From social exclusion to social cohesion
From social exclusion to social cohesion
By Bindu Chaudhary
Science has an explanation for the feeling of physical pain that accompanies the emotional pain of social rejection. Apparently, being excluded from a group results in the same pattern of brain activity associated with physical pain. Only if there was a barometer to measure the intensity of pain could the Madhesis explain what it feels to grow up being looked down upon from womb to tomb. The sentiment behind the demands of the Madhesis seems to be nothing but a cry to address the structural racism created by the apartheid state and to work on a power-sharing mechanism to prevent the ethnic or racial domination of any group. Of course, the movement forced the government to bow down to the genuine demands of the Madhesis, but it is no time to rest on laurels, for actions speak louder than words.Politicized ethnicity is detrimental to national unity and socio-economic well-being. The Madhesi movement has reminded us of the need to take a critical look at dealing with the problem of intolerance and ethnic prejudice that has for centuries plagued the nation. The fact that there is still a general notion in Nepal about Madhesis being ‘Nepalese of Indian Origins’ gives a picture of historical and cultural insensitivities towards each other. To ensure mutual respect and national pride, there is, first of all, a need of an inclusive education that does justice to the history, personalities and culture of terai instead of focusing only on the hills and mountains, its culture, and its people.
Further, there is a need for a concerted program of inter-ethnic and multi-ethnic exchanges, and researches designed to strengthen understanding and appreciation of various traditions and cultures. In addition, we cannot overlook the role of a vibrant civil society in fostering in our future generation, the value of harmonious coexistence, in full respect of each other’s dignity, identity, history and tradition.
I would like to quote Martin Luther King, Jr “What they fail to see, though, is that although morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. What they fail to see is that it may be true that the law can’t change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me.” We want a strong legislation to ensure that the government and public authorities become more accountable to serve in the interest of all people and allow everyone the opportunity to give their views about the services that affect them. The formulation of a Race Relations Act could give public authorities a new statutory duty to promote ethnic equality. Authorities should be expected to, in carrying out its functions, have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and promote good relations between persons of different racial and ethnic groups.
National and International Non-Governmental Organizations, in their already commendable effort towards conflict prevention and peace building, should be more active in combating discrimination and exclusion in the society, advocate a rights-based approach to development, promote social cohesion, and ensure protection of human rights for all. It is also important to engage the international community in a concerted effort to put checks-and-control on the government towards enforcement of the existing international law instruments.
Besides, there are plenty to learn from the experience of other nations which may have already found answers to or are working towards the promotion of cohesive societies characterized by high levels of participation, respect and trust among each other. For example, the European Union can be an instructive example in helping us develop our own ways of tackling exclusion by learning from its tried and tested methods, developed as part of its regional policy to help those regions whose development is lagging behind to catch up with the others.
It is important to note that the failure to combat and denounce racial discrimination and related intolerance by all is one of the factors that encourage their perpetuation. Hence, the efforts should be undertaken at the local, national and international level by all available and appropriate means in cooperation with the affected communities to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all. The importance and power of the media has been increasingly recognized in fostering better understanding between social groups and bridging the gap between communities. Media can play a role in reconciling the hearts and minds of people and develop a culture of peace by promoting dialogue, by encouraging multiplicity of voices, and by providing an important space to develop political debate.
Ethnic issues gather and accumulate like fuel and it takes only a minor spark to ignite it. It is far more important that ethnic issues are put on a discussion table instead of sweeping them under the carpet. The government seems to be leading the Madhesis up the garden path again by failing to initiate talks with them, even after they were assured in the Prime Minister’s addresses to the nation. The government should, without delay, open lines of communication with the Madhesi talk team to help construct trust at the local, national, regional and international levels. National unity requires the highest standards of leadership and good governance. Nepal needs a bold and articulate leader that can understand differences and harmonize divergent views in the interest of the entire nation.
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