20-26 November 2015 #783

Neither here nor there

Shree Lal Sah in Ratopati, 16 November

The current Madhesi Movement is different from past ones. Unlike the movements of 2006-7 which were led by ordinary Madhesis struggling for their rights this one was pushed by leaders of Madhesi parties to settle personal scores against the ruling parties.

These leaders claim to be representing common Madhesis, but had they been sincere about championing the Madhes cause when they were in the government there wouldn’t be any need for protests today. The truth is the leaders failed to institutionalise the achievements of the previous movement when they were in power because they were too busy fulfilling their personal ambitions.

Their dismal track record is the reason why the movement today hasn’t garnered traction among ordinary Madhesis. India on the other hand is supporting the movement to regain the control over Nepali politics that it has lost. By using the protests in Madhes as a pretext, India is imposing an unlawful blockade.

This isn’t the first time that the southern neighbour has tried to exercise its influence over the Nepali state, but it is by far one of the most direct and overt intervention in our country’s affairs.

Madhesi leaders who currently enjoy closeness with India needn’t be too happy because India is only fulfilling its own interest. The day it achieves its intention, it will withdraw support for the Madhes movement and open the borders. The Madhes and its people will remain where they were.

Madhesis are often accused of being Indians. Rather than making such a crude remark, it’s important to review our history to better understand the ties between India and Madhes. Nepal lost one third of its territory to India, which included a large part of Tarai in the south under the Sugauli Treaty. Borders were redrawn and people from the same communities were separated into two countries. This is how people with surnames such as Musahar, Dussad, Mandal, Yadav, Tharu, Danuwar, Rajbanshi began to populate towns and villages on both sides of the border.

When the Ranas came to power, they seized land from the Madhesis who had been living in the Tarai for generations. These lands were leased out. Jungles were converted into farmlands and soon the Tarai began to produce surplus food and grain which were sold across the border to India.

Back then Madhesis were seen as well-to-do Nepalis by Indians. Families were eager to marry their daughters to Madhesi men. Things are not the same today. Cross border marriages have decreased.

It is true that there are many Indians who enter Nepal, obtain citizenship cards and start business, and engage in politics. But how are Madhesis to be blamed for this? Who gave Rajendra Mahato naturalised citizenship? Who allowed him to register a political party? Who let him contest in elections and who made him a minister? Corrupted Nepali officials and Indian influence made it happen. Madhesis who continue to be treated as second-class citizens and called all kinds of derogatory names were not responsible.

We all know how embankments built across the border have flooded houses, farms and villages in the Nepal Tarai. We all know how often India encroaches upon Nepali territory, and shifts border markers. The Nepali state rarely speaks out against these violations.

As a result Madhesis have been made to suffer. It is wrong to assume Madhesis see Indians as their allies. If the relationship between Madhesis and Indians is volatile, imagine how much more complex the relationship between Madhes and hills must be.

The government is trying to create a country where half of its population doesn’t have a say in matters. India has ceased this opportunity to provoke the Madhesis. There is also a misconception about Madhes being a developed region, actually there are only potholed roads and zero infrastructure.

In the Madhes, the common people can’t get any government work done without bribing officials, mainly from the hills, who taunt them. The Madhes-Pahad divide is a result of this lack of respect. If we are able to work to reunite our communities, no India or China can come between us.

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