An indefinite curfew has been clamped down in Nepalgunj in Banke district, bordering India
Nepal's soldiers stand guard at the Old Palace on the last day of the 'Indra Jatra' festival at Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu on Oct. 2. (Photo: Prakash Mathema / AFP)
Authorities in Nepal have imposed a lockdown and heightened security in a southwestern city bordering India amid escalating tensions between local Hindu and Muslim communities.
An indefinite curfew was declared on Oct. 3 in Nepalgunj, a sub-metropolis in Banke district, about 400 kilometers from the national capital Kathmandu, officials said.
People were urged not to leave their homes or gather in groups as security personnel including from the Nepal Army patrolled the streets.
Trouble began over the weekend after an alleged ‘defamatory’ post by a Hindu youth on social media angered local Muslims as they celebrated Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on Sept. 28.
Nepalgunj has the largest Muslim population among Nepal’s cities and leaders of the community organized a protest at the office of the chief district officer on Oct. 1.
The Hindus held a rally in response on the next day, defying authorities who refused them permission. This heightened tensions and led to a violent clash between groups that left 13 people including three security personnel injured.
The rival groups pelted stones and bottles and vandalized public property. One house was set on fire while half a dozen properties were left damaged. Police fired tear gas shells to disperse the crowd, officials said.
“We had planned to take out a peaceful rally as we were feeling dominated by the Muslims here,” said Arjun Shah, a member of the Omkar Family which espouses the cause of local Hindus.
He said the Hindus were offended as they were denied permission to protest while Muslims were allowed inside the chief district officer’s premises.
Shah also denied reports that Hindus indulged in vandalism or attacked a rival group and blamed the violence on “vigilantes who wanted to instigate religious strife.”
Sahil Ansari, a local Muslim youth said the "tensions triggered by some insensitive youth on social media were unfortunate.”
Muslims and Hindus in Nepalgunj have lived in harmony for generations, he said.
The brewing religious tensions in Nepalgunj drew the attention of parliamentarians attending a special session of parliament on Oct. 2.
They have called for greater tolerance and appealed to the people and authorities not to carry out any activity that may incite communal and religious violence.
The parliamentarians also called for strict regulation of social media to avoid spreading hatred among communities.
“The situation is under control. We have called for a meeting of representatives of different communities and political parties to ensure religious coexistence and a peaceful environment,” said Topendra Bahadur KC, the assistant chief district officer of Banke.
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