The recent weeks have thrown up an interesting phenomenon. No sooner do the madhesis, janajatis, dalits, women, and others begin demanding their fair share in a future Nepal, than the predictable laments over an old Nepal emerge. A Nepal where things were peaceful, everyone lived in harmony, and there were hardly any bandas or shortages.
Take my mother who, in all her innocence, lamented that the madhesis were being violent. And why were there khukuri marches in Kathmandu? "We've just ended one conflict, and another one rises. Why can't all these groups live in peace, as we have for centuries?" she asked.
You can't change a mindset shaped by 70 years of prejudiced living, or I could have told her about things as I see them: that there was no peace over the centuries, only silent acceptance of one's fate. That today's fight is about rights and about refusing to accept an undignified existence, against subservience to a haughty elite that refuses to see how bad things were for the masses that make up this mosaic of a country.
Everywhere you turn to these days-in the newspapers, on the airwaves, at every corner tea and barbershop-you hear and see the predictable longing for peace. These longings are mostly expressed by a section of society which benefited from the status quo.
Longing for peace and harmony is well and good, and we should all pray that Nepal becomes a peaceful and harmonious place where all groups can live in dignity. But such a Nepal cannot be attained if multitudes feel left out of the mainstream.
What is happening today may not be nice, but it is necessary. This country has to go through this foment before it can emerge as a strong nation. None of this debate would be happening today had it been allowed in 1950 or, indeed, even in 1990. But the political parties and the civil society beholden to them did not listen. And so we have this debate all over again. When voices are suppressed time and again, either through military force or through prejudice and wilful negligence, they tend to get louder and more violent. Nepal is at that stage.
Let us not forget that the constituent assembly, which we all believe will help end the Maoist conflict permanently, can also be a source of other conflicts. And that's what the debate today is about-participation and representation in the formation of a new state where no one is penalised because of age-old prejudices.
Madhesis, janajatis, dalits, women, and other marginalised groups are protesting because they see that the constituent assembly election is rigged against them. They know that without participation in sufficient numbers, the 'New Nepal' that emerges out of the assembly deliberations will not be much different from the 'Old Nepal.'
Listen to them. Failing to do so now will mean that we'll continue to long for peace and harmony for decades to come.