Nepali Times
Guest Column
Half revolution


The Constituent Assembly Members Elections Act strives to make Nepal, or at least the constituent assembly, 'inclusive' based on a six-sector divide. Through the 240 seats based on proportional representation the Nepali people will be represented as madhesi (31.2 percent), dalit (13 percent), janajati, (37.8 percent), from backward areas (4 percent), and others (30.2 percent).

Nepalis, who have long lived with a loss of identity and been victimised, whether by patriarchal, caste-based, geopolitical, ethnicity-based or linguistic domination, now have a chance to put forward alternative agendas in debates about state restructuring.

But this arrangement fails to address another side of the multidimensional conflict in Nepali society: economic oppression.

To be poor is to be unable to fulfil basic needs and to be deprived of the right to education and health. To be poor is to be marginalised from socio-political processes and resources, to be socially and politically incapacitated. The latest statistics put about 31 percent of Nepal's population below the absolute poverty line, it could be as high as 40 percent.

According to the 2001 census, more than a million Nepalis are landless. In
19 districts, over 20 percent of households have no land. About 15 percent of households do not own a piece of land on which to construct a hut and members are solely dependent on land-based wages.

Without this large mass of people represented in the constituent assembly, it will not quite be an assembly of all of Nepal's historically oppressed and marginalised people. The worries that it will end up being just another coterie of the elites of various groups are genuine. Progressive lyricist Manjul has written fittingly of a 'Brahmin's son deceiving a Brahmin'.

Nepal's inequity is alarming. In fact it is the most inequitable country in South Asia, which itself is one of the world's most inequitable regions. The people are getting poor and their purchasing power is plummeting by the day. To buy one tablet of paracetamol, a Nepali worker has to spend five minutes' worth of wages. A shroud to wrap a dead body costs 33 hours and 33 minutes of work.

Poverty cuts across all groups and communities in Nepal's caste structure. Half or more the total population of most caste and ethnic groups is poor. (Limbus have 71 percent poverty, Kamis 68 percent, Damais 67 percent, Sarkis 65 percent, Tamangs 59 percent, Magars 58 percent, Rais 56 percent, and Chhetris
50 percent). A quarter of the members of the Newar community, supposedly the wealthiest in Nepal, live below the poverty line.

Sociologists hope that if all caste and linguistic groups can be maintained in a proportional balance, Nepal can be a beautiful 'mosaic'. But there is already a mosaic, in fact there are two-of the rich and the poor in each group. Without a mechanism to ensure proper representation of the large mass of the working class people, attempts at caste-, ethnicity- and region-based inclusiveness will not help end existing patterns of social inequality.

Of course, given the multifaceted nature of oppression in Nepal, and its many vectors of conflict, there is not much sense to the traditional notion that an end to class struggle results in an equitable state. This hits home when you see how states established after a socialist revolution failed to address social oppression.

The lesson from history is this: the struggle against class exploitation and social oppression should go hand in hand. Class is an ideological issue and has a national focus unlike caste, regionalism, and gender which are identity- and difference-based. If we are really committed to the freedom and emancipation of the oppressed, we have to look at injustice that cuts across ethnic and caste lines.

Bishnu Rimal is the vice chair of General Federation of Nepali Trade Unions.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)