20-26 November 2015 #783

… who will bell the cat?

Both the government and the protesters realise this stalemate is not helping anybody, but …
Anurag Acharya

On the evening of 3 November, Mihir Karna from Birganj was on his way to a hospital to attend to his ailing sister-in-law. There was a curfew but Karna was carrying medical documents to convince the police in case he was detained.

Unfortunately, he was given no opportunity to explain. Near Panitanki, a group of APF personnels beat him an inch short of life and threw him into a pile of smouldering tyres. Had his neighbours not rescued him, Karna could have been burned to death.

“I don’t remember exactly how long they kept beating me because I fell unconscious,” Karna recalled, his anger and pain easy to see, “when I woke up I was lying in a hospital bed. The kind of abuses they hurl at you for being a Madhesi makes you wonder if you belong to an inferior category of human race. You work in the media, tell me, do the majority of hill people doubt our loyalty to this nation?”

The fact that people like Mihir should ask such uncomfortable questions is a blot on Nepali democracy. It exposes the pretence of an inclusive society we have been putting up since a Madhesi was elected first president of the republic seven years ago. And we have continued with this hypocrisy, electing women as president and speaker of parliament but don’t yet confer equal citizenship rights to their children.

Listen to interview with Mihir Karna

Let us accept that if 45 people have died and thousands of those agitating in the streets for three months believe this constitution is flawed, they may have good reasons to be angry. Or are we going to live in denial and say that the personal interest of a few Madhesi leaders is forcing hundreds of thousands onto the streets?

A journalist from Saptari recently emailed me a video clip of a UML supporter saying on camera: “I am a UML cadre and have nothing to do with the movement but when police enter our house, beat up women and children and fire at us indiscriminately, you cannot blame us for coming out on the streets.”

Unfortunately, the national discourse has now been overshadowed by the undeclared Indian blockade. The mainstream blames India for enforcing the blockade and sheltering the protesters, but the protesters in Birganj were actually desperately trying to save themselves from indiscriminate police firing which had already killed dozens.

The government is understandably irked by the growing public support for the movement, but the way Kathmandu’s civil society and mainstream media has been inconsiderate towards the genuine demands and suffering of innocent civilians like Karna at the hands of the state, has added fuel to fire.

When BP Koirala and GP Koirala used Indian soil and support to launch their movement against an autocratic regime, we called them freedom fighters. Now, when Madhesis are doing the same thing to bargain with Kathmandu we call them traitors. It makes no difference to us, after so many deaths and months of protests that not one senior member of the cabinet has bothered to go to Tarai and express regret for their loss. It is a political crisis, not a law and order problem.

To be sure, the Indians are pushing their own interests through the blockade, but KP Oli should realise by now that flirting with Chinese oil diplomacy is not in Nepal’s long term interest either. Our public diplomacy has been even more disastrous. Instead of asking the Indians to #Backoff or cribbing against #IndiablockadesNepal, had the media and civil society collectively pressured government to reach out to the dissenting groups while opening diplomatic channels with New Delhi things would not have deteriorated to this extent.

We may have run out of cooking gas, be forced to take overcrowded buses to work, our hospitals may have run out of essential medicines. But in Bara, Parsa, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Siraha, Saptari, Sunsari and Morang, Madhesis have been faring far worse for much longer.

If Dasain and Tihar were painful in the hills, Chath in Madhes has not been exactly a celebration. Yet, if they have resolved to stay on the streets for so long, we better believe they have genuine grievances.

The smartest thing K P Oli has done in the last three months is to convince the Madhesi parties to sit for talks this week. There seems to be a sombre realisation on both sides that the stalemate is not benefiting anybody. But finding a mutually agreeable solution will still take a lot more political will.


Read Also:

In Dependence

Whose constitution is it anyway?, Anurag Acharya

Carrot, stick and oil, Anura Acharya

Insult and injury, Santa Gaha Magar

A blockade is a blockade, Tsering Dolker Gurung

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