Four months after the Madhesi people began protests against Nepal’s new constitution, the unrest continues with no end in sight. Among the factors that have prolonged the government-Madhesi Front face-off are the lies spread by both sides. They fuel hatred against each other and deepen the polarisation. While the agitating parties are spreading lies to provoke Madhesi people, the ruling parties are doing the same to belittle the Front and weaken the Madhes movement.
The biggest lie spread by the Front is that the new constitution has stripped Madhesi people of all their rights. Pinki Paswan, a post-graduate student in Dhanusha district, says: “The constitution has given no rights to us.” She cannot point out exactly which rights the Madhesi people have not got in the constitution.
The ruling parties say the Madhes agitation is just a struggle of political survival of some discredited Madhesi leaders, and India is using it as a proxy war to bring the Nepal state to its knees. Anju Silwal, a student in Kathmandu, says: “India is using Madhesi protesters to swallow our southern plains and then the whole country.”
Paswan and Silwal are representative voices of two different communities, and their understanding of the Madhes movement has been shaped by the propaganda of both sides.
To say that the new constitution has given no rights to Madhesi people is to mislead them. The new constitution is regressive on some issues, but this is not reason enough to dismiss the product of years of political struggle and negotiations. And it is equally misleading to say that the Tarai unrest is not an outburst of Madhesi anger.
It is true that Madhesi protesters have resorted to senseless violence in some places. But if peaceful protests are ignored, they are bound to turn violent. Nepal has witnessed several political movements in its recent history, and stone-throwing was always considered ‘peaceful’. Police used limited force to quell protests in the past. But this time in the Tarai police have been treating Madhesi protesters with excess brutality. The longer the unrest continues, the more violent will be the protests. The state is reluctant about readjusting future federal boundaries, fearing that tinkering with the proposed states will lead to violence elsewhere. The Front, for its part, needs to justify the deaths of so many Madhesi people by getting the government to agree on revising state boundaries.
The only way out of this crisis is for both sides to compromise, and that can happen only through negotiations.