Madhesis of Nepal : Discrimination leading to Deep rooted Crisis

July 21, 2008 at 10:19 am 1 comment

Madhesis of Nepal : Discrimination leading to Deep rooted Crisis

– Bal Krishna Jha

After the end of World Wars, there has been exponential increase in intra state wars and conflicts. Such conflicts are results of accumulation of various inter-wined factors of social psychology, and hence, the exact cause of such conflict cannot be pin-pointed. However, it can be argued that there always exists a real or perceived discrimination component in any genuine conflict.

The magnitude of conflict is directly proportional to the magnitude of emotional attachment to the issue, multiplied by the perceived degree of discrimination by the warring groups regarding distribution of economic, political, social and other resources. When measured on the continuum of magnitude and graveness, it is ‘Deep-Rooted’ conflict that takes the first position.

Deep rooted conflicts originate largely within states (unlike inter state wars), and combine two powerful elements: identity-based factors that are emotionally charged and the sense of injustice and discrimination. Identity factors are based on differences in race, religion, culture, language etc.  Among these two, the identity crisis has much more to contribute in magnitude and persistence of the conflict. Out of twenty seven major armed conflicts (greater than one thousand deaths per year) in 1996, twenty two had a clear identity component in them. Complexity, persistency and intractability are the basic characteristics of deep-rooted conflicts

The intra state conflicts in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, pre 70s muslims conflict in India, Bosnia, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, etc are the examples of deep rooted conflicts. Thee conflicts are complex in nature which doesn’t have a simple quick-fix formula to solution.  Moreover, the foreign and regional powers’ interests on stability of the country give quite fierce and unpredictable shape to it. Most of the intra state conflict have spilled to become inter state cold wars or even full fledged.

Let us ponder over some home issues related to conflict: Is Madhesi issue of Nepal going to bring in deep rooted conflict? Are our leaders faking to be ignorant about the graveness and further provoking such conflict? Is the media responsible?

The Madhesi issue is a deep-rooted issue. The practice of state’s favourism for the ethnic groups of pahad/hill/mountain and its discrimination towards those who are non-pahadis has brought about this crisis. The state’s age old practice of discrimination has been given continuity by the current democratic governments, political parties and media, all of them headed by those belonging to the favoured lot. Due to this, Madhesis cannot compete fairly with the rest. They feel no sense of equality. Only those Madhesis who have hidden or maneuvered their identity have been able to get into state organs though with frowned dignity. Otherwise, all the remaining is at loss of their identical dignity and hence there is a clear identity crisis.

Recently, the leaders of big political parties who claim to be of national stature, feel that the reason the Madhesis have demanded a federal autonomous state is to disintegrate the country. By such statements, it is clear that they are unable to see the Madhesi crisis. It is because they are still using their old lenses and never cared to borrow a Madhesi lens. Therefore, they are puzzled as to why this issue has caught up velocity in very short time (two or three years). I would like to remind such people of the ethnic conflict in former Yugoslavia in 1990 where the conflict was suppressed for fifty years and was presumed that everything was fine, normal and under control. However, the Eastern Bloc failed to notice that the emotional conflict was always there and unresolved. This led to manifestation of huge conflict after fifty years!

The so called ‘national’ parties have a myopic vision and are living in a hallucinatory and imaginative world. They think that they are the ones who have been given responsibility of guarding the sovereignty of the country, and all ‘others’ are squatters who have settled there with intention to disintegrate their personal property. This attitude will never let them understand the madhesi crisis and their reflex will always find ways to alienate them. For example, the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) including other non-madhes based parties are actively trying to prove that this issue is artificial and is provoking some quarters of madhesis to get disassociated with the madhesis’ demands. May be they fear to share the pie which they had been relishing alone since inception. By labeling this genuine crisis as artificial and trying to dilute it by promoting the practice of ‘divide and rule’, the state leaders might be close to a short term pain relief, but certainly far from finding permanent cure to the problem.

Suppression can never be a solution to any deep-rooted crisis. The conflict in Nepal is bound to be grave because the Madhesis take this as a fight for personal and social dignity and equality and hence, have associated emotional component. On the other side, the discriminatory practice has been ever growing and institutionalized into the culture and lifestyle of almost all the remaining population – the ‘Non-Madhesis’ of Nepal.

The negotiators are always tempted to go by the short stability than to search a long term sustainability to diffuse the conflict. The short term approaches are good to save immediate loss of lives and resources but do not guarantee permanent peace. It is also a statistical fact that most of such short term cures have failed within five years of settlement. The negotiators should not be tempted to push for superficial success to reach to any agreement for the sake of reaching an agreement. It is the quality that is important in such agreements. Long term stability should not be sacrificed for short term expediency.

The recent conflict of Maoist Vs State in Nepal was also instigated by the state’s attitude of discrimination. However this discrimination was in distribution of economic resources. There was less of emotional component involved and was a logical and simple conflict of redistribution of resources among all. Now, the conflict is nearly to its logical end in a short span of time, with relatively less loss of lives and resources. The state should learn some lesson from this. If the madhes issue is left uncared then there is a strong possibility of a new conflict that is bound to be a long lasting, multi-decade struggle. The new struggle will be proportional in magnitude to the degree of reluctance of the state to involve the madhesis in power sharing and stop unchecked ethnic discrimination.

Until the negotiating parties do not become sensitive to the grievances of each other, and genuinely try to find an amicable and sustainable solution, the negotiation doesn’t bring any lasting solution. If negotiation fails, some conflict experts have claimed that mass expulsion or genocide are the only ways that will make deep-rooted conflicts disappear. In identity based conflicts, partition becomes the only way out to further stop the violence, once conflict starts. Is the country prepared for this path?

In deep rooted conflicts, due to the involvement of factors like identity, dignity and ego, sustainable solution becomes really hard to find. Sometimes even the basic democratic process like the rule of majority in decision making or even referendum or other democratic process that gives verdict in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ have negative effects and is detrimental in the settlement process. Therefore, basic democratic values as pluralism, tolerance, inclusiveness, negotiation and compromise must be practiced with perseverance to reach to a solution that is based on the spirit of justice and equality like power sharing, autonomy and proportionality. In Angolan conflict, the loser party of political transition resumed fighting. They judged it as a better option as that would give them another chance to accomplish their deep-rooted objectives, than to stay in the political process in a powerless position.

The Moaists who are forming the new government has much more responsibility than their predecessors because they are the hope and expectation of the marginalized groups. The madhesis do not want conflict, but if similar discrimination is practiced and tactics like divide and rule is continued by the state or other stakeholders, it is but the states invitation to conflict. The government has already lost its sincerity by making a mock of the agreements with madhesis twice. It will be impossible for the government to control the situation if a third round of struggle comes in. It is but an inevitable event unless the government, media and society understand the severity and subtleness of the problem and go beyond democratic means to diffuse the crisis.

(The author is a freelance writer, and can be reached at balkrishnajha@gmail.com)

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Tara Kumar  |  November 6, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Bal Krishnaji I have a question that needs to be addressed before I post other questions. If the answer to this question in negative then I rest my case. The question: Is a common madhesi citizen of nepal not allowed to form a party of his making and run for elections just as a non-madhesi is allowed to? For example a non-madhesi can form a party, run for elections by garnering votes depending upon his capability and popularity and then acquire seat in the house thereby finally run for prime ministership. Whether he loses or gets pulled down is another matter and not part of the question. The answer to the question is if madhesi is allowed to then how is he discriminated? Hasn’t he been given the right similar to the non-madhesi? Why should a madhesi be given the liberty to win elections based on population representation. Shouldn’t he work hard to too to reach his goals instead of waiting for a gold platter placed in his hands? Even non-madeshis have to slog to get to that place so why does it have to be special for the madeshis? If we are equal citizens of nepal why is there a false sense of discrimination? Where is it written in any form that a nepali madhesi citizen cannot have the same right to run for prime ministership?

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