11-17 September 2015 #775

Masochism in the Madhes

The agitation in the Madhes will not lead the Madhesi people anywhere
Jivesh Jha

In order to exert pressure on the Nepali establishment in Kathmandu, the soil of Madhes has become ground zero for violent protests in which the Madhesi people themselves have suffered the most.

It is unclear to the leaders themselves what they are fighting for, except the general feeling of traditional neglect and lack of respect by the rulers in Kathmandu. In the Tarai towns today, we see strangers, nameless faces using uncharacteristic violence. Who are these people? Which unseen power sponsors them?

The Madhesi leadership has asserted on many occasions that the movement is no more under their control. If so, whose control is it under, and to what end? Who are those people on the streets of Birganj, Gaur, Janakpur and Tikapur? No one seems to recognise them. And why are the protests most violent in demonstrations organised by Madhesi leaders who lost the 2013 elections?

The unspoken belief is that the violence is being perpetrated by hired goons from across the southern border. In fact, go to any border town today and everyone is convinced about it. But why? Who benefits from the communal hatred that is being fanned in the plains against the hills? Is it to exert pressure on the Nepali establishment? If so, the Madhesi people will be the biggest losers. 

The fertile soil of the Madhes has been the cradle of civilisations past, and the nativity site of our gods and goddesses: Lord Rama, King Janak, Sita, Gautam Buddha and the philosopher Kumaribhatta. Of the six Sanskrit philosophies, five emerged from the Mithila region of the central Tarai.

Today, the sacred town of Janakpur, where goddess Sita was born, has become the epicenter of the current Madhes struggle. People are facing great hardships as the whole region has been shut down now for more than a month. Demonstrations for Madhesi rights are led by stone-pelting strangers whose aggressiveness surprises even the organisers of the protests.

The humbled Madhesi leaders are looking more and more like those from Nepal’s other mainstream parties. Their leaders have squandered every opportunity to uplift their constituencies when they were in power in Kathmandu. Now thoroughly discredited in the eyes of their own people, they want to be in power again, and this is what this game is all about – to enhance their political bargaining power in the name of autonomy for the Madhes.

So, they get their agitation crowd-funded, mainly from across the border. It’s not just the Madhesi politicians who are provoking this agitation for their political survival. Let’s not name names, but NGOs and activists are willfully pouring oil on the fires so that they can source funding from naïve donors for their ‘just cause of the oppressed people of the Madhes’.

The leaders and the NGOs are selling a utopian dream of how the Madhes will be transformed into an economic dreamland if only the plains can be an autonomous province. And the way to achieve this is by rousing communal hatred against the hills, highlighting the failure of the Nepali state to address Tarai livelihoods, and the discrimination against Madhesis in the hills. Some of this is true, but it all rings a bit hollow when the president, vice-president and many national leaders in Kathmandu are Madhesis.

Many Madhesis are smart enough to see right through all this. But many others are not, and given the joblessness and economic frustrations of especially young Madhesis, there is anger there that can easily be stoked. For years, the real sons and daughters of the Madhes worked to their bones to nurture their soil to grow bountiful harvests. The Madhesis are even more worried than people in Kathmandu about the influx of newer settlers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.   It’s the politicians which allowed this to pad up their vote banks, and that is what the Madhes should be agitating about. It is disastrous and suicidal for the Madhes to make the movement violent, and to drive hill settlers out. Let’s think twice where are we going, who our real enemies are. Let’s build solidarity with fellow-Nepalis. Let’s try to make sure that there is no anti-Madhes backlash in the hills from this violence because that is exactly what the agitators want.

Both the administration and the Madhesi leaders should take initiatives to build bridges instead of burning them. Let’s stop this masochistic madness in the Madhes, it benefits no one, least of all the people of the Nepal Tarai. 

The author is a Kathmandu University graduate. He is currently studying law in Dehradun, India.

Read also:

Just do it, Editorial

Point of no return, Anurag Acharya

Tarai still tense

Cross or not to cross?

Ground Zero in Kailali, Om Astha Rai

Open and shut case, Editorial

Votebank constitution, Editorial

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