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The right way to fight for rights

Thursday, September 17th, 2015
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From the Nepali Press

Narayan Amrit in Nepal, 13 September

Pic: Nepal weekly

Pic: Nepal weekly

“In politics, moral sense should be placed higher than violence,” said Shanta Chaudhary, the bonded labourer turned Constituent Assembly (CA) member at an interaction program in Bhrikuti Mandap, “I am against anything that promotes caste-based violence.” Next to her stood land rights activist Saraswati Subba. “The conflagration has engulfed many places, but it is our responsibility to extinguish it. Where will we be if there is no country?” echoed her voice.

The two women activists have recently grabbed attention on social media for rising above their ethnic backgrounds to speak out for unity, non-violence, social harmony and tolerance.

“This does not mean we should not speak up for the marginalised people who have struggled for their rights. Protest is a right as well, but there is always a right way to do things. Taking up arms and terrorising people is not the way. We cannot achieve anything from this,” said Subba.

Both Chaudhary and Subba are witnesses to the social and economic changes that have taken place in the past decade and a half. They have not only tasted freedom but have also known pain. Chaudhary was a child bonded labourer for 18 years, Saraswati has been landless for the past three generations.

“Before Shanta joined politics, we worked together for lands right movement. She represented Dang and I represented Sarlahi in the forum,” said Subba, who is also the General Secretary of the National Land Rights Forum.

Having worked for the landless for so long has brought them to the conclusion that class rather than caste and ethnicity are the main reasons behind oppression. Exclusion and poverty are the root causes. “There are many Bahuns who are poor and landless,” says Subba, “if we try to find a solution based on caste alone, who will speak up for the landless Bahun? Ethnicity-based federalism is distracting us from the needs of the poor and landless people of different ethnic groups and castes.”

Both these remarkable women feel that the politics as it is now doesn’t address the country’s problems. They believe mixing ethnicity with politics will only benefit the rich and well-to-do leaders of particular communities. “None of the Tharu leaders here have endured what I went through,” says Chaudhary, “it is well-off leaders who are using poverty for power.”

Chaudhary and Subba were galvanised into speaking out publicly after the ethnic violence in Kailali in which a two-year old child and seven security personnel lost their lives. “The killings did not allow us to remain silent anymore and we took to social media to start a positive movement,'” said Subba. Like Chaudhary, she is also on Twitter and Facebook.

“Although Tikapur incident seems like a political movement, it had many non-political layers. A dead policeman or protester are both Nepalis, after all,” added Subba. “Both police brutality and violent protest need to stop.”

“Violence may get you attention but in the long run it does more harm than good,” says Chaudhary, whose struggle and involvement in the peaceful movement to free bonded labors earned her a seat in the first CA as a UML lawmaker.

As the violence spreads to the eastern Tarai, both women are urging the state to find a peaceful solution and restrain from brutality. Says Chaudhary: “Everything is possible when people respect and have faith in each other. The protesters, civil society, media and government should be conscious about not disturbing social harmony.”

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