DISCRIMINATION: UNTIL WHEN?
DISCRIMINATION: UNTIL WHEN?
By Bindu Chaudhary
Right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the country’s constitution as well as international human rights principles. The right to peaceful assembly relates directly and indirectly to the freedom of expression, which further means that any person has the right to think, hold an opinion and express an opinion, alone, with others, informally or formally through peaceful assembly. However, the bitter truth is that Madheshis are as if ‘red rag to a bull’, their mere presence makes some people so angry that they quickly resort to aggressive behavior. The police, on September 11, came down heavily on the street protest called by the Madheshi community in front of Singha Durbar demanding that the issue of citizenship be sorted out before the elections to the constituent assembly is held. Similar to this one, the blunt police brutality was expressed when the Nepali police mercilessly lathicharged and injured Madheshis at the peaceful protest in Janakpur early this year.
When Madheshis still have questions about whether human rights are actually protected, preserved and promoted for Madheshis, police rage against Madheshis come as a slap in the face. It cannot be a mere coincidence that whenever ‘Madheshis’ come up with their agenda, the first reaction is to beat them up and shut their mouth off! This is but an overt expression of prejudice against Madheshis.
Other most fundamental human rights recognized in international law, as well as in many of the national constitutions is the right to non-discrimination on the basis of national or ethnic origin, religion, race, caste, color, ideological conviction or any other ground. However, the fact is, Madheshis are discriminated and they are discriminated socially, economically, politically, culturally and linguistically for centuries. Here are some hard facts Madheshis have to live with everyday: About 90 percent of the Terai districts, where 95.5 percent of the total Madheshi people live, have a large number of educationally deprived populations (compared to only about 13 percent in hills and mountains). Again, 50 percent of the Terai districts have ‘worst ranking’ for child literacy rates (compared to 29 percent in hills and mountain districts). Geographically, about 45 percent of the 20 Terai districts have the worst poverty ranking (as compared to 29 percent in hills and mountains). Also, 50 percent of Terai districts have ‘worst’ per capita budget allocation index (compared to about 17 percent of the hill districts). As if this was not enough, only 11.2 percent of Madheshi people are in the integrated index of governance with none in culture, academic and professional leadership. There is an undeclared ban on their recruitment in the Nepali Army, and they are in insignificant number in Nepal police.
It is such a crying shame that Madheshis, who constitute more than a third of Nepal’s population are still dealing with scores of basic development issues such as land, languages, identity, citizenship certificates, and discrimination in health, education, employment and so on. One needs to get into the shoes of a Madheshi to experience what it feels to be like a ‘second class’ citizen, or, a ‘no-citizen’. An astonishing around 6 million Madheshis do not have citizenship certificates. It is difficult to comprehend why there is so much hue and cry and all the hullabaloo about issuing citizenship certificates to the Madheshis.
Recently, there has been a historic development with the proclamation of House of Representative to issue citizenship certificate on the basis of mother’s citizenship. It is definitively a welcome step for guaranteeing equal rights to women; nonetheless, it is not enough to bring any substantial change in the present state of citizenship problems in Terai. It is therefore necessary that the ‘stateless’ Madheshis are granted citizenship certificates before the elections of Constituent Assembly.
Citizenship is a right, not a privilege that one has to ask for it, and asking for it is not a crime for which they need to be beaten up. Such disgraceful acts of Nepali police should not restrain Madheshi men and women from voicing their souls out again, until each and every Madheshis have citizenship certificates in their hands, obviously, before the Constituent Assembly.
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