Blood of Yadukuha’s martyrs
C K LAL
Mahottari is at the bottom of the list of districts in terms Human Development Index. Neighboring Dhanusha is a better performer, though barely so. In any case, averages hide a lot of disparities. Despite its lower status, Mahottari boasts of small towns like Bardibas, Gaushala and Matihani that may not measure up to district capital Jaleshwar, but are bazaars of distinction in their own right. However, Janakpur has overshadowed every other settlement in the district. Even Yadukuha, a sprawling settlement bang at the center of Dhanusha barely gets attention in political, social, cultural, religious or commercial discourse these days.
It takes over an hour to cover a distance of barely 16 kilometers through the earthen road that connects Yadukuha to the district headquarters. Few government officials or NGO-entrepreneurs grace the place with their visit. Donors and INGOs prefer settlements along the highway or villages near the airport during their field visits. It is such a pity because Yadukuha is not just a place but also the name of an ideal that has somehow begun to lose its potency.
For an entire generation of students in the 1970s, Yadukuha was a codeword for fierce resistance, ceaseless struggle and spirit of sacrifice. There were several reasons behind its popularity. The village is known as Shahid Nagar (Martyr Town) for warriors that laid down their lives for the cause of democracy, socialism and nationality.
During the first parliamentary elections in the country, BP Koirala had proposed to field a Yadav from this constituency. The chosen one declined on the ground that such a selection smacked of communalism. It was a Yadav-dominated constituency and the idealist politico wanted to ensure the victory of his idol Saroj Koirala to prove that the support base of Nepali Congress went beyond exigencies of caste calculations. No NC leader showed the moral and political strength to respond in a similar manner and field a Kurmi or a Koeri from Sindhuli or Okhaldhunga.
Saroj Koirala won hands down; mesmerized the Parliament with his political skills; inspired a whole generation of youngsters in the region into joining oppositional politics after the royal-military coup of 1960; and went into self-exile to keep the lamp of democratic struggle burning. He was murdered on Indian soil, allegedly on the orders of the then Anchaladhis (Zonal Commissioner) by Nepali security personnel in mufti. Whether Indian officials were complicit in the crime or not is still unknown.
In the early 1970s, security personnel killed two school students—known jointly as Kameshwar-Kusheshwar now—for their political beliefs. After Durganand Jha, these two teens became martyrs to the cause of democracy in the long-drawn fight against Panchayat for freedom. Few remember their names anymore, but they sacrificed their lives for the freedom of every Nepali. Public memory is phenomenally short, but forgetting the martyrdom of Kameshwar-Kusheswar borders on national ungratefulness.
During the People’s Movement of 1990, three rural women and two men from Yadukuha once again embraced death and succeeded in firing the imagination of every freedom-loving Nepali in the country and abroad. The People’s Movement had begun to lose momentum—the blood of martyrs from Yadukuha rekindled embers of liberty that finally spread like wildfire and consumed the autocratic Panchayat system. Perhaps there is some truth in the Christian dictum that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The cathedral that was built in 1990 was called a multiparty democracy.
At the height of the Maoist insurgency, 11 policemen lost their lives in the vicinity of Yadukuha. Their sacrifice too did not go in vain. It created tremendous pressure upon political parties, the Maoists, the international community and the civil society to look for a peaceful settlement to the decade-long armed conflict. These security personnel were killed on line of duty and are worthy of respect for exemplary devotion to their profession.
There must be something in the earth, water, and air of Yadukuha that makes it produce persons of extraordinary courage, conviction and commitment to democracy and social justice. The state and society, however, has been less than generous in acknowledging the contributions of this village to the national life. The reason may lie in the socio-cultural degeneration brought about by the “I, me, my” ideology. Rather than martyrdom, “martyr syndrome” and “martyr complex” are prevailing ideas of our times.
A martyr is a person who is put to death, or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause. A martyr to the cause of democracy, human rights, or social justice is a later addition. The idea of martyrdom is not natural to Hinduism where an act of sacrifice implies balidan—donation of someone else’s life, be that of a goat, a rooster, a buffalo, a pig, a duck, or any such living being. Human sacrifice (narbali) has passed into history. Breaking of coconut is perhaps a symbolic ritual that memorializes the archaic practice. In South Asia, valiant Sikhs borrowed the idea of martyrdom from Islam and took it to great heights. The trend got further fillip during anti-British struggles. The idea of struggle and sacrifice for liberty, equality and fraternity came to Nepal via India.
Terminology may be different, but martyr syndrome is a manipulative tactic that must have been around for ages. Some people use their self-sacrifice, real or imagined, to manipulate people around them. They expect a reward, often far in excess of their suffering, as they want to milk the misery of their past for present and future personal benefits. Politicos who keep harping about their time in jail, exile or underground and expect to be nominated to some office of profit are dime a dozen in Kathmandu. The UML is particularly rich in cadres with martyr syndrome.
Martyr complex, sometimes associated with the term victim complex, is a strange sort of psychological state that makes a person choose a life of suffering, prosecution and possible death. Their goals may or may not be clear, but such people willingly endure hardships of all kinds. The Maoist leadership has skillfully identified, trained and manipulated the burning desire of being a martyr for his/her own among a section of disillusioned youngsters.
The martyrs of the past have enriched us all—they died to ensure a better life for generations to come. Struggles of the future, however, would have to be peaceful for more impact. The hadith (narrative) said to have originated from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr” will then become even more relevant. The ideas that martyrs held dear would nevertheless continue to inspire people for generations to come.
- By Ram Dayal Rakesh
Chhatha is a colourful festival of Madhesh celebrated with pomp and show in the autumn season. This folk festival has taken the shape of a national festival, celebrated as it is from Mechi to Mahakali of Nepal. Whether it is in neighbouring Bihar and Uttar Pradesh of India or Nepal, all roads lead to the Ganges River on this auspicious occasion.
Chhatha is celebrated in Janakpur, the holy city, and the business city of Birgunj. This festival is celebrated on the banks of the pious ponds of Dhanush sagar and Ganga sagar. Likewise, it is celebrated in a grand manner on the banks of the Ghariharwa pond of Birgunj, where an idol of the sun god has been constructed permanently for this purpose. There is either a pond or river in almost all the villages, where the devotees congregate to celebrate Chhatha.
This festival is directly related to water as it gives life. Devotees stand knee-deep in water to offer water and other offerings to the sun god. The Aryans during the Vedic period revered the rivers, as is understood from the famous Nandistuti (river hymns) of the Rig Veda. The sun is a visible god, and is also called Grahraj (King of the planets). This festival, solemnised in honour of the sun god, is also known as Suryashasthi because it is chiefly celebrated on the sixth day of the bright half of Kartik, corresponding to late October and mid-November. This year, devotees celebrated Chhatha on November 16 (Kartik 30).
Chhatha was first celebrated by Anusuya, wife of the famous sage Atri, according to the Surya Puran, for happiness, good health and a safe and sound conjugal life. After that, during the Dwapar period, it was celebrated by Draupadi, wife of the Pandavs, as per the Mahabharat. There is mention of this festival in the Rig Veda, the most ancient scriptures of South Asia, also.
According to the Agni Purana, devotees who perform this festival in the month of Kartik (October-November) and pay homage to the sun god receive a big boon. In the Rig Veda, Surya has been described as one of the three greatest gods. Life is impossible without the sun. Thus, Hindu scriptures present the sun as the most potent, potential and powerful god. The worship of the sun god means the worship of all the Puranic gods and goddesses. The sun’s rays have the amazing power to heal several diseases. Scriptures mention that Samba, son of Lord Krishna, got cured of leprosy after worshipping the sun god.
This festival is observed for four full days. Day 1 is observed by taking a bath in a river or pool to purify the body and mind. This way, all sins committed in the past are also washed away. This ritual is called Naha Khau in the local language, which means eat only after taking a bath. Bathing is the first prerequisite for this festival because Maithili culture is chiefly riverine. Some of the rivers are considered masculine, forceful and turbulent and are known to be troublemakers.
People of this region especially worship the Koshi River as they also do the Kamala, which is considered very sacred. They sing and dance while worshipping this river, which is considered a water goddess. Most of the rivers of the Mithila region are feminine, and on their banks, the Chhatha, the folk festival of fraternity and friendship, is solemnised annually with great fanfare.
This festival is one of fasting and also of feasting. Collective participation is clearly seen during this cultural festival.
Day 2 is celebrated by fasting the whole day. Devotees of Chhatha break their fast late in the evening. Before breaking the fast, they worship their kuldevta (clan-deity). This way they prepare mentally and physically for this religious festival. This is called kharna in the local language.
They prepare rice puddings laced with molasses. They are not supposed to take salt, garlic or onion. The diet is purely vegetarian. Cleanliness and purity are strictly maintained.
Day 3 is marked by taking a bath early in the morning and worshipping their local deity. They spend the whole day preparing offerings at home. They themselves make cakes out of pure ghee and wheat flour which is called thekuwa. Another preparation is the kasar (ladoos made of ghee, sugar and rice flour). These two types of sweets are considered the purest of offerings for the sun god. Besides, seasonal fruits like sugarcane, banana, orange, guava, green coconut along with blossoming seasonal fresh flowers fill baskets, which are carried on the heads by the male to the riverside or nearby pond. However, women are the major actors in the festival.
Male members carry the baskets to the ponds or pools or nearby rivers because the women have been observing a fast for a long period. Local drummers, and nowadays musical bands, also accompany them. Devotees sing Chhatha folk songs, which are mainly and mostly religious in nature.
They gather on the banks of rivers to pay homage to the setting sun. They take in rays of the red sun, which is beneficial for health. Thus, new energy, strength, spirit and courage are gained. As night falls, the devotees along with their family members, friends and relatives return home. At home, another colourful celebration takes place. They worship the fire-god and eat nothing the whole night.
On day 4, or the final day of the festival, the devotees early in the morning with their friends and family members go to the river bank to make offerings. They offer morning prayers to the rising sun.
People generally adore the rising sun, but the Madheshi people adore the setting sun as well. The fast is broken, and offerings are distributed to the people around.
There is a local legend associated with the Chhatha. In ancient time, there was a king, Priyabrat. He was very worried because all his babies were born still. Finally, he decided to end his life out of frustration. But a goddess, Chattha Mai, appeared before him, who promised a live son to the king. So women also worship Chhathi Mai during this festival so that they can beget a child.
As in other traditions, the Maithil people greatly revere the sun god. This has become the living tradition of the Maithil people, in general, and Madheshi people, in particular. The festival is still observed in great faith, which should bring good fortune to the worshippers.
Infrastructure Of Violence
Measured with the ‘graveyard of dynasties’ yardstick, Simraungarh is settlement of historic import. Legends have it that Nanyadev, an itinerant warrior of Chalukya Dynasty, founded the Karnat House of Mithila with Simraungarh as its capital in the 11th century. Later, Muslim army from Bengal repeatedly ransacked the region between 1211-1226 but failed to annex it.
Shumshuddin Iliyas, formerly a vassal of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, declared himself independent of his overlord and sometime in 1345-46 finally conquered the entire Tirhut region, including the Karnat kingdom. Meanwhile, Harisimhadeva had already disappeared with his deities, queens, courtiers and concubines up into the mountains in the north in 1323 or so. Some of his descendents are believed to have ruled Kathmandu valley as Malla kings for four centuries when they finally fell one by one to the Gorkhali forces in late-18th century.
All that remains of nearly 400 years of imperial glory around present-day Simraungarh are a few earthen mounds, charcoal grains of rice said to have been burnt by invaders and huge ponds with the royal associations. Nearby Ranibas Bazaar does have a historic temple, but it was built by one of the consorts of Rana usurper Jangbahadur. Floodwaters of Bagmati and Lalbakaiya rivers have consumed even the ruins of the Karnat capital.
Some imperial legacies, however, are harder to shake off. The Gadhimai temple of Mother Goddess in nearby Bariyapur is reputedly the biggest sacrificial site in the world. Every five years, thousands of water buffaloes, pigs, goats, cows, chickens and pigeons are ritually killed to appease the celestial mother. Lawlessness is the defining feature of the blood-soaked earth of Bara district—woe betides the person who has the temerity of challenging any law-breaker in these parts. Withering away of the state is almost complete, but the resulting realm is that of bandit capitalism rather than a communist utopia.
The road from Kalaiya (the headquarters of the district administration) to Simraungarh passes through rice fields, mango orchards, fishponds and ramshackle hutments. Here and there, newly built concrete houses stand out as living monuments to remittance economy. However, there are few livestock to be seen on the way. That perhaps explains why teashops in Pathalaiya and Simra run out of milk by early afternoon—the supply is too low to fulfil even local demand. Wonder where Jitpur traders get all those goats and buffaloes to feed the ever-increasing requirement Kathmandu eateries for animal flesh? They probably buy their supplies from across the border in the vicinity of Ghorasahan Bazaar.
Relative absence of street dogs in these parts is even more striking. Locals believe that sanctified oxen, wild foxes and stray dogs were all hunted down by ration suppliers of Seema Sashatra Bal (SSB), the security force that stand guard on the Indian side of the 10-yard strip. Taste of some of their soldiers, particularly from the northeast, is believed to border on what is abhorrent to local Hindus and Muslims alike.
Canals crisscross the landscape, but beds of channels are either muddy or dry. The flow in them is dependent upon the decision of Indian authorities that control its main feeder according to the provisions of the Gandak Treaty. Alternative arrangements could have been made to keep these canals functional, but the priority of the government seems to be upon connectivity. Irrigation channels are in a state of disrepair, but their embankments that serve as rural roads are kept in passable condition. So what if the agriculture languishes? The trade must flourish.
A major chunk of commercial transactions, however, falls into the grey area. Illegal logging and timber trade is rampant. Cultivation of hemp and poppy is sometimes reported. Unauthorized import of raw materials for the Pathalaiya-Parwanipur commercial belt through earthen tracks connecting Indian border is a rule rather than the exception. All such activities have created organized gangs of adventurous entrepreneurs who operate with the connivance, if not outright cooperation, of law enforcement agencies.
A combination of religious fundamentalism, coercive apparatus of the state, easy means of cheap intoxication and instant gratification, and the ever-present encounter with disease and death without much hope for survival can transform even the most docile of population into militants.
In Simraungarh bazaar, shops are full of goods that most people do not need or cannot afford but essentials and agricultural inputs are perennially in short supply. The list of prominent landmarks of the settlement includes a multi-tiered pagoda style temple, a freshly whitewashed police post, a few arrack shops, cinema halls that screen Hindi movies, and the clinic of a quack that promises to treat almost all ailments. A combination of religious fundamentalism, coercive apparatus of the state, easy means of cheap intoxication and instant gratification, and the ever-present encounter with disease and death without much hope for survival can transform even the most docile of population into militants.
The prevailing ideology of individualism that emphasizes the creation of self-absorbed, self-indulgent and defiantly selfish consumers has resulted in disintegration of ties that bound people with each other. Decline of social norms is partly responsible for the lawlessness. However, the main culprit behind the statelessness is perhaps the increasing illegitimacy of the government. In that respect, Bara is like most other districts of Madhes and Pahad in Nepal.
EROSION OF AUTHORITY
Reflecting upon relationship between power and violence, political theorist Hannah Arendt once offered a powerful refutation to the dictum of Mao Tse-tung that power flowed out of the barrel of the gun. “Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of the gun grows the most effective command, resulting in most instant and perfect obedience,” conceded the theorist before proposing the clincher, “What can never grow out of it is power.” This is a lesson of history that the leader of the ruling coalition as well as the main opposition party seem to have missed in its entirety, groomed as most of them have been under the ideological shadow of the Great Helmsman.
A brief overview of Nepal’s own experiences is enough to show that the political influence of the Maoists grew exponentially during the period when CPN-UML and Nepali Congress took turns to shoulder the burden of governments led by stalwarts of Panchayat regime. Reversal in public opinion de-legitimized democratic order, empowered Maoists, and armed insurgency found widespread acceptability. But just as Arendt had argued, revolution was possible but not necessary when the power of the state under the direct control of an anachronistic monarchy had completely disintegrated. Nothing has yet emerged to fill the vacuum as the government attempts to rule purely on the strength of its coercive apparatus. Power is not a substitute of legitimate authority.
From the vantage point of an almost autonomous village deep in the countryside, antics of ministers in the anti-Maoist cabinet in distant Kathmandu look like bravado of puppet heroes fighting phantoms upon cardboard stages erected for them by those who control their reigns from somewhere else. Meanwhile, Maoists continue to gain economic and political strength.
It is not just the rural folks, even mill-owners of Simra and Kalaiya privately admit that allowing armed groups to grow to counter Maoists was a strategic mistake. With Maoists, the payer knows what to expect from the payee. That is hardly the case with either corrupt security officers or ideologically free armed-operators. No wonder, Maoists’ fund-raising capacity has increased without any extra effort on their part. Such an attitude, however, attracts more adventurers into politics of violence and makes existing challengers of Maoist hegemony even more brutal toward their victims. The gain for everyone is temporary while the social loss is enormous.
Nothing less than a prompt political settlement at the centre can stop the slide of the periphery into spiral of violence leading to complete anarchy, which would then engulf even those who began it all—the Maoists.
Bihar candidates ride Nepal radio waves
Patna: Never mind if they are riding foreign radio waves. Dozens of candidates in the Bihar assembly polls are finding the FM radio stations of neighbouring Nepal quite handy in wooing voters. Nearly half a dozen Nepal FM radio stations are airing advertisments by candidates in Madhepura, Supaul, Madhubani, Kishanganj, Araria, Sheohar, Saharsa, Muzaffarpur, and East and West Champaran districts.
Candidates cutting across party lines have opted this medium.
A ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader told IANS on condition of anonymity that there are no such homegrown FM radio stations in Bihar’s bordering districts, so they have little choice.
“We have no option but to use the services of Nepali FM radio stations to reach out to our voters,” he said. He said a campaign advertisement of 40 seconds costs Rs.3,000-4,000 for 12 insertions.
Nepal FM stations like Jaleshwarnath FM from Jaleswar, Rajdevi FM 93.2 from Gaur Baxzar, Radio Mithila, Madhesi Radio, Radio Today and Janakpur Radio from Janakpur are beaming advertisements in favour Bihar candidates, said a senior police officer posted near the Nepal border.
A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Madhubani said FM radio stations operating in Nepal were a cheap medium for electioneering. “These FM radio stations have wider reach among people in the districts bordering Nepal.”
Most of Bihar’s districts bordering Nepal are going to the polls in the first four phases starting Thursday and ending Nov 1. The remaining two phases will be over by Nov 20.
“Since campaigning is the real backbone of the polls, candidates have been using FM radio stations operating in Nepal for it,” said Ranjeev, a social activist working in a Bihar district bordering Nepal.
He said these private stations of Nepal are very popular among people in small towns and rural areas along the 750-km India-Nepal border in the state.
Election Commission officials have not taken kindly to candidates using the Nepali air waves.
A district official in Kishanganj said the poll panel had taken serious note of the development. It has decided to hold dialogue with the union information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry to restrict Nepal from airing poll advertisements on FM radio.
The 47 constituencies in Bihar’s flood-prone belts will go to polls in the first round of elections on Thursday. About 10.6 million voters will decide the fate of 635 candidates in the fray for the first lot of the 243 assembly seats.
Lessons from India
• KNOWLEDGE & POWER
Of course, India is not a perfect democracy, as no democracy is, according to one of the top living political scientists in the world Robert Dahl, because democracy is an ideal. India, nevertheless, has more problems than other established Western democracies such as rampant abuses by state agencies in “trouble” areas, occasional violent conflicts and so on; but Phillipe Schmitter points out that democracies in the developing world should not be compared with the same criteria as established Western democracies that evolved over a much longer period and faced many problems during their evolution.
With regard to India, one can make a plausible argument that its democracy has matured because even big shocks such as conflicts in Kashmir and the northeast and occasional Hindu-Muslim riots have not destabilised it. India, unfortunately, also has a high level of inequality, among and within regions, and inequality is not desirable; but sustenance of democracy despite that, however, suggests the strength of Indian democracy.
India did face a state of emergency in 1975-77, but it was brief. India, however, has not faced repeated military and other forms of authoritarian regimes like in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. The internal Indian conflicts have been very costly to the victims, but if one were to compare conflict victims per capita, it is much less in India than in other countries like Sri Lanka. Indian democracy’s resilience, thus, is amazing — it is one of the few poor and diverse countries in the world that has maintained democracy after independence. Other poor and diverse countries attempted democracy, but fell down one after another or faced protracted violent conflicts that led to restrictions on political rights and destabilisation of the polities. When the ruling elite tried to retain disproportionate control over resources or maintain ethnic domination, the poor and excluded groups mobilised; and the resulting conflict destabilised the fledgling democracies.
As one of the few countries that has managed democracy over a long period, India has attracted a lot of attention globally from democratisation scholars. They are interested in finding out what India did differently than others so that the lessons could be learned by other poor and diverse countries attempting democratisation. Nepal, in fact, can learn a lot more than other countries from the Indian democratic experience because it is much similar culturally and economically to India than other countries, and hence Indian lessons can be more applicable to it.
Ultra-nationalists and lazy analysts in Nepal, however, criticise Indian democracy by pointing out only the problems and fail to take note of the rare achievement India has attained that becomes clear with a global survey of democratic experiences in poor and diverse societies. Nepalis might aspire for a well functioning democracy right away, but they are unlikely to get it — as all democracies that have consolidated, the road will probably be long and not smooth. If Nepal, like India, can overcome autocratic rule in the future, that itself would be a major achievement.
What did India do that most other poor and diverse countries in the world failed to do? One lesson Nepal could learn from India is in managing diversity. Scholars studying India have argued that political institutions have accommodated diverse caste, ethnic/national, linguistic, indigenous and religious groups, managed conflict and helped to consolidate democracy. For instance, linguistic, religious and ethnic federalism accommodated diverse groups in India. India has recognised 22 “official” languages, and has adopted policies supporting three languages in many of its regions.
Even though a Hindu majority, India adopted state secularism to promote equality among religious groups. The recognition of Muslim family law has provided them with a degree of autonomy. Reservations or quotas have ensured representation of Dalits (untouchables), tribal and other backward groups in the administration, legislature and educational institutions. Of course, reservation has faced backlashes from upper caste Hindus; but would Indian democracy have survived a revolt, which was avoided through Dalit cooptation, that was bound to come after the Dalits became mobilised, especially if the Dalits were continued to be excluded?
In the ongoing debate about federalism in Nepal, the Indian experience is further instructive. In spite of the Indian National Congress’ commitment to the creation of linguistic provinces in free India as early as 1917 in order to mobilise the masses efficiently against colonial rule and formed linguistic-based party organisations and Gandhi’s desire to reorganise India along linguistic provinces in place of the colonial administrative zones, modernist Nehru began to work against it after Gandhi’s death. He, along with Vallabhbhai Patel, considered language as “fissiparous forces”.
Two committees formed to study the question rejected the demands. Similar to what is heard in Nepal among the political and social elite, the second committee, which was formed after linguistic activists objected to the finding of the first one, headed by Nehru stated that “primary consideration must be the security, unity and economic prosperity of India… every separatist and disruptive tendency should be rigorously discouraged”. However, the massive movement for linguistic provinces, including the death of Gandhian Potti Sriramulu after a 58-day fast, forced Nehru to reluctantly reorganise the provinces along linguistic lines.
In the subsequent decades, India formed religious (Punjab in addition to Jammu and Kashmir) and ethnic (northeast) based provinces. Today, there is consensus among democratisation scholars that the reorganisation of the provinces along religious, linguistic and ethnic lines consolidated the unity of India. They operated as a constructive channel for provincial identities and pride. The ethnic, linguistic and religious autonomy also contributed to the subsidence of separatist movements in provinces like Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Mizoram. If a common person can be proud of his/her identity and hold his/her held high within a polity, why is there a need to seek a separate state?
Contrasting India’s experience with similarly poor and diverse countries shows an opposite outcome. Failure to recognise identities equally has led to rising assertion of identities in Nepal while Sri Lanka endured a three-decade-long violent conflict. The Indian experience, in addition to the global experience, shows that recognition of identities diffuses mobilisation along identities while denial and repression fuels mobilisation along them. For the Nepali people, the lessons are there to be learned from India and other diverse countries in managing its diversity. However, to learn lessons, the first condition is that one’s eyes and mind have to be open to see things that exist. Are Nepali minds and eyes open to learn useful lessons from India?
(Professor Lawoti is the author of Federal State-building: Challenges in Framing the Nepali Constitution, Bhrikuti Academic Publications, 2009)
NEPAL: Citizenship Laws and Stateless Citizens.
Guest Column: By: Dr. Hari Bansh Jha
Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights conferred upon each individual in the world the right to have a legal connection with the state. This right is not availed by mercy. In fact, each one individual has right to nationality as it not only provides her/him a sense of identity but entitles her/him necessary protection from the State, apart from many civil and political rights. Hence, in regard to citizenship, Chief Justice Earl Warren of USA rightly commented in 1958, “Citizenship is man’s basic right for it is nothing less than the right to have rights.”
However, millions of people in the world are without citizenship and so they are living in stateless condition. Of the various factors responsible for statelessness are: conflict of laws, administrative practices, discrimination, lack of birth registration, denationalization, and renunciation.
Internationally, there have been different ways to get citizenship. One method to get citizenship is through right to blood (jus sanguinins), the second through right of soil (jus soli), the third is through the process of naturalization, the fourth is through choice and the fifth is through acquisition of territory.
History shows that in Nepal the seeds of citizenship problem were rather sown during the regime of Prithvi Narayan Shah. The inhabitants of the Terai were not given any important assignments during his rule because they were reserved for certain ethnic group. In the matter of assignments, first preference was given to the hill people and the second to those who settled in Nepal with their family members and who were rich, faithful and respectful. Opportunity in assignments was given to Madheshi people when individuals from the above two categories were not found. It was in rare circumstances that the Jimidari and minor government posts were assigned to them.
Till 1950s, the Madheshi people were treated like the subjects of a colony in their own country. Until 1958, it was essential for them to acquire passport before entering into Kathmandu. The passport had to be obtained at Birjung which was checked at Chisapani Garhi on route to Kathmandu.
In Nepal, the system of granting citizenship on the basis of an individual’s birthplace and descent started in 1952. A person was eligible for acquiring naturalized citizenship if one resided in the country for minimum five years.
Subsequently, more restrictive clauses such as ‘Nepalese origin’ and ‘ability to speak and write Nepali’ were made pre-requisite for acquiring citizenship on the basis of naturalization. Clause (a) of Article 8, Section 2 of the 1962 Constitution made a provision whereby two years of residence for a person of ‘Nepali origin’ and minimum twelve years of residence for a person of ‘non-Nepali origin,’ apart from oral and written skills in Nepali language was made mandatory for a person to acquire citizenship certificate.
Interestingly, the 2962 Constitution and the Citizenship Act, 1964 did not define as to what the term ‘Nepali origin’ meant. Deliberately, it was left to the officials responsible for distributing citizenship certificates in different districts to make interpretation of the term ‘Nepali origin’ to the way they thought. But it was obvious that the government officials interpreted a person of Nepali origin as Pahadi origin. As it could be expected, many of the people from Terai we were inefficient or less efficient in oral and written skills in Nepali language and as such they were denied of taking citizenship certificates.
The Nepalese constitution 1990 introduced more stringent legislation to discourage people from getting citizenship. It not only repealed the provision of citizenship by birth but also made it mandatory for the foreigners to reside in Nepal for 15 years to qualify for naturalization.
As a result, many of the Nepalese citizens mostly in the Terai region virtually lived in stateless condition. An independent survey conducted by Centre for Economic and Technical Studies in early 1990s showed that 16% of the sample households from among the Madheshis in Terai region were not given citizenship certificates. Accordingly, 1.5 million people in Terai were estimated to have been denied of citizenship right. Later on, independent commissions constituted by the Government of Nepal at reported that the number of those without citizenship was at 3.4 million to 5 million in 1995.
Following, the second democratic movement in 2006, there was a general consensus among the political parties to issue citizenship to the Nepalese citizens liberally to ensure their participation in the CA election. Accordingly, new laws were introduced to facilitate the process of citizenship to the Nepalese nationals. In this process, the provision of issuing citizenship on the basis of birth was revived.
The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 mentioned, “Any person born and living permanently in Nepal before the end of mid April, 1990 shall acquire the citizenship of Nepal by birth in accordance with the existing law.” But this revision was only half-hearted as it added a clause whereby application for citizenship by birth was made valid for two years only until 26 November 2008.
Significantly, a massive campaign was launched in all the 75 districts of Nepal between January and April 2007 with the support of nearly 4000 staff to distribute citizenship certificates to all eligible Nepalese citizens of 16 years age and above. Citizenship was provided to 2.6 million eligible Nepalese people on the basis of certain documents like the citizenship certificate or land registration of immediate family members, supporting documents from the VDCs and other concerned citizens with citizenship certificates. This was a positive development as citizenship in Nepal not only provided legal identity but it was also a source of access to formal sector employment opportunities, banking facilities, property transactions, business and industrial opportunities, and social security. The failure to acquire citizenship in this country virtually means the state of de facto statelessness.
Subsequently, it was found that a number of Nepalese citizens failed to acquire citizenship due to the lack of documents related to land ownership certificates required to prove one’s length of residence in the country; illiteracy; lack of awareness; poverty; discouragement to the girls and women in certain communities to apply for citizenship; difficulty in getting supporting documents on account of poverty; damage or destruction of records at the VDCs; and non-availability of the VDC Secretaries in several VDCs, particularly in conflict-torn Terai region.
As per UNHCR estimates, nearly 800,000 people in Nepal are still living in the stateless situation in Nepal due to the lack of citizenship certificates. It is largely believed that most of these stateless people belong to Madhesh origin.
If the original estimates made by government constituted high level commissions about the number of people without citizenship (3.4 million to 5 million) are considered, nearly 1 million to 2.4 million eligible Nepalese citizens are yet to be provided citizenship certificates. This is the difference between estimated 3.4 million to 5 million populations without citizenship and those 2.6 million who were provided citizenship by the government in 2007-2008.
Views about the Denial of Citizenship
In the book, The Terai Community and National Integration in Nepal the persons belonging to different districts in Nepal expressed their views on citizenship related problems in the following manner:
The saints of Vaishnav sect at Janakpur who maintain celibacy lifelong commented, “We the saints have a tradition of selecting our disciples as adopted sons. These disciples are expected to be the heirs of our property. This is what has happened all though the ages. But for certain years, our disciples are being denied of this right”.
Ali Mohammad Kawadi stated, “The procedures of producing necessary evidences are so complex that we do not get citizenship”. Dhun Mun Harijan said, “I am settled her for last 60 years. But I don’t have any evidence to produce. So I am not getting citizenship”.
Dilim Bhuimali expressed, “My father died several years ago without having citizenship. When I approach the authorities concerned for my citizenship, I am told to produce the citizenship certificate of my father. Since my father did not have it, I am denied of citizenship right.” Likewise, Kamal Devi Yadav added, “I am being denied of citizenship for a long time”.
Bharatendru Kumar Malik said, “Many Madheshis people living in the Terai have been denied of citizenship certificates. On the other hand, the people of certain community coming from foreign countries, such as India, Bhutan, and Burma get citizenship in to time”.
Chet Ram Harijan reported, “The bribery at the office of the CDO creates problem in acquiring citizenship certificate. It may not be a problem for the rich, but it is really a problem for the poor”. Moreover, Chhotelal Vaishya pointed out, “I could not bribe the ward chairman for recommending my name for citizenship. Therefore, I failed to acquire it”.
Birbal Prasad Kanojia maintained, “My wife is being denied of citizenship as she comes from India”. Dinanath Jha reported, “My wife could not get citizenship because her name was not enumerated by Nagrikta Toli (Citizenship Committee)”. Similarly, Fakir Mohammad stated, “My wife is not getting citizenship though I have been sincerely trying for it . I am afraid if after my death she will be able to establish claim over our property.”
Furthermore, Radhe Shyam Mahato expressed, “My wife could not get citizenship as the concerned authorities ask for the citizenship of her father. Since her father died without having citizenship and the authorities do not give any importance to the citizenship of her mother, she has not been able to acquire this certificate.”
But Manoj Kumar Jaiswal said, “We are denied of citizenship because we are falsely branded as Indians”. On the other hand, Satyanarayan Singh revealed, “I originate from India. But I have been teaching in Nepal for 26 years. I wish to get Nepalese citizenship. Yet I am denied of this privilege. “
Effects of Denial of Citizenship
Denial of citizenship has created problems for certain people. Firstly, they do not get service in government, corporation and private institutions. Secondly, they cannot run industry and trade. In the absence of citizenship, the industry and trade are not registered with the government bodies and as a result no loan is given by any banking and financial institution for such activities. Thirdly, denial of citizenship in one’s own country means humiliation as one is treated as a foreigner. And fourthly, the denial of citizenship is the denial of the basic human rights to hold property; the reason is that no body in Nepal is liable to purchase land in the absence of citizenship.
Recently, the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly in Nepal has further complicated the procedure for getting citizenship certificates. Provision has been made in the concept paper to harass those who would like to acquire naturalized Nepalese citizenship through marriage relations.
A foreign citizen marrying Nepalese citizen would be required to relinquish foreign citizenship and reside in Nepal for 15 long years in the anticipation to become entitled to receive naturalized citizenship certificate of Nepal. Till that period, the person would be given merely identity card and would not be entitled to any political rights, right to vote or hold any public positions for 15-year period. This also means that such a person would not be entitled to avail economic rights, like earning property, purchase and sale of property, engagement in business and industry, banking transactions or any other gainful employment in formal sector, which is a clear violation of Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many of the Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi-speaking people in the region have experienced problems in acquiring citizenship certificates as they are treated as “none” or “less” Nepali on the ground of the languages that they speak. Because of such cultural and linguistic criterion in providing citizenship, a large number of people from these communities found it difficult to register their land in their own name no matter for how long they and their ancestors lived in the Terai region.
Citizenship to Foreigners
There is certain group of people in Nepal who hold India responsible for the influx of population in Nepal. Even if this were the situation in certain cases in the past, there are many people from other countries including Burma, Bangladesh or even Tibet (China) who were provided Nepalese citizenship. And more recently, it is believed that 60% of the over 100,000 Bhutani refugees living in Nepal have been granted Nepalese citizenship certificates. It is not understood how the Nepalese authorities provided citizenship certificate to so many of the Bhutanese living in different camps in Nepal. Equally important is the reality that when these Bhutanese have been granted Nepalese citizenship, how it that they are being taken by the consortium of countries is including the United States of America and Australia in the name of Bhutanese to get them resettled in the respective countries in different phases. Such a trend, if not checked, might have serious security implications for Nepal.
The denial of citizenship affects the political, social and economic conditions of a person. However, there is no justification whatsoever to grant certain foreign citizens like the Burmese, Indians, Bangladeshis, Tibetans (Chinese) and more recently to the Bhutanese refugees citizenship certificates – be it in the name of Nepalese origin or other political reasons – as many people within the country including the Madheshis have been denied of this right. In this context, the provision made in the concept paper by the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles Committee to deny the spouses of the Madheshis in Terai marrying across the border in India their right to citizenship for so many years is the denial of human rights. Since time immemorial, the Madheshis have tradition of cross border marriage relationship with people across the border in India. Even during the Ramayanic period, such a relationship was common. By overlooking these age-old relations among the border inhabitants, the Committee members have exhibited their lack of understanding of the ground reality in cultural, economic and political relations among the border inhabitants in Nepal-India border area. Such a step, if not corrected, might invite more of problems rather than resolving the conflict in future in Terai and so to say in the country.
Jha is Professor of Economics and Executive Director of Centre for Economic and Technical Studies in Nepal.
Tarai-Hills gap big hurdle for MDG in schooling
OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, Sept 28: In its attempt to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for primary education by 2015, the government has focused on enhancing children´s access to schools. This has, however, had very little impact on children in the Tarai districts, as compared to the Hills and mountain areas.
Since 2005, especially after the government decided to speed up constructing new schools and upgrading old ones, the number of public schools across the country has increased by 15 percent. However, irrespective of the sharp increase in the number of schools in five years, children in Tarai districts still have little access to public education.
The National Planning Commission (NPC)´s latest progress report on the MDGs states that schools in Tarai are overcrowded.
According to the latest flash report published by Education Management Information System (EMIS) at the Department of Education (DoE), there are a total of 32,130 public schools, apart from traditional and religious ones, across the country.
However, irrespective of the fact that the largest pie of population lives in the Tarai, only 30 percent of public schools are located there.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 49 percent of school-aged children (between 5-16 years) reside in the Tarai while only 43 percent of them are in the Hills. Because Tarai has fewer number of schools, Net Enrollment Rate (NER) and literacy rate are relatively low in this area, according to the NPC report.
The NPC has pointed out the regional disparity in terms of net enrollment and literacy rate between the Hills and the Tarai as one of the major challenges in meeting the MDG target in education.
“It is an issue of exclusion,” Zahid Perbez, a researcher at Research Center for Educational Innovation and Development (CERID) who is involved in a number of researches about Islamic education, told myrepublica.com. “It demonstrates how the government has excluded Madhesi people in education, as in all other sectors.”
Naturally, the number of schools should be high in the Hills, keeping in view its difficult terrain that creates obstacles for students to reach schools. However, the disparity in terms of access to public schools between the Hills and the Tarai regions is palpably high, resulting in considerable overcrowding in schools.
“The overcrowding in schools has adversely impacted girl students´ enrollment rate in the Tarai,” said Perbez. “In the Tarai, where society is relatively more conservative, the government should build sufficient schools to increase girls´ enrollment rate.”
However, according to Perbez, no government official, including those who represent Madhes, has ever understood this simple fact to date.
Madhes-based political parties, which surged in the wake of the abolition of the monarchy, too, have failed to raise this issue vociferously. However, the parties disagree with this.
“We have always pressed the government for adopting a policy against all types of educational disparities,” argued Jitendra Sonar, joint general secretary, Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), adding, “It is clearly mentioned in our election manifesto as well.”
TMDP leader Sonar flays the government for not taking concrete initiatives for constructing adequate number of schools in the Tarai. “By and large, the government has never built schools in the Tarai,” he asserted. “The construction of almost 90 percent of schools in the Tarai was made possible only through the effort of the local communities,” Sonar said.
Hari Prasad Lamsal, under secretary at the Ministry of Education (MoE), rubbishes this argument outright. “Our practice is that the government builds schools only upon the community´s request,” Lamsal said. “Therefore, the low number of schools in the Tarai does not mean that the government´s policy is discriminatory at all.”