An unfinished uprising
An unfinished uprising
A year later, the tarai is still struggling for inclusive loktantra
– by CK LAL
JALESWOR – Things look different a year after the April Uprising here in this Mahottari border town. But what changes you see depends on where you stand. In Kathmandu, the concerns are about the delayed constituent assembly elections and the shenanigans of the Young Communist League.
Here it is about Madhesi representation and the unfinished revolution. There is an element of truth in all the allegations about the fires that raged here in January: royalist meddling, a ‘foreign hand’, forces of Hindu fundamentalism, disgruntled, disaffected members of society disturbing the democratisation process, the government’s inability to maintain law and order. But none of these explanations gets to the heart of the problem.
Decades of discrimination, neglect, and oppression have alienated a large section of madhesis. Being moderate here these days earns you a ‘coward’ tag. In Mahottari it’s easy to see why, and to catch a revealing glimpse of the emotional distance between Kathmandu’s rulers and the tarai.
At the edge of town, flying the national flag, is an early-20th century mansion built by Ram Sumsher, a C-Class Rana banished to the madhes by his purist clansmen. It has been home to powerful agents of the crown, badahakims and anchaladhises like Damodar Sumsher and Lila Raj Bista.
The present occupant of this crumbling edifice is CDO Ratan Raj Pandey, a descendent of royal priests, Kathmandu’s top man here, the most powerful person in the district. The two officers in the District Administration Office are fine men, of pahadi bahun stock, and the Superintendent of Police is a Chand. Individually, most pahadi officers and employees are well-liked and respected. But there is an incongruity in the fact that, in a district where over four-fifths of population is madhesi, almost every office is staffed exclusively by pahadis.
Then there’s the matter of how little noble pahadi settlers have been vested in the communities around them. In a district where the big landlords are Sharmas, Upadhyas, Ghimires and Pants, the first school here had to be built by a Marwari Murarka. The college had to wait for a Yadav donor.
In Janakpur, the town that Koiralas, Ranas, Sharmas, Singh Thakuris, and Ghimires claim as theirs there is no philanthropic effort bearing these names. The first few schools, the college, the hospital, and several temples were built by the Sah family, who were humble traders in comparison with the Ranas and Giris who made fortunes off the tarai’s resources. Individuals are not obliged to be altruistic, but the government is and its neglect is noticeable. Janakpur’s highways, roads, airport and water supply have been set up with Indian assistance. The most visible reminder of the government are security personnel, which reinforces the sense of living in occupied territory.
Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee is flooded with petitions for small embassy grants on his periodic visits here to lay foundation stones, inaugurate school buildings. Girija Prasad Koirala is not likely to receive similar requests for help when he comes here on Saturday to address a mass meeting.
The issues in the tarai are the same as they are for Nepalis around the country—the need for dignity and fundamental freedoms, the right to identity and proof that there is a government that cares. The Tarai Uprising will continue as long as the peaceful revolution that the eight principal political parties promised remains just words. Most people here understand political complexities. “Protests in the tarai will diminish the day the government realises the folly of playing dirty power games in Kathmandu,” says a paan vendor near the vandalised statue of Bhanubhakta in Janakpur.
When Koirala comes visiting, he should talk less and listen more. People may not have readymade answers, but they have interesting stories, especially of the sacrifices that madhesis have made for his party. It’s payback time. The consequence of defaulting on this will be a total rout of moderate forces.
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