaNews about the situation. But “the government in Kathmandu warned us against it.”

“Security forces, including the police and the army, threaten to arrest us if we joined the demonstrators,” he explained. ““We don’t have work or security. For this reason, I and 25 other friends have decided to flee our village to look for work and safety in India. We will return when the situation has improved. "

Some of his fellow students are still in high school, like Niraj Sah, who is in ninth grade. "I wanted to study, but all schools are closed,” said the teenager. “The residents of our village forced us to join the protesters. The police opened fire and launched tear gas against us."

For this reason, he and his friends decided to go to India "where at least we will not be forced to join protests.” However, they are not sure whether they can continue their studies. “Hundreds of students like me are uncertain about the future of their education," he said.

According to S K Singh, an Indian border police officer at the Gaddachauki crossing (western Nepal), more than 5,000 Nepalis crossed the border in the past few days, frightened by the confusion and violence in the country.

Schools, charities and private businesses have also closed for fear that protesters might cause damage. This includes the local office of Caritas, in Nepalgunj, in the western district of Banke.

Still, Nepali Catholics are handling the curfew better than others and Caritas has organised activities at its facilities.

“We hope that both sides, the government and protesters, will soon realise that Nepal needs dialogue to solve problems,” said John Rokaya, from Kohalpur (Banke district), home to a small Catholic mission.

Recently, a group of young Catholics called on their peers in other religions to overcome divisions and come together to promote the country's development.

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