Is there a way to help children in Madhes?

Khusboo Gupta, Birgunj

One evening, I was out on the street observing rallies organized by different communities to protest against the government for not listening to Madhesis’ demands. While the locals seemed to enjoy through performing theater and dances, I simply enjoyed watching those demonstrations.

The LGBTI community were the best among others to entertain protesters and audience. Two weeks ago, I had a chance to interview the LGBTI community while helping a documentary film maker from Sweden in Birgunj.  

The LGBTI community told us,

We’re performing dances for free. It is a way of showing our solidarity to the movement. We want to entertain people so that they won’t get tired. 

That is exactly what they seem to be doing, entertaining people participating in the protests so as to keep  them motivated and energized.

In Birgunj, people are organizing the protest as if they were organizing a festival. People from all walks of life including men, women, LGBTIs, elders, youths and children, all participate in the demonstration. While it is great to see solidarity among these groups, it is also unsettling  to see children’s participation,, who are the most vulnerable. I recall various incidents during demonstrations wherein four children –one in Tikapur, one in Janakpur, one in Jaleshwar and one in Bethari (Bhairahwa) — have been killed, what is worse is that none of these children were protesters.

Few weeks ago, I was waiting at Maisthan with a group of friends, planning to visit Pokhariya VDC to interview the family of four-year-old Chandan Kumar Patel, who was killed in police firing at Bethari, Rupandehi on international children’s day. A mass rally passed by with many children participating. One of my friends remarked, “Are you watching this? This is not just a rally but it is our future. What do you think about those kids? They should hold books and pen, but they’re carrying black flags. They’re chanting abusive slogans? This is what we are teaching our children.”

Since I have also been concerned over children’s involvement, my friend’s remarks once again forced me to worry about the future of children in Madhes. But I was too scared to think deeper so I just tried to divert him, “What will they do sitting alone in the village when all the villagers are here for the protest? They are also enjoying, and let them enjoy their fight for dignity.” In reality I was scared of the  uncertainty. After what they have seen, could  they easily transition back to normal life, go to school and continue with their studies?

Every day hundreds of children enthusiastically participate in the demonstration. Almost three months have elapsed since the Madhes protests began. Schools and colleges have remained shut. The region has been paralyzed from different aspects including economy, transportation, government services and general life. Among them, education sector suffers the most despite schools being declared as zone of peace and education being declared as politics free.  

Recently, I met my cousin, he is in eighth grade. During four hours he stayed with me, he was busy on his father’s cell phone. I said, “You must be getting bored, sitting all day home. No school, no friends to play with.”

But I was surprised by his reply,

I am loving it, I watch Doremon whole day and play cricket with my friend next door in the evenings. It should continue. I am enjoying.

Another evening, I was with my parents at Ghantaghar when the rallies were almost at their end for the day. I approached a boy of around thirteen -fourteen years old, he was chanting, ‘Jay Madhes’ loudly. I asked him why he was participating. His only answer was, ‘We have been cheated.’ The boy was with his grandmother so I decided to ask her for details instead. “What are you protesting for?” I asked. She said, that  she was protesting for being cheated and also for the identity. When I further inquired, “Who told you that you’re cheated?” At this she became angry and  shouted, “You little prick, what you know? You want to say my husband and my son are wrong” (बित्ता भर के नैखु आ बेसी जानेवाला बनातारु, हमार पति आ बेटा झूठ बोलता लोग?). I didn’t dare to press her further.

Last evening, I called my sister-in-law and asked how her kids were dealing with the bandas. She said, “These bunch of devils are good when they are at school but school is closed. Now, they fight, watch cartoons and disrupt the whole house, they don’t even touch the books since they do  not have any assignments.” She further added, “They are terrible, these five children are equal to Kauravs (100 children). Regardless, I will not send them school during this unrest even if school opens. They can get education when they are safe. Education is useless if something bad happened to my children.”Her fear was valid as a mother for the safety of her children. I fear something different. How will children go back to normal?

We have failed to ensure the delivery of education to our children at all times. Education is a basic right of children even during crisis.   By failing to provide a safe environment for our children’s education, we are failing to ensure the safety of their future. What will be the impacts of current situation on these children’s lives? Are we teaching them to protest and emerge as extremists?

Is there a way to help the children in Madhes?

Yes, let us put pressure on our government to end this gridlock by taking negotiations and focus on the demands of the marginalized instead of just expanding the cabinet. Our children are our future so we must take the issue seriously.

The statement below is a new humanitarian crisis for the children of Nepal which may loom.: Executive Director, @UNICEF