The Personal Behind the Public Fight

September 16, 2007 at 8:01 am 2 comments

The Personal Behind the Public Fight

-By Smriti Jaiswal

When my uncle, who lived in a village forty-five minutes away from Janakpur, felt the first sting of chest pain he had to be brought to Kathmandu. As is true with the rest of the Teraian belt, Janakpur lacks decent hospital facilities. My uncle died because medical assistance did not reach him as quickly and as efficiently as it should have. Everyday a substantial proportion of the Teraian population dies similarly.

A substantial proportion of the Teraian population also remains unhealthy, uneducated, untrained, unemployed, unrecruited, underpaid, unseen, disrespected, discriminated, voiceless, nameless, skilless because to subvert any one of these adjectives one has to be in Kathmandu. Human life in Nepal begins and ends in the capital, and the capital validates one identity – the Pahadi identity.

What is surprising is not the sudden uprising of the Madhesi community today, what is surprising is that they had not risen earlier, that they had not demanded earlier, that they had not revolted against the putrefying discrimination with which they have had to live for centuries. What seems to have disturbed the rest of the country is that the Madhesis for once seem to have a point of view that contradicts the Pahadi point of view. Even as I type I cringe at the word “Pahadi”. Somehow, making this distinction seems incorrect, morally wrong. Should I simply not be typing “Neplai”? Shouldn’t there be one name for everyone in one country? Shouldn’t ethnicity be understood for appreciation only and never for depreciation? And yet a Madhesi understands his ethnicity through negatives. At the simplest level a Madhesi is scorned at for not being Pahadi and at the most complex level he/she is attacked as not being Nepali.

The Madhesi fight today is for a Nepal that is not for a Pahadi or a Madhesi but for a Nepali.

Internal oppression, discrimination and segregation have always led to counter attacks. All of the colonial history stands as an example of this. The American civil war is an example of this. The religious agitation in India is an example of this. The LTTE in Sri Lanka is an example of this. While any oppression will elicit a revolt, an internal oppression will elicit a personal revolt, which by its very nature is more animated and vigorous.

This is the second major revolt Nepal has seen in its recent history, the first being the Maoist revolt. And yet the latter differed (and differs) significantly from the former. How often did one hear of people joining the Maoists for money, blanket and food? There were always talks about how such and such a poor person joined the Maoist army because at least that way he/she would have food to eat. Many Maobadies were mercenaries, fighting for more than just a cause. The proof comes from the fact that children too were recruited in their army. What understanding does a child have about larger political scenarios? And what right does an adult organization have to drag children into their war? If the Maoists had been fighting for a cause they would have provided for these children, not taken away from them.

After all these years of fighting I still don’t really know what the Maoists had really wanted, and I doubt half of those blowing off people and property knew either. As opposed to what most Maoists would like to claim, the Nepali democracy is not a result of their struggle. It is a result of the people’s struggle. There is nothing to show for the Maoist agitation, not in the villages, not in the cities. The very fact that today they are being forced to return confiscated properties and dislocated people to their homes so that the Maoists can join the political mainstream screams of the fact that the confiscation and the dislocation had been unfair and unjust in the first place. If anything at all, the Maoists should have been fighting politicians and the political systems. The civilians had done nothing to warrant such outrageous acts of murder, curfews, kidnappings, closing down of schools, offices and other business houses, enrolling young men and women into their army etc. The Maoists were, by their very definition, fighting against democracy. The Madhesis, on the other hand, are fighting for it.

The Madhesis are not fighting for fear or for money. Their cause and their goals are clearly defined. And, most importantly, their enemy has not just been the politicians but also the common public which has promulgated and encouraged violence and discrimination against it. Every Madhesi can site at least one instance of intolerance and name calling he/she has had to endure at the Pahadi hand. The Madhesi community as a whole stands witness to mindless prejudice and hostility.

Every time there is a disagreement between India and Nepal, Terai has to pay a price for it. Why? Does the Indian public rain down upon those living in Darjeeling and Dehra Dun at times of discord between India and Nepal? No, because the people of Darjeeling and Dehra Dun are Indians, not Nealis despite the fact that they are originally from Nepal, despite the fact that the people of Darjeeling speak Nepali, despite the fact that they marry their children to Nepal, despite the fact that they follow Nepali customs, wear Nepali clothes and carry Nepali surnames. India would pretty much kill us if we touched the people in Darjeeling. Does Nepal not owe the same respect and camaraderie towards the Teraians who are despite their language, customs, color and life-styles Neplais? The India Army is flooded with Indian Gorkha soldiers because as far as the Indian Army goes the Indian Gorkhas are Indians fighting for their nation. Do the Teraians not deserve the same level of trust and responsibility from Nepal and would the Teraians not return the acceptance with equal fidelity?

The irony is that the Madhesis are looked down upon by the Pahadi community for their “Indian” origin. However, the entire nation was ruled for centuries by kings and queens who are all of Indian origin. Aren’t the Ranas and Shahs originally from India? What kind of history is taught in schools that the public does not know a fact as simple as this? And which ruling family can claim that they have not married their daughters or received daughters-in-law from the Indian families? Why were the Shahs not labeled “Indians” and why are their children not labeled the same and thereby shunned and victimized? Is it mere politics or is the public so blind and illiterate that they don’t know one thing from the other?

All these years of murder, plunder, oppression and discrimination and there was no outcry amongst the public, and one retaliation form Madhesh and look at the screams! Nepal lives on the wheat produced in the Terai, the commerce that comes through its borders, lives on the labor given by it, lives on its submission, and Nepal forever wants to live on that. But nobody, not even the illiterate and mistreated Madhesi can take subjugation forever. The revolt was inevitable. There is denouncement right now. Everyone is denouncing the means opted by them. Well, let those who denounce remember the means they had opted before this. Let them remember how they called a Madhesi marshia, and dhoti, and kale, and Indian, and chor. Let them remember how it was assumed that all subji-wale bhaiyas and khali-sisi-bottle bhaiya would come from Terai while all officers and position holders would constitute of the Pahadis. Let them remember that verbal abuse is just as ugly and sometimes more ugly than physical damage.

It is argued that a federal state won’t work. I argue that a central government like the one ruling currently and like the ones that have ruled earlier will no longer work. For its small size Nepal is amazingly packed with the most varied of landscapes, people and lifestyles. Every zone has its own distinct requirement. While Kathmandu and Pokhara can survive through tourism, Birgunj and Nepalgunj need business and industrial investment, and Janakpur has to be publicized as one of the most prominent Hindu cities in the world. While Kathmandu is a valley and cannot have trains, the boarders can and should procure more diverse locomotives than rickety buses. Nepal needs to be decentralized. People like my uncle do not deserve to die due to inaccessibility to hospitals. Nepal needs to recognize and use its resources. How can a government that knows no Maithili, no, in fact, looks down upon it understand the needs of the region that communicates solely in that language? Thirty eight percent of Nepal’s population is Madheshi. Does one even have to say more?

A dignified and free life is not a prerogative, it is a natural right and the nation should be proud and supportive of a movement striving for a healthy and equal lifestyle.


Entry filed under: Articles.


2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mr madhesh  |  September 18, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Smriti Jaiswal Ji,

    your writing is simply great. the paragraphs are extra ordinarily well composed that reflect the pureness of your heart’s emotions and quite natural. I really feel sorry towrds the untimely demise of your uncle. At the same time, i would like to suggest you to keep writing on these issues, so that madhesis like me staying abroad keep in touch with their emotions back home, and as you last paragraph successfully did, we would always be aware and encouraged to do and bring changes ourselves, rather than expecting from others.

    thank you very much indeed

  • 2. mr madhesh  |  September 18, 2007 at 12:44 am

    and thanks parmendra for your outstandin job, this website as become our common meeting point
    please do give some of your valuable times to this website, and further develop it.
    I LOVE YOU, and all my madhesi brothers

    jai madhesh

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