Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
Tarai-Pahad unity

Teachers, businessmen, general workers, entrepreneurs, social and political activists of Dipayal gathered last week to discuss the new constitution. Extracts:

What do you think of the situation the country is in since the formation of the CA?

Nara Bahadur Dhant (social activist): The Maoists have not lived up to expectations but seem to be trying to reform. Although we are more assured of security and progress, there are examples of countries turning autocratic even after the formation of a constituent assembly.

Sita Pokharel (health worker):
The situation is getting complicated. Trust in the government is eroding every day. Things will not get better just by replacing the present government with other parties. The political parties do not seem to have the necessary vision to deal with ethnic issues.

Dipak Shahi (political cadre):
The government has failed to deliver. Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai last month announced he would mobilise the YCL to collect tax from private schools, which shows how democratic the government is. The Maoist leaders threaten to revolt. What is important now is the Maoists' commitment to democracy and peace, which can ensure the new constitution is written on time.

Gopal Suchikar (painter):
The political parties are fighting for power instead of giving people hope of progress and writing the constitution. The ruling party and the opposition are constantly trying to undermine each other. This is not the right time to do so. All political parties should focus on writing the new constitution.

How do you think the federal structure should be created? In which province should Doti be?
Dipak Shahi:
We want Doteli province of Seti and Mahakali zones. Dipayal is equidistant from all districts so it should be the provincial capital. It is practicable to divide provinces vertically from the mountains to Tarai throughout the country. So there can be six to seven provinces altogether. The mountain, hill and Tarai regions are rich in different resources. Creating provinces on the basis of geography can strengthen national unity.

Laxmi Roka Magar (entrepreneur):
I was born in Rolpa but migrated to Doti. Now, I belong nowhere. Doteli people think I belong in the east and people in Rolpa call me a westerner. This issue of identity should be taken into account while creating provinces. Creating provinces on the basis of ethnicity and language might create tension and lead to communal violence. I am against it. It would be wise to create provinces based on the present political division of the country.

Sita Pokhrel: It is not a bad thing if autonomy with right to self determination is given to ethnic communities, backward regions and the oppressed. The important thing is to manage it well. I am a Brahmin from Kailali. I don't mind Kailali under Tharuhat province but one Madhes, one Pradhes is unacceptable because there are different ethnic groups living in the plains from Jhapa to Kanchanpur and to recognise their identites, there must be many federal units in the Tarai.

What if we give the provinces different names - not based on ethnicity or language?
Ramesh Joshi:
In the past, there was a Doteli state. The language is still alive. It is practicable that this region should be Doteli province in all respects.

Gopal Suchikar: If there is real decentralisation, there is no need for federalism. On the basis of language, we would create more than 100 provinces and just as many based on ethnicity. There is no mixed settlement of different castes but no particular caste has a majority in any particular place. So creating provinces on the basis of language and ethnicity is impractical.

Narabahadur Dhant: The provinces should be created on the basis of ethnicity, religion and languages. National interest should be at the centre. Population, geographical situation, economic infrastructure and resources should be taken into account. Each province should encompass the mountains, hills and Tarai, which will make five to six provinces.

Purna Joshi:
The existing development regions can become the new provinces. If we opt for provinces based on ethnicity then the minority communities will remain minority forever and be deprived of their rights.
Mountains, hills and Tarai should be combined to form the provinces, thereby ensuring a spread of natural resources. Ethnic division could well lead to communal enmity and disintegration of the country.

What provision should be made in the constitution to improve the lives of underprivileged communities, women and the lower castes?
Purna Joshi:
Education has been mentioned as a fundamental right in the interim constitution and should continue to be enshrined in the new constitution. The constitution should guarantee
that women are not exploited in the name of religion or caste.

Laxmi Roka Magar: If we put together a Dalit billionaire of Kathmandu and a Bramhin pauper of Bajhang, we find the answer. This is a class issue. Therefore, there should be special provision and programs for those who fall behind.

Reservation- not a magic solution

An interview with Yogendra Yadab, an Indian social and political analyst

In a multi-cultural country like Nepal, what's important when formulating policies regarding reservation? Will polices of positive discrimination be effective to end the existing discrimination and deprivation?

I feel you are using 'reservation' and 'positive discrimination' as synonyms, like many do. We first need to understand the difference between the two. Positive discrimination entails not just establishing equality legally but also ensuring that the social structure allows that change to occur. Reservation is simply one of the methods to achieve positive discrimination and should in fact be the last. It ensures that some seats are 'reserved' in education and employment for the discriminated communities to guarantee inclusiveness. Here, like in India, caste represents social disparity and can be used as a basis for reservation. But to consider caste as the only basis would be a mistake.

Have the Indian marginalised communities achieved their aim after 50 years of reservation policies? Or did they take an unexpected turn because of this system?
The positive discrimination policy adopted in India has not only allowed the Dalits and Adhivasis to make themselves heard in the society but also given them good leaders. The middle class has been born in India. Caste is slowly ceasing to be an indication of social, economic or political standing. But this does not mean reservation is a magic solution. Inequality still exists in India and discrimination is still a problem. But without the positive discrimination policies, the situation could have been worse.

Some say that reservation has only given birth to new feudalists. Others feel that reservation is a necessary and effective tool to bring the discriminated and the marginalised community into mainstream. Where do you think Nepal stands within these two thoughts?
I cannot answer this without understanding the complications of Nepal's social system. What has worked in some other country may not work here? we cannot use a cookie-cutter approach. The policies here have to reflect Nepal's society and context.

Any positive discrimination policy is caught in a debate because it seeks to change the existing social power structure. Those who previously enjoyed privileges are sure to make arguments against such policies, but they have been proved wrong. However, there are also people who demand reservations in every field.

How do we respond to reservation demands of so many groups?
We face the same problem in India: there is the need to address inequality not just on the basis of caste but also gender and class. We are now calling to revise and update the reservation policy. The reservations should not be limited to just caste but other social dimensions as well and should be sensitive to the weighted inequality between the groups. It should be based on proper verification documents.

After the problem is identified, we have to come up with a broad solution. We have to formulate time-based strategies. There is a danger that a group may be divided into several sub-groups. We have to work in such a way but still remain united.

Positive discrimination is not a political tool to satisfy certain communities. Rather it is an instrument to free the society from the vicious circle of inequality and discrimination.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)