14-20 August 2015 #771

It ain’t over yet

The parties have arbitrarily drawn state boundaries, but who is going to own this draft constitution?
Anurag Acharya

The Dialogue Committee led by UCPN(M) leader Baburam Bhattarai submitted its report suggesting amendments to the draft constitution earlier this week to CA Chair Subhas Nembang. This was the outcome of marathon meetings with political stakeholders and took into account public feedback gathered by lawmakers from their respective constituencies.

The report was made available to the lawmakers, following which it was also tabled in the Constituent Assembly. After being criticised for failing to finalise federal demarcation, the big four parties had reached an agreement to divide the country into six provinces, each bordering India in the south and 4 of the provinces sharing boundary with China to the north.

The committee report made several changes to the earlier draft, notably ensuring direct election of local representatives at village and municipal levels. The report also expanded jurisdiction of the anti-graft body, and added the Nepal Army chief to the National Security Council.

But despite overwhelming feedback, the draft still has flaws: it is discriminatory towards women with regards to citizenship, exposing the leadership’s patriarchal mindset. Women are not the only ones wronged.

The Tharu people, demographically the fourth largest community with 6.6 per cent of national population, rank top three in 14 out of 20 Tarai districts. The national census shows that they make up nearly 23 per cent of the population between Chitwan and Kanchanpur. Their population ratio in Kailali and Kanchanpur is 41.5 and 25.6 per cent respectively.

Yet, the proposed six-model province has divided the Tharu population across six provinces, disregarding the prescribed basis of state restructuring. The conceptual report prepared by the CA’s State Restructuring and Power Devolution Committee in 2009 had clearly set four categories of capability and five categories of identity (ethnicity, language, region, history and geographical continuity) as the basis for state restructuring.

Before walking out of the CA proceedings on Wednesday citing dissatisfaction with the report, Tharu lawmaker Narsingh Chaudhary said: “This assembly has been hijacked by three Bahun men.” Rukmini Chaudhary of Sanghiya Loktantrik Rastriya Manch says the big parties have cornered Tharus to a point where fighting back was the only option. “My family is now scattered from Chitwan to Kailali. I am wondering which province I should call my home,” she told me, holding the six-province map.

She also expressed dissatisfaction over national media’s biased coverage of the protests in the mid-west and the far west. ‘They are giving all the coverage to Surkhet and Jumla and ignoring the huge protests by Tharus.”

Indeed, Tharus in the central and western Tarai have been agitating against the federal demarcation for the last four days, but you wouldn’t know it going by the Kathmandu media. The Tharus are especially angry about Kailali and Kanchanpur being lumped in the Province 6, which has 19 districts.

The north-south demarcation will reduce Tharus to a minority in all three provinces of the region, and their leaders say the demarcation was done to benefit personal politics of UML’s Bhim Rawal and NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ramesh Lekhak.

Recently, I had reported in this column how farmers in Morang were more worried about a failed monsoon than the constitution. Kailali was no different. There was plenty of rain here but people seemed fed up with regular strikes imposed by Hindu groups, those for an undivided far west province, and Tharus protesting the six- province model.

Rekha Chaudhary of Boradandi in Dhangadi does not care which province she is going to live in as long as she does not have to shut her shop. But Phulmati Rana sitting next to her believes her life will improve if Tharus have strong presence in the province.

In Kathmandu, 42 Tharu lawmakers across party lines have denounced the six state model and formed a joint struggle committee declaring a shut down in the Tharuhat districts for the next 5 days. Interestingly, the group is being led by Ram Janam Chaudhary of MJF-Loktantrik whose Chairman Bijay Gachhadar, a Tharu himself, is one of the architects of the six province map that excludes Tharus.

Last time Tharus hit the streets, the far western Tarai was shut down for a month. Warns Rukmini Chaudhary: “We will do it again, if we have to.”


Read also:

Bound by boundaries, Om Astha Rai

Federalism deal signed

Map of federal Nepal

There is a draft

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