Right across the open border from Bihar and UP lie the plains of Nepal. For two weeks, the region has been paralysed by a strike. Violence has left over 15 dead, and on Tuesday, police killed five protestors in and around Birgunj — which is a key point for entry and exit of goods and people from India and Nepal. Thousands of protestors are on the streets, with many removing the ‘Nepal sarkar’ board with ‘Madhes sarkar’.
Here is the problem.
Madhesis and Tharus are people of the plains who share ethnic and kinship ties with people across the border in India. They have been traditionally excluded from the power structure, and are protesting against a federal settlement carved out by national parties, dominated by hill upper castes, in Kathmandu. While Madhesis and Tharus want two provinces in the plains, the hill establishment has divided the Tarai into five parts. And except one, all the other parts are merged with the hills. The decision has been driven by the personal interests of a few leaders. Madhesis-Tharus feel this will leave them at a political and demographic disadvantage and not resolve the issue of inequitable power sharing.
Kathmandu has made token noises about dialogue but has opted for a security oriented solution. Violence by protestors has not helped but Tarai Human Rights Defenders Alliance has documented police excesses. The International Crisis Group has slammed the government’s ‘over militarised security reaction and inadequate political response’ and said this could fuel ‘deep seated ethnic, caste and regional rivalries’.
It is not intractable. But the onus lies on PM Sushil Koirala and Kathmandu’s leaders. Restraining security forces; sincerely reaching out to dissenting forces; pausing the constitutional process; redrawing territorial boundaries in the east and west plains and giving a sense of ownership to Tarai’s groups is the way out.
A constitution written over dead bodies, imposed through army deployment, alienating country’s minorities, will be a farce. Kathmandu needs to wake up.