Among the five people who died in a bomb attack in Janakpur on Nepals border with Bihar on April 30 was Ranju Jha,a prominent figure in local art and theatre circles. She was a well known actor of Nepali and Maithili television serials and streetplays,and had begun to make a name in the regional film industry. She was also associated with the campaign for a separate Mithila province.
The 35-year-old artist was killed after a motorcycle bomb ripped through a political dharna for Mithila at Ramanand Chowk in Janakpur,the town believed to be the paternal home of Princess Sita. Ranju had joined the dharna half an hour earlier,in solidarity with representatives of 57 cultural,literary and theatre groups,her artist fellow-travellers.
The Mithila movement has been entirely peaceful and democratic,staying clear of the current dominant discourse of violence and bandhs in Nepals politics of protest. The movement,which began in north Bihar in the late 70s with the demand for a separate Mithilanchal,has confined itself in Nepal to a demand for preservation and promotion of the rich Maithili culture that has,at times,found sympathy in Kathmandu as well.
After 2006,as demand gained momentum for provinces based on ethnicity,activists for the Maithili language and culture formed the Mithila Rajya Sangharsh Samiti. The indefinite relay dharna that Ranju attended was begun after Maoist chief Prachanda said last week that his party would support the creation of 10 provinces,but left no space for Mithila.
We feel betrayed by the Maoists,the Madhesi groups and the other parties. We must fight for our culture and our culture-based province, Prof Paramanand Kapri,convener of the Samiti,said at the Janakpur meeting. Kapri was injured in the blast,and is now in hospital in Kathmandu.
According to the organisers of the dharna,the samiti was galvanised by the strident Madhesi demand for One Madhes,One Pradesh,of which the Mithila region would be an insignificant part. Maithili is spoken across a vast stretch of the Terai from Morang in the east to Parsa in the west.
Ranju was a gifted artist,with no formal training. She came from a simple family,and went to a village school. Ten years ago,she approached the famous theatre personality of Janakpur,Mahendra Malangiya,to ask if he would let her sing for his play Kathalok.
She got more than she had asked for. Malangiya offered her the lead role in the play. There was no looking back for Ranju after that. The ordinary Maithil woman with a sweet voice was on her way to regional stardom.
In the years that followed,Ranju worked with Madan Krishna and Haribansh,Nepals most commercially successful artist duo,in the serials Ama (Mother) and Srishti (Creation),and did the popular Katha Mitho Sarangiko (Tale told by the Sweet Sarangi),a drama produced by BBC Media Action.
She had one of the two lead roles in Chaukathi (The Threshold),a critically-acclaimed short film about two women directed by Dipak Rauniyar. Ranju worked in several Maithali plays like Okhali Muha Dekhaichhi,Hutaha Ghail,Gam Nai Khataiya,Push Jaad ki Magh Jaad,Birju Biltu Ababu and Pret Chahe Asoj,and contributed significantly to the growing popularity of Maithili plays in Kathmandu and other non-Maithili areas.
Among Ranjus other films were Ahan ke aanchal,Mamata Gawai Geet,Senur,Sasta Jindi Mahag Senur and Piya Karab Gohar. She lived in Vinodanand Jha Colony in Madhubani town,and did stage shows on either side of the border,in Janakpur as well as in Darbhanga,Madhubani,Saharsa,Madhepura and Supaul in Bihar.
She was the biggest talent in the field of theatre and arts over the past decade, said Neer Shah,the producer and director who was planning make a play called Masan with Ranju in the lead. Thanks to support from her first mentor Malangiya,Ranjus name and work had also begun to be known in Delhi,where Malangiya now lives.
Ranjus father,retired teacher Tarkeshwar Jha said,My daughter was associated with the Mithilanchal cause and was killed for being the face of the movement.
Her brother,Pankaj Jha,a software engineer in Bangalore,who had accompanied her to Janakpur for the dharna,said,My sister had gone to attend a three-day function of Mithila Rajya Sangharsh Samiti. She was to be joined by several artists and fans from Madhubani on the second day of the dharna. It is up to the police to tell us if she was specifically targeted.
Two different groups have owned responsibility for the attack,but sources in the Nepalese home ministry said the claims are yet to be verified independently. The Bhattarai government today declared that all those killed in the blast would be declared martyrs.