In two days, Binay Chaudhary lost both his father and his son. On September 9, 15-year-old Rohan had been returning from his tuition in Jaleshwor town. A crowd of demonstrators were protesting. Rohan was caught in the middle. Security personnel first shot him in the left foot. And then shot him in the chest. Two days later, Binay’s father was out in the bazaar when the police, of a passing police vehicle, shot him in the head.
Protestors have been violent, killing nine. But across the southern plains, where a mass movement has been underway for 50 days, human rights groups have documented the state’s disproportionate response. Mahant Thakur, one of Tarai’s senior-most leaders, told PM Sushil Koirala that the government had unleashed “state terror. They have killed, entered homes, called people Biharis and dhotis…”
HT’s travels across five towns in Tarai last week showed that the violations have deepened alienation among Madhesis and Tharus, communities with close ethnic and kinship links with people across the border in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They have been often treated as outsiders by the Kathmandu establishment.
Nepal’s interim constitution said constituencies would be created on the basis of population. The new constitution says they would be carved out on the basis of population and geography.
The fact that the share of Proportional Representation - which had reservations for excluded communities - is reduced would also erode political representation.
Madhesis are under-represented in institutions in public life. Almost one-third of the population, they constitute less than 5 percent of the army and are mostly in non-combat roles. Out of 75 Chief District Officers, only two are Madhesis. All top parties are led by hill-Brahmans or Bahuns. Of the 12 Prime Ministers post-1990, nine have been Bahuns; the other three, hill Chhetris. All media editors are Bahuns; NGOs and human rights outfits are mostly led by hill Bahuns. Tula Narayan Sah, a Madhesi analyst, says, “What matters in a state is who controls the paisa, money, and the banduk, gun? We are in neither the coercive apparatus nor the administrative apparatus.” To remedy this, the interim constitution provided for ‘proportionate’ inclusion in state organs; the current document drops proportionate, adds a host of other groups, and compromises the architecture of affirmative action.
The new constitution has also created categories of citizenship where some are more equal than others. Those who are naturalised citizens are ineligible to hold a range of public positions. The provision appears to be targeted at Madhesis; the ‘theory’ being that Indians marrying into Nepal would ‘take over’ the country’s politics. A similar ‘nationalist’ fear was used to justify another discriminatory clause, by which Nepali women married to foreign men cannot pass on citizenship to their children. Nepal’s best-known English writer, Manjushree Thapa, wrote how something in her died when she saw patriarchy institutionalised. She burnt the constitution.
The constitution has created seven federal states. But while the Madhesis and Tharus wanted two provinces in the plains, Tarai has been sliced up in five parts. Twelve out of 20 plains districts have been merged with the hills. In the east, Madhesis have been left with a truncated province, deprived of key resources. In the west, Tharus have been reduced to a political minority. Three leaders - UML’s K P Oli, NC’s Krishna Sitaula and former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba - have driven this decision. Sadbhavana Party chairman Rajendra Mahato said: “This is an aar ki paar ki ladai, a decisive battle. This is the third time Madhesis are fighting for the same issues in less than 10 years.” The bottom-line, he said, were two provinces in the plains - a Madhes state and a Tharuhat state, with some possible compromises in the far-east and far-west.
In one corner of Janakpur, the Young Traders Struggle Committee put up effigies of national leaders. A cut-out of Maoist chairman Prachanda was sitting on a cycle. A protestor explained, “Prachanda had said that if India does not allow fuel, he would ride a bicycle. We want to tell him that even the bicycle is Indian and gift one to him.”
Prachanda’s reaction had come after supplies across the border got disrupted.
While sections of Kathmandu are furious with Delhi, India’s decision not to welcome the constitution and its advice to parties to make it inclusive is being widely cheered in Tarai. Dilip, a Madhesi leader in Biratnagar, told the Hindustan Times, “For all of our lives, pahadis treated us as second class citizens and called us Indians. But India did nothing for us. For the first time, they have recognised our identity. We want to thank Modi.”
Kathmandu also sees the situation at the border as an Indian ‘blockade’.
There is little doubt that Delhi has tightened movement. But it is also true Madhesi parties have blocked the border, making transporters fearful. The Birtamod-Sursand crossing has no fence, people cycle and walk across. But no vehicles have crossed for days.
Sunil Rohit of the Sadbhavana Party was camping along with followers. He said, “We are blocking supplies because until Kathmandu is affected, they will not address our demands.”
Nepali Madhesis have risen up for rights. Unless Kathmandu improves its relationship with Tarai, the country will remain deeply divided.
1990: Democracy is reintroduced after a popular movement, to coexist along with constitutional monarchy
1996:The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) begins a radical left insurgency, even as political instability becomes the norm in Kathmandu
2001 :King Birendra and his family are killed in a palace massacre. His brother, Gyanendra, takes over. Civil war intensifies.
2005-2006: King Gyanendra takes over with absolute power. Maoist and parliamentary parties ally and wage a joint movement to oust monarchy. A peace process begins.
2007: A Madhes movement breaks out in the southern plains demanding a commitment to federalism.
2008: Elections to a Constituent Assembly (CA) are held. Maoist and Tarai parties do well.
2008-12: Polarisation deepens between Maoist and non-Maoist forces, there are four governments, and the Constituent Assembly fails to draft a constitution.
2013: A second CA election throws up Nepali Congress as the single largest party, with the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) following closely. Change in balance of power.
2015: NC-UML and Maoists come together to promulgate a constitution. Tarai parties and hill ethnic groups allege this will entrench the rule of the elite. The constitution is adopted even as protests escalate across the plains.