15-21 January 2016 #791

With us, or against us

Those blindly supporting the tactics of the Madhesi Front are the ones who have harmed the Madhesi people the most
Rubeena Mahato


After months of inconclusive talks, a breakthrough is being expected between the Madhesi parties and the government to resolve the current crisis. Leaders from both sides have hinted broadly at a possible agreement. 

The blockade at the Indian border has eased at most points except Birganj. It is possible that the Madhes movement, like most movements that preceded it, will culminate in a back room power-sharing deal even though underlying issues remain unaddressed.

It is only a matter of time before disillusionment sets in again among those who supported the Madhesi Front despite their use of violence, terror and a border blockade. But amidst all this the most worrying trend has been the deepening polarisation between the hill and plains communities in Nepal.

All of a sudden, we were being asked to choose sides. You are either a supporter of the Madhesis and the marginalised or you are their enemies. This with-us-or-against-us mentality is so strong that Madhesis who dare raise their voice against the Front’s terror tactics and their support for the Indian blockade are immediately branded traitors.

By contrast, every atrocity of the Madhesi Front is defended or dismissed as a fringe incident including setting people on fire and the bombing of public transport. The blockade was vociferously supported by a section of Madhesi activists as if it was a fundamental right, ignoring that millions of Nepalis — including the Madhesi people themselves — are suffering because of it. Many got around the dilemma of defending the indefensible by saying they support the movement but not the blockade. But few dared challenge the Madhesi leaders to change their methods. Instead of strong and forthright condemnation of the blockade and the violence, we were served with ‘if’ and ‘but’ justifications.  

The division has deepened to such an extent that people talk only about killings committed by the other side. People’s lives matter only if they are affiliated to one group or the other.

As a Madhesi, it pains me to see our politics and public discourse deteriorate to such an extent. Are there any values that we won’t compromise with or does the end justify all means? Does being from the ‘oppressed’ community absolve the Madhesi leaders of all responsibility for their actions? 

As someone who has been at the receiving end of these labels, I can only say that those blindly supporting the Madhesi Front and its tactics are the ones who have harmed the Madhesi people the most. Is this struggle about equality, justice and rights or about revenge-seeking? How are we any different from those who have oppressed us if we see no problem in forcing millions of our own people to suffer to have demands met? And if indeed current methods are successful in forcing the government to fulfill all demands, would that be a victory Madhesi people can be proud of?

Political correctness has so clouded our judgement that we would rather not ask these questions that put our ‘liberal’ credentials into question. Being a moderate does not mean fence-sitting, or arguing from a safe position. There are few things where one needs to take a moral position. Our civil leadership failed us by refusing to take a position when it mattered.

Like most Madhesis, I want the state to correct wrongs committed in the past through inclusive policies and political participation as enshrined by the new constitution. I want a society without discrimination so that the law is progressive in practice, not just on paper, and lead to legal and political change accompanied by social movements.  

But tearing communities further apart by dwelling on differences and past injustices is not a solution. Politicians, eager to manipulate grievances to gain political power might argue otherwise, but Madhesi identity is not contradictory to the larger Nepali identity. As a country of minorities, our collective responsibility should be to build a nation where multiple identities can co-exist, thrive and prosper.

It will take some time before reservation improves representation of diverse communities into state bodies and it will be a while before people can internalise progressive change. With vigilant citizens and continued practice of democracy, that will happen. But we should be wary of politicians who tell us we cannot co-exist, who insist violence is the only way and who have no qualms sowing seeds of long-term ethnic discord for immediate political gain. 

Whether the Madhes movement will endure and achieve its true goals will ultimately depend on how soon the Madhesi people are able to see through the deception of their leaders.

Read also:

Near a deal, Navin Jha

Restraint, resolve and resilience, Rubeena Mahato

The endless transition, Rubeena Mahato

The inevitable unravelling, Jivesh Jha

Near a deal, Navin Jha

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