25-31 December 2015 #788

Years of living dangerously

Despite challenges, we are a far better society than we were
Anurag Acharya
COEXISTENCE: Madhesi, Pahade and Muslim Nepalis celebrating the Holi festival together in Biratnagar.

When I started this column five years ago, the country was trapped in a transition between traditional power centres and emerging political forces. The Maoists had won a majority in the Constituent Assembly elections of 2008 and the Madhesi Front had emerged as a regional force to be reckoned with. But there was real angst and impatience with the status quo. One indication of that was the sight of an angry Dalit lawmaker throwing his chair in a constitutional committee meeting, calling it “250 years of accumulated rage”. 

Growing up in a hill-Brahmin family in the Tarai, I am a first-hand witness to the benign racism against Madhesis, Muslims, Dalits and Tharus of this country. It came as a revelation to me that Prithvi Narayan Shah’s garden of the commons did not exist beyond classroom walls. It hit home when some of my friends were served in paper plates in our homes, or when I saw an old Madhesi being humiliated and forced to give away his seat in a public bus.

It took me a while to realise why blacktop roads suddenly disappeared and the drainage lines ended when I cycled into a Madhesi or Muslim neighbourhood where many of my classmates lived.

Years later, when I traveled into remote and rural districts, learning about the best and the worst practices of development, the Orwellian tint of our democracy revealed itself. From the fisherfolk of Nawalparasi to Tharus living in buffer regions of Chitwan and Bardia National Park who were regularly tortured by security forces, or the victims of development in Chisapani along the Karnali River, people outside Kathmandu silently endured both the oppression and the neglect of the state. Little seems to have changed for the relatives of the victims of the Maoist insurgency or the survivors of the earthquake living in tented camps. 

This column, for the past five years, has been an attempt to explain what I have seen and believed growing up in this country. The political events offered new contexts, but it is the sociology of life in the transitional democracy that has fascinated me most, and following it so far has been an exciting journey. I am grateful to Editor Kunda Dixit for convincing me over a cup of coffee to write regularly and thank my readers for both positive and critical response.

On more than one occasion, I have conceded that as journalists we can only offer a subjective view of events, and that there are no universally accepted criteria of truths to which we adhere to while documenting them. The most we can promise our readers is an honest perspective, and I would like to believe I have done that here.

Two years ago when Lok Man Singh Karki was appointed to head the CIAA, we had warned the constitutional body which is tasked to check abuse of authority could itself be misused for political witch-hunting. We had also been critical about political parties gerrymandering contentious federal demarcation, clearly stating that it would create a problem of legitimacy for the constitution, if and when it is declared. Both have come to pass.

But in this last column, I would like to point out that large sections of our media have overlooked something profound happening in this country. They have failed to understand that eight years of transition was not all about regular political realignments in Singha Darbar. The Maoist conflict and the Madhes movement, for all the violence it inflicted, has shaken the nation’s conscience to its core and there is a deeper social churning of aspirations that are redefining the power structure from villages to our homes. 

Kathmandu’s power centre is the final bastion of the old regime and it still refuses to fully accept this epochal change. For several years, it turned a blind eye to Janajatis’ search for identity until the political parties tacitly agreed to their demands, reflected in current federal demarcation. Today, their insensitivity towards Madhesi demands for dignity and self-rule has forced Nepali state on a warpath against its own people. But, once again it is a losing battle.

In this great tectonic shift the Tarai towns I grew up in will never be the same. Those in the margins are beginning to find their voice. Today, they agitate in the streets, tomorrow they will give their verdict through the ballot. There is a victory for democracy in both.


Read also:

Archive of Anurag Acharya's columns

Dousing the flames, Anurag Acharya

...who will bell the cat?, Anurag Acharya

Nothing left to say, Editorial

Worst year ever, Bidushi Dhungel

Deciding to de-escalating, Kanak Mani Dixit

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