Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
Won't take it lying down



It was the festival season and I was travelling in a crowded bus from Dharan to Biratnagar. Two rows ahead of me, a middle-aged man was wiping his forehead with a gamchha that was already soaked in his sweat. Just then a brightly dressed woman chewing gum entered the bus, took one look inside, and turned to leave.

The conductor tried to convince her not to go, saying "seat milauchhu ni didi, aunu na". She followed the conductor, who walked up to the man with the gamchha and said, "Oh bhaiya, uth ta, didi lai basna de". The man looked up and quietly gave up his seat. She thanked the conductor, who was evidently quite flattered. The dejected look on the man's face went unnoticed by the other passengers. A thought occurred to me then: what if some day a Madhesi passenger refuses to give up his seat?

Five years later, Bishendra Pashwan and Sadrul Miya threw a chair out of the fourth floor window of the building where a Constitutional Committee meeting was underway. This is not about whether or not such conduct was becoming of a CA member. What I am worried about is the depoliticisation of the incident, which has led to the downplaying of the uncomfortable questions it raised.

Madhesi Tarai Dalits, ethnic minorities, and Muslims make up about 19 per cent of Nepal's total population. According to the UN's 2009 Human Development Report, Madhesi Tarai Dalits have a life expectancy of 61, adult literacy of 27 per cent and annual per capita income of US$743. Tarai Madhesi Janjatis live an average of 61.55 years, have a literacy rate of 48 per cent and a per capita income of US$1,224. Muslims live for 61 years, have a literacy rate of 30 per cent and a per capita income of US$890. These three groups occupy the bottom three positions of Nepal's human development ranking.

We may say this is due to regional disparity, and that the Tarai Madhesi population will benefit automatically once state restructuring leads to decentralised governance. But hang on, take a look at this: Tarai Madhes Brahmins and Chhetris live for 64 years, have a literacy rate of 84 per cent and earn US$2,333. Is this regional disparity or systematic socio-economic marginalisation? Anyone would be outraged by this disparity, especially if you are Bishendra Pashwan and Sadrul Miya, who carry the huge expectations of one fifth of the country but are told that there are more urgent matters to discuss than this.

The wretched of this land have suffered enough, been humiliated enough, and protested more than enough. The lawmakers in the constitution drafting committees, including the Constitutional Committee, need to understand that the days of 'bhaiyas' conceding their rightful space to daju-bhais are over, whether in a public bus or a public debate.

Institutionally, the socio-economic mosaic of the nation needs to change to include hitherto marginalised aspirations. But the plight of Madhesi Dalits, Janjatis and Muslims is not just political and economic. Nepal hasn't completely emerged out of feudalism and residual racism. So the demand for an inclusive Nepal cannot be met with a few constitutional gestures. It needs an equally progressive and sensitive outlook on a personal level, which the Constitutional Committee members clearly failed to demonstrate.

Such fault lines run deep, from the parliamentary secretariat building to rented apartments and buildings, classrooms, hostels, offices and every other public space. Any attempt to address these resentments has to go beyond the legal and challenge the socially accepted myth of 'Nepali nationalism' that pits the fair-skinned, Nepali-speaking Indo-Aryan and Khas identity against the dark-skinned Awadhi, Bhojpuri and Maithili speaking Madhesis. It is Dhaka topi and daura versus gamchha and dhoti.

This cannot be just a constitutional project. It has to be a political and cultural exercise as well, where all sections of society including the so-called intellectuals engage on a personal level to create a heterogeneous Nepali identity that is culturally diverse and politically vibrant. Only then will the seed of the new constitution bear the fruit of an inclusive democracy that is accessible to all citizens.

MY TAKE: Amidst the gloom, DAMAKANT JAYSHI

1. here n there
I thought the article was titled "Won't take it laying down"?? Mr. Anurag, your actions at that moment in the bus, would have done more than your well intentioned article ever will. Alas, T I N . This is Nepal. 

2. Gaurav G
Very good piece, thoughtful and sensitively written. And carries much more weight because it is not written by a Madhesi like Ck Lal or Prashant Jha. Anurag Acharya should write regularly.

3. Soni
"Only then will the seed of the new constitution bear the fruit of an inclusive democracy that is accessible to all citizens."

In a country of ridiculous, this is the phoniest, most ridiculous, guilt ridden article I have ever read. The author appears to be scared of anger being displayed by Messrs Paswan and Miya.

His solution is a vague, meaningless, pointless " It has to be a political and cultural exercise as well, where all sections of society including the so-called intellectuals engage on a personal level to create a heterogeneous Nepali identity that is culturally diverse and politically vibrant."

Just to make sure that things go from bad to worse. 

Stop being so scared.   

4. mann

sorry to say but this is one of the worst articles i have read inNT recently...and i would hope rabi dai does not give space to such articles in the future...please.. and this is a RACIST article so hope NT does not want to ignite the racial war..

and what about your 'bhiyas' speaking in hindi in our CA assembly, interviews and your own 'bhaiya' vp saying he does not undestand nepali ???? and the madhesi parties' vaiya's yadavs all running after power the name of madhesi...don't do anythign when they r in governmetn and then use the same 'madeshi agreements' as a cheap bargain to get into coaltions governmetns again and again....

show me one madhesi leader who deserves resepct or has done anythign good to their own ppl vaiya's over the last 20 yrs of democracy...or say after janaandolan  ?????

please don't write if u don't know how to analyze..

5. Priya KC
This is a very well reasoned, pithy piece.

6. Prayas
Mann, your accusation of racism is thoroughly flawed and baseless. In the first place, you sound blindly driven by the privilege of urban elites (of pahaad) who is hopelessly hesitant to accept any recognition to the plights of marginalized people of the same country. 

This article does not speak in favor of those politicians who seemingly advocate of madhesis, dalits or muslims in CA, but of those people in real ground whose voice has yet been unheard of and have been cheated by their own representatives time and again.

Please don't comment if you don't know how to comment (response to the way you said please don't write if u don't know how to analyze)

7. Smarika
well written insightful article resembling the irony of CA representation of Madhesis.

8. slarti
Is this regional disparity or systematic socio-economic marginalisation?"

You tell me. Or, is it a symptomatic socio-economic problem? Are Muslims, Janjati's and Dalit suffering for the same reason? With Dalit's there is socio-cultural discrimination, which is evidenced in a lack of education and also in hurt to pride which manifests itself in many ways. That is true to some extent for Janjati's, but with Muslims?

Rhetoric and twisted data analysis is going to solve no problems, affirmative action is needed, but that needs to designed carefully. Of course, that is hard work so no one is going to do it. Instead, they will simply abuse their way into the hall of fame.

9. agya
he definitely should be writing regular columns.....very well argued...

10. Anonymous
The year was 2001, infamous in many ways! I was traveling from Birgunj to Biratnagar on a public bus; a middle-aged man of about 38 years of a bit 'darker' complexion with a 'gamchha' and 'dhoti', and who spoke fluent Hindi refused to give up a seat in the bus. In this case, the seat was meant for two passengers, and the 'gentleman' was occupying both places. I humbly requested the man to move a bit; he vehemently refused to move even an inch. I talked to the man confidently and firmly, and finally, convinced him. It never came to my mind that because my skin was 'fair' (by the way, I was not wearing a 'dhaka topi' or 'daura' at that time!) that's what led me to the 'trouble'.Within minutes of sitting, we started sharing our past and present and family matters with each other; and we sort of became friends; (I think this oriental soul ("samskara") that binds us together rather than any material wealth that separates us--matters the most!) Soon, I found that the man was on the way to BPKIHS for a health check-up. Indeed, I still recollect that I wrote a letter to one of my colleagues, requesting to give all the necessary help to this gentleman. I never equate the event to racism, as systematically practiced by the State in South Africa or Southern States in America. One's conduct is explained by ones upbringing and the matter of culture. Many dalits and minorities in our country have commonality- both in 'Madhesh' and 'Pahad' they are oppressed by the land-holding upper casts and the feudal lords. Hence, blowing the trumpet of 'racism' that is, one race is dominating the other, in every step, however fashionable it may sound among the western- supported NGO's in Nepal today, I fundamentally question how much their 'helping hands' have really contributed to the self-awakening of the people to contest their own situation? To my knowledge, none of the State documents in Nepal have ever characterized a segment of her population as " these merciless savage Indians" as has been noted, (and ironically, has never been apologized!) in one of the most cited world-renowned historic document in the West (guess what that document is!) Playing ethnic cards against each other may be self-fulfilling mission for some, but how much does it help to the real cause of the people is questionable. Better give people economic opportunity and dignity! Let's have deeper conversation, let's have courage to go beyond 'dhoti' and 'topi'! Otherwise, history may impose on us a situation, what is commonly called in Nepali tongue-- 'dhoti na topi'!

11. Bibhu
Well the very idea of 'dhoti' and 'topi' has been glamourised and merely a symbolic statement glorifying prejudice. During all these decades we have not really been able to move forward and think beyond such. I partially agree with Anurag's perception but the politicalisation within the caste articulates another dynamics. Yes, the so called higher class clans and feudals are the 'role player' for producing and promoting 'racism' but to sheerly categorize the 'pahadi' and 'madhesi'  for the cause would be unjust. It is the individual human behaviour constructed within the certain geo-politic-social context. We also need to subtly understand  the rampant discrimination in different shapes and forms, which is where your article focuses as well. 

However, providing rights through constitution is a legislative way to decrease the tangible disparity but the intangible disparity and discrimination impregnant in our everyday life is definitely a food for thought. Ofcourse, blabbering in the dais of Reporters Club every weekend does not help but indeed gives lot of impetus for brainstorming. This is where the article it is to all readers how they react or imply in the real world and real situation.Anurag failed to defend the 'bhaiya' 5 years back but do we have the guts to defend him provided the same situation now. Something we will be able to answer only if we were put to test. That is the very paradox of our conscience. Relatively we fail and curiously wait until the 'bhaiya' himself starts acting? Paswan's frustration is just an outcome of what we were cooking patiently. 

 I saw some comments where people say its a 'racist' promoting articles, i pity over those 'great minds'. When you don't allow others to even discuss, then comes 'racism without race'. So it is more to reflect on our own inner-self. Until we as an individual fail to reform our perception of equality, no economic upsurge can mitigate the disparity. But of course, its has a multi-tier complexity and generalizing would be irrational. 

12. bedanand
How about the pahades who have been forcefully driven from their homes in Tarai, where in many cases they had been living for generations, longer than many new arrivals from India?
Has anyone including Mr Anurag Acharaya ever thought about defending their rights? 
It probably would be blasphemy to raise such questions in the eyes of our politicians and  intellectuals working for INGOs.

13. Anil

This is the best ever article written in NT regarding racism in Nepal. Yes indeed we have racism in Nepal, very deep rooted. We practice racism by different names: Madhesiya, Dhoti, and so on and so forth . I have seen so called pahadiyo kicking bicycle of Nepalese from Terai while they are selling vegetables. It is not related with individual upbringings, it is related with social upbringings. As long as we don't judge people by content of their character, this problem will persists.

Most of the comments which were accusing Mr Acharya of being racists seems to coming from the people who passionately conceit their own race. Every human being should be subjected to same law, with same respect and with same dignity.

There is no business of Mr Acharya defending bhaiya. I think next time on bhaiya should defend himself by saying; " Don't call me Vaiya", Vaiya should assert that he should be called "Sir." Because he is customer of that bus, he should demand that he be treated with respect. Next time anyone does similar thing to anyone else, he or she should boycott or should actually retaliate saying I am not going to move. worset come to worset he should even physically retaliate.


14. Anil

# 13 the new Anil seems to be an ardent admirer of the author.Good luck ! I just want to clear the air for anybody who cares to know that there are two Anils now.

On a more serious note, throwing words like racism around in the context of Nepali society does not help anyone. Racism is a word Europeans brought into practice based on their own history.

It has a theological basis that God made the world just for you and your people (the chosen ones) because of your faith and culture. In this view,people of other faiths as and cultures as well as animals do not have any rights.

It was this theological justification that allowed the Europeans to colonize the world, enslave millions of Africans for labour,plunder and loot America and Asia; it let people like Hitler justify the massacre of millions of Jews and gypsies because they were of a different faith. When Westerners talk about racism it is from this perspective.

Compare this  to all our diverse traditional beliefs where even animals are supposed to have divine consciousness, and it is not hard to discern how differently the European and the East/South Asian societies have evolved over the centuries.

 In the context of Nepal, it is more relevant and helpful to talk about social discrimination(casteism) and communal prejudice against people of other ethnicities. This is not limited to any one particular geographic area or specific communities, but is pervasive throughout the country and exists in many different communities of the hills, Kathmandu valley and the plains.

This is the major problem that all Nepalese need to focus on correcting, rather than racism.

Trying European solutions based on European history will not work for a uniquely Nepali problem, and may actually aggravate matters.

Nepalese need to find their own solutions to Nepali problems,  instead of trying to import them from elsewhere.

15. B2B

Dysfunctional behaviors and immorality are the family heirlooms.

The truth about lies is that they are sometimes aspirational truth.

16. jange

# 14 Anil

Trying European solutions based on European history will not work for a uniquely Nepali problem, and may actually aggravate matters.

Unfortunately the intellectual elite in Nepal have imbibed uncritically what they have been taught in universities abroad and also the curriculum at higher institutes of learning in Nepal are based on the same curriculum. SO the problem will be with us for a while.� And also the NGOs and INGOs who bring along their own petty �political agendas.

And the political parties who have imported their -isms. We even have a political party which says it is a great and good thing to go around murdering, looting and extorting and our intellectuals say, "Of course, this is revolutionary. We have the saying of this or that foreign luminary to prove it." and everyone applauds.

17. Bikas Bahutule

Although entire land of Madhes was covered in thick forest until 1950, continuous migration enforced by population pressure gradually began cultivation. King Mahendra adopted policy of cultivating Madhes and even invited people of Nepalese origin living in Myanmar and offered them land here. In a short span of forty years, the region overcrowded resulting from the migration both from north (Nepali hills) and south (Indian states of Bihar and UP) . Migration from the South stopped only after the government of Nepal adopted policy of land registration in 1975 on the basis of citizenship. Those who had been able to clear the forest themselves were made the rightful owners of the land they cultivated. Whoever owned land was offered citizenship (for one time) to legalize the living.

The definition of the state border was not always clear with the Hindu kings, scattered in the multiple kingdoms, who sought more tenants in their territorial oversight for more tithes and taxes. Farmers living in a certain area changed their nationalities the way they paid taxes to a particular king. Sometimes a farmer in a remote area paid tax to the king near to him and at times was forced to pay to the other king. It was his tax duty that determined his nationality irrelevant to what territory he lived in. It was more true with the southern plains where people hardly travelled from the hills out of the fear of malaria. Therefore, Nepal's southern border was never demarcated until the the Treaty of Sugauli (1815) was signed between Nepal and British-India. Even though the treaty recognized certain portion of the plain Gangetic land as the part of Nepalese territory, marking of Nepalese southern border didn't take place at one go. According to Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, the border expert of Nepal, it was rather completed through intermittent processes with long intervals beginning from 1815 to 1963. All older maps of Nepal showed tentative borders in the south which both nations had agreed.

The population of Terai is largely mixed. The people who natively speak non-Nepali languages, some sharing indigenous connections with the land of Madhes (Like Tharus of the west and Dhimal, Satar, Meche etc of the east) and many others with remarkable cross -border socio-economic ties with India claim themselves as authentic madhesi although the term broadly means 'the resident of madhes region'. There exists a difference of opinion of the Tharus and other indigenous population over this identity with the middle- terai population that dominates current Madhesi politics.

The history of identity politics in the madhes of Nepal is as old as the region's cultivation. Once Nepal entered the stage of open democracy in 1950, a regional political party, namely Terai Congress, was established. However the party could not show its presence in the elections of 1960; Nepali Congress swept away all constituencies of the region.

After the restoration of democracy in 1990, Gajendra Narayan Singh established another terai based party under the name of "Nepal Sadbhawana Party" and won six seats in the subsequent general election of 1992. But the party soon fell victim of own divisions.

The strongest agitation for the madehsi identity took place in 2007 and 2008. Under the leadership of newly established Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) in the late 2007, the movement initially drew government attention and some grievances were redressed. But the year of 2008, after the Interim Constitution refrained from saying federalism in place of state restructuring, saw a brief but one of the most ruthless uprisings in any period of Nepalese history. A combination of three political parties-- Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Terai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP)-- demanding the Madhesi rights wreaked havoc in the eastern and central Terai region of the country. As many as fifty people lost their lives, hundreds of them lost their properties and many others were injured. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala signed an eight- point agreement with the Madhesi leaders which explicitly accepted a federal Nepal, reservation for madhesi people in all jobs, and a recognition of the Madhesi identity above all.

However, after the election of the Constituent Assembly (CA), all Madhes-based parties broke into many pieces. MJF is divided in two equal halves. The breakaway faction led by Bijaya Kumar Gachchadar, named MJF- Democratic, joined the government in 2009 and received at least one ministry for 20 of its members out of 28, himself as the powerful Deputy Prime Minister. MJF-D was also split in January 2011 and one of the ministers formed a new party called Madhes Kranti Forum (MKF).

TMDP has recently broken as eleven of its CA members are organized under new faction TMDP-Nepal, which became the 28th party in the CA.

The worst of the splits was in store for NSP. Many of its influential leaders had joined TMDP way back in 2008. Still there are five different NSPs claiming themselves of being the original. The largest group led by Rajendra Mahato has 9 members in the Constituent Assembly.

Owing to the division of the parties, control of high caste Madhesis in the leadership and more obviously the ubiquitous lust for power and money of the Madhesi leaders, the movement has lost its momentum. Among all Madhes- based regional parties, Upendra Yadav's MJF looks stronger.

There is a strong sense of mistrust, among the madhesi constituencies, about the actual political position of the Madhesi parties. The demand of "One Madhes: One Province" was the mainstay of their political agitation in 2008. But they have agreed to have two to three Madhes provinces after the series of dialogues with other stakeholders of state restructuring. The demands of reservations for the entry in government services have been fulfilled but the advantages are largely going to the high caste Madhesis who had already received sizeable share in Kathmandu's so-called establishment. Therefore, the Madhesi backward groups are disillusioned with the sloganeering of madhesi rights, where as other groups of the loose alliance are frustrated at the corruption, division and lust for power of the Madhesi leaders. The indigenous madhesi people are organized under the Tharuhat movement led by Laxaman Tharu, who claims of standing against the monopolistic and feudal character of the Madhesi leaders. Tharuhat movement, through its 2009 agitation, greatly curtailed the sphere of the mainstream madhesi parties contracting it within the five districts of central Terai region (Siraha, Saptari, Dhanusha, Sarlahi, Mahottari), and rendering it severe blow in the west. The districts east of the Koshi river, leaving some parts of Sunsari and Morang in exception, had little impact of the movement in the first place.

However, everyone agrees, notwithstanding the despise towards the Madhesi parties, that federalism in ethnic/regional line offers solution to the existing disparities, despite their ignorance on how the problems may really be solved. The agenda has been planted in the mindset of the people so deep that a backtrack may just work a serious flashpoint to begin yet another agitation.

18. krishna
We regret to mention here , a Rickshaw Puller resembling with Madheshi  harashed at Biratnagar by Nepali traffic police from hills at the center of road
he was holding  his ears and pushing up and downs.This behaviors by the concern also one of the reason for violence in response some time. This is regrettable by each other.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)