Madheshi Women’s Future: What now?
Madheshi Women’s Future: What now?
– Kanchan Jha
Albert Einstein once rightly said, “The only reason for time is so that everything does not happen at once,” and that is why maybe with the whirligig of time, the political facade of Madhesi women is also changing in the world’s newest republic-Nepal. The reclusive and introverted Madheshi women donned in tradition are steadily but ever so readily, walking out of the closet to gradually overcome significant odds, social and political, and to play an active role in the political life of the constitution-making process. All thanks to the historic CA elections that has augmented the presence of Madhesi, Madheshi-Dalit and the backward community women in the national decision-making course.
Like never before, the increasing role of these marginalized women in the governance is marking its earnings in the places in the annals of the republican history of Nepal. As a sign of changing times, several women of Madhesi background have secured a meaningful representation and recognition creating a ‘new-fangled niche’ in the political arena of Kathmandu. Many of these women CA members in the past have witnessed vast differences almost on every account and yet, they have dared to dream out-of-the-box and have sacrificed their all not only for the cause of Madhesi women, but also for the cause of women in the entire nation. The majority of the representatives are widows whose husbands were killed either in the Peoples’ Revolution or the Madhesh Andolan and also during the Maoist’s decade long violent ‘people’s war’.
An Avoidable Misery?
However, this long and arduous journey to come to the forefront of Kathmandu politics is, of course, not yet over-especially not in the Terai. Perceptions may have differed but disagreements are still there perhaps on every social, political and economic issue. Throughout history, women in the Terai have often been relegated to backrooms or bedrooms. Meanwhile, they have been told since times immemorial that a woman’s role is restricted to giving birth and feeding the family. Sadly, this volatile epidemic of gender prejudice in the plains has no bounds and it clearly shows that while Madhesi women have been able to gain a petite freedom in the political sphere, they have been unable to assert their involvement and influence on professional, social and personal front.
The young women of the mass en villages in Terai, whose aspirations in science or technology or politics or adventure are hampered by traditions, religion, and society cannot dare to live and love their dreams. Alas, the infamous custom of dowry that women essentially have to carry to their groom’s place is more than a clot that flows smoothly into the veins of millions of Madhesis.
The Questions ahead
Be it the issues of sexism, regionalism or even the trivial injustice faced everyday, these women leaders will now have to fight to voice their opinions like never before and then lead from the front to focus hard on the future of the aam (common) Madhesi women. They ought to have power over an indomitable spirit along with the missionary zeal that will encourage the aam women to resist injustice in every sphere of the social order. The questions, therefore are, how will these docile-by tradition, yet power seeking leaders from our plains now wage their battle against the injustice that prevails in the patriarchal society of Madhesh? And at a time when Terai remains embroiled in violence and conflict, what roles can these Madhesi women leaders aspire to play in re-structuring a greater and unified Madhes under the republic umbrella?
We asked a few of the Madheshi women CA members from the major political parties regarding the current state of women in Madhes and the state of Terai as a whole. This is what they had to say:
Kiran Yadav, CA member (Mahottari), Nepali Congress (NC)
I believe that in modern democracy it is the opposition bloc that possesses a powerful stature to check and balance the morality of the incumbent government. Madhesi women leadership, however, should be about the future, about hope and change. At first, the leaders in the government must elevate the sense of peace and security in Terai and provide a framework for structuring an effective dialogue with the armed groups who are fighting for the liberation of Madhes. The restructuring of Terai will not be an easy business and as an opposition we will try to emphasize all dimensions of the federal division and inclusive structure, in equal measure, but most importantly a progressive and open debate in the CA will be the need of the hour.
Karima Begum, CA member (Parsa), MJF
As the daughter of a conservative Imam (Muslim preacher), I was always ordered to wear the burkha and stay indoors all the time. At the age of 14, I was forcefully married and a year later I became a mother. This male dominated society has to come to an end and men should revere a woman for her Shakti (power) and wisdom, and understand that denying her a rightful place in the society will be a big loss to Nepal. I am going to raise my voice not just for Muslim women or Madhesi women but for all the backward, deprived communities. The biggest challenge will be to prove our worth and competence in the development and structuring of a new state. It is high time to stop paying lip service to these issues and take some concrete and conclusive actions.
Lalita Shah, CA member (Sunsari), MJF
The evil of Dahej (dowry) has led to the torment and murder of many women across Terai. I will raise my voice within my party as well as in the CA to formulate stringent laws that will enact to avert the malaise. There is no doubt that this practice is callous and we have to unite so that we can carry a crusade against the custom of dowry in general. I hope the new constitution will sanctify women rights and provide no escape routes for the perpetrators of this dowry crime. It is frightening that women themselves -from mothers to other relatives-have been accomplices to dowry demands from potential brides. For them, dowry becomes a powerful social prestige and recognition. Clearly, the political or judicial interventions to correct this ill can only be successful if society accepts to change. Whilst, therefore, whatever can be done to abate the evil must be done, it is clear that this evil, and many others which can be named, can only be tackled if there is education which can act in response to the rapidly changing conditions of the state.
Ram Kumari Yadav, CA member (Dhanusha), CPN (Maoist)
The JTMM (Jwala and Goit), Cobra and the other like-wise clusters together have created a crisis in Terai. To resolve it, an all-party panel will not be enough. Nepal, India and the people of undivided Madhes will have to talk for a final settlement. The general mood for this has to get better. Cross-border crime is a serious issue and if not intervened in time can attain a mass scale. We know that the genesis is political but people on both sides of the border are getting fatigued. But fatigue should not be allowed to degenerate to desperation. At the moment it will be a monumental political blunder if we deliver a lazy utopia and a flawed sense of justice in Terai. The issue of Madhes and her future is a key area in which Nepal can not afford to fail its acid test.
As the leading party in the government CPN (M), we believe that the need for transformational change in Terai is primarily about improving the quality of life of its people, especially women and providing them a secure future. It is critical that we (the people of Madhes) unite and engage as ‘one’ in the fight for a new Madhes and find exclusive means and policy initiatives that support greater participation of women in the social and economic front.
Urmila Mahto Koire, CA member (Sarlahi), TMLP
The women in Terai have to come out of closed doors to help men and take an equal share of the burden of life. It cannot be denied that there are several instances occurring on a daily basis where the women are still blamed and neglected in their families and maltreated by men. There is a great public apathy about such matters. But it is not the public alone that is to be blamed. They must have before them illustrations of gender prejudice. Stealing cannot be dealt with unless cases of thieving are published and followed up, likewise, it is also impossible to deal with cases of women discrimination behavior if they are suppressed. Crime and vice generally require darkness for prowling. They disappear when light plays upon them.
Education is a key to an effective response of gender prejudice. Today, many families in the Terai are more likely to spend meager resources on educating a boy. They do not understand the benefits of educating girls, whose role is often narrowly viewed as being prepared for marriage, motherhood and domestic responsibilities.
This report was first published in Today’s Youth Asia, Special Issue Oct-Nov 2008 (Madhesh)
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