Even if Madhesi parties withdraw strike, Madhesi youth will not

Before I packed up my luggage to go to my home in Saptari for Dashain—our greatest festival— I called my mother from Kathmandu to ask if I should purchase anything for home. She had no special request but what she said at the end of the conversation sent me reeling. “You still think there is government for Madhesis?” she thundered before lamenting that the state has not only mercilessly killed protesters but also innocent locals. My mother is a housewife and knows nothing about demands of agitating Madhesi parties. But I could sense her anger against the state.
Alleging that the new constitution has excluded Madhesis and Tharus, United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) and some Tharu organizations have been staging indefinite strikes for the last two months in the Tarai plains. And they have blocked the border points for the last two weeks.

The government claims not all demands of agitating parties are legitimate. This is a lie. Truth is if they were not so, the erstwhile government would not have formed a team to hold dialogue with agitating forces. Forty five people, including 10 security personnel, have been killed, most of them in police firing, during the demonstrations in different parts of the country.

Of course, we needed a constitution but such that could end transitional chaos. But the new constitution has only made the situation worse. Newspapers hailed the new charter as ’70-years’ dream come true.’ I wonder if this dream was associated with leaving Madhesis unheard. I wonder if any Nepali has ever dreamt of dividing the nation through constitution. Half of Nepalis celebrated constitution promulgation on September 20 while rest mourned it by observing blackout.

On the day of constitution promulgation, neither a single leader nor a government representative uttered a word to address Tarai unrest. Madhesis and Tharus were expecting to hear state authorities say something about their demands. When no one spoke, they felt completely excluded and shattered. On the same day, a local in Saptari died of heart attack while another man from Mahottari committed suicide the next day.

While the government and three parties failed to protect their own people and convince them that most of their concerns were already addressed by the constitution, India (like it always has), stepped in to mount pressure on the government to address their demands. This was deliberately misinterpreted by the government. Leaders of three parties came up with a trick to incite people and spread anti-Indian sentiments instead of seeking a political and diplomatic solution to end the crisis.

Some even started ‘backoffIndia’, which was backed by anti-Indian twitteratis from Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was as if we could not be nationalists without hating India. We even forgot that India was the first country to chip in with aids and support to Nepal following devastating earthquakes which killed 9000 people and destroyed half a million houses.

While we are venting ire against India, we have not cared to know what Madhesis and Tharus think. So they are now compelled to acknowledge India’s support in Madhes unrest. As hill people began to portray Madhesis as Indians, hatred and resentment between two communities escalated. When Indian TV channels were prohibited in Kathmandu as a symbolic protest against Indian interference, Madhesis in Tarai towns turned off Nepali TV channels. To counter “Back off India,” youths from Mahottari and Rautahat staged demonstrations with “Welcome India” banners. The state had pushed them to a desperate point. They had no option. It might look like Madheshis are not aware about consequences of Indian interference in Nepal. It’s not so. They have learned that India has played vital role in making every movement for right and democracy a success in Nepal.

Even if the Madhesi parties decide to withdraw agitation, Madhesi youths are not going to relent.

This constitution is most important for agitating Madhesis, Tharus, Janjatis, Dalits and women because this is the first constitution that includes some of their voices for the first time. But they want more of equal rights. Hence, the state needs to put every step forward to increase their ownership over constitution. It needs to inform the disgruntled groups which of their concerns (if at all) have been addressed by the constitution.

As a landlocked country, Nepal is dependent on India and China. Affecting relations with these two countries, which are emerging powers across the globe, can only serve vested interests of only some parties. Thus Nepal must immediately mend its ties with India.

The new Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli along with other top leaders should reach out to the people and ensure that the constitution will be amended to address their concerns. Only this will end the current crisis. Nothing else will do.

The author has originally published this article for Republica.