Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
Muslims want identity, representation...

Although they make up 10 per cent of the population, Nepal's Muslims are under-represented at the decision-making level. Himal Khabarpatrika organised an interaction with Muslim intellectuals this week. Excerpts:

Mohammad Habuhullah (MJF)
We have witnessed different models of democracy in Nepal: run by one person during the Panchayat, run by a few people after 1990 and now run by many people. We are now an inclusive democracy, which we believe will correct the educational, social, political and economic inequalities of society. The Muslim community wants identity and representation in the new constitution.

Rahamatulla Miya (Nepal Muslim Journalists Association)
We want an identity. We had hoped the new government would not discriminate like the previous governments did. Reservation and Muslim Personal Law should be ensured in the constitution. We are treated as refugees. The state should recognise our contribution in the unification of this country to Jana Andolan II.

Muhmuddin Ali (Legal Research and Advice Centre)
Inclusion became a slogan because the marginalised indigenous communities, women and minorities were never recognised. We have the opportunity to include them in the new constitution, show them that they belong. Equality, development and fundamental rights should not just be confined to words but put into practice. Muslims do not make a majority anywhere in the country but their population is dominant in the Tarai. We are against giving federal units ethnic or religious names. We are wary of secession in the name of federalism, especially in the southern and northern parts of Nepal.

Maulana Gulam Rashul Falahi (Al-hera Educational Society Nepal)
Leaders have found a new slogan of inclusion and equality but there has not been any change in their mentality. That Nepal is a common garden of all castes, creeds, communities and classes is just rhetoric. If Muslims raise issues of discrimination and injustice, leaders call it being communal and fundamentalist and get away with it. We still doubt the new constitution will guarantee our rights.

Hamid Ansari (Nepal's ambassador to Saudi Arabia)
Five major areas?political, economic, social, cultural and religious aspects?should be the basis for state restructuring. It is a technical issue as to how many provinces can be made so that all communities and classes get equal opportunities and deliver justice. It is crucial whether the provinces are vertical or horizontal. Muslims are categorised under 'Madhesi' or 'other' communities in the interim constitution, so what can we expect under a federal structure? The new constitution should have a provision of affirmative action for Muslims.

Tahir Ali Ansari (Supreme Court)
There is no mention of 'Muslim' in the constitution, so we have no identity. The state should adopt a reservation policy towards Muslims. Muslims want proportional representation in every state mechanism, not only in the central administrative system but also at district and village levels.

Mohammadi Siddiqi (CA member, NC)
It is only Muslims that are identified as a religious minority, and we must try to prevent discrimination. Muslim girls need reservation in education. The Madarsa Board and Muslim Commission should have Muslim women members.

Rahamatulla Miya
The new constitution should mention us not as a religious minority but as the Muslim community. Nowhere is Muslim mentioned in the new ordinance on inclusion.

Najarul Hasan Falahi (Amir Islamic Association, Nepal)
Muslims should be included in all state mechanism proportionately. There is a high school for five houses of Pahadi people but just one primary school for an entire Muslim settlement. If Muslims don't like co-education then the government should make faith schools and colleges for them. The certificate of madrasa education is not recognised. Urdu should be included as an optional subject in school and college.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)