Last week I accompanied Leo, a Swedish documentary filmmaker to film the ongoing protests by Madhesi parties in Birgunj, which has now become the center of Madhes movement. During our trip, we interviewed agitating Madhesi leaders, civil society leaders, journalists, businessmen, human rights activists, and common people including youths, women and children in Birgunj and surrounding villages. We found they were aware of some of Madhesis’ demands, and the importance of their participation in the movement. During interactions, they also vented their angers against the government for killing the civilians mercilessly, and the mainstream media for not covering the real protests. Most of them narrated that the government’s ignorance of their voices made them feel like they are not Nepalis. Everyone termed the present movement as ‘Aar ya paar ki ladai’ in local dialect Bhojpuri (the final battle with the rulers).
In Parsa district, people from different castes and villages take turns in staging demonstrations in district headquarters Birgunj, and sit-in protest at Nepal-India border of Raxaul. As per the schedule, several thousands of locals in tractors and vehicles come and join the daily protests. They are not willing to give up their efforts until the government addresses the demands.
We visited Pokhariya VDC of Parsa district to meet the family of Chandan Kumar Patel, four-year-child, who was killed in police firing at Bethari of Rupandehi.
“Police could have killed me but why did they kill my innocent child?,” said the child’s grandfather.
As per the family, the child was shot while playing when police had indiscriminately opened fires at agitators halting the supplies from India. We were stunned by the family’s determination and confidence to support the movement. They said that they were ready to sacrifice many Chandans if needed but the government must address their demands.
In less than a decade, there have been three Madhes uprisings in 2007, 2008 and now 2015. This is the third time they are again forced to launch their movement which has already prolonged over two and a half months. The movement, with the same old demands, is probably the longest ever in the history of the country’s movements. The people want amendment of the constitution through the implementation of the 22 and the 8 point agreements made with the government in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
Although some of the points from the past agreements have already been addressed in the country’s new constitution, the four key points/demands, also regarded as the core of Madhes uprisings, are yet to be included. These major demands consist of constituencies based on population, proportionate representation of Madhesi communities in government bodies, identity based provincial demarcation and citizenship provision (women married to Madhesi men be treated as equal citizens).
The current movement alone has already witnessed two governments. Four attempts of talks between the government and agitating Madhesi parties informally and formally have been made so far. But the lack of government’s seriousness towards the genuine demands of Madhesis/Tharus have failed to yield any results, according to the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). The UDMF team will sit again for the talks on Sunday (Nov 1). The UDMF has termed the talk as the final negotiation with the government regardless of the outcome. The agitating UDMF leaders have asked the media to pressure the government in the process of easing the protests. The government’s failure has created an insufficient supply of petroleum products including LPG for people who have not been able to cook their food.
Lack of Government’s seriousness
Civil society leaders from Madhes have termed the failure of talks as the government’s propaganda. When the major parties attempted to incite communal feelings, people from hill communities residing in Madhes, organized their solidarity rallies to support the demands of Madhesi community. The three major parties do not seem serious towards ending the current deadlock caused by the ongoing protests, says Dipendra Jha, an advocate at the Supreme Court. Jha, who is also a Madhesi activist, accuses that frequent failure of talks is the major parties’ tactics to thwart the movement.
Instead of solving Madhes issue and resuming the supplies from India, the government paid heed in importing petroleum products from China. Although this is a good temporary solution, ignoring the country’s bigger problem of protests is a bad move and certainly not a solution to resolve the current crisis.
No presence of government in Madhes
In the agitating parts of Nepal, there is no government presence except for security personnel. All the government offices have been shut down for around three months. Police outposts in rural areas and also in city areas have been removed due to fear from the attacks by the agitating groups. Instead, they have been staying in the district police office. They form groups to patrol certain areas as required.
People distrust their leaders and do not believe in the government’s false assurances. They want to see their demands executed this time since they feel cheated by the government twice. Some people following CK Raut’s ideologies, especially Madhesi youths are demanding free Madhes. The longer the government delays to address Madhesis’ demands, the stronger the agenda of free Madhes will become.
Many believe that it is a great opportunity for the government to grant legitimate rights to Madhesis and Tharus who have been oppressed for decades. Addressing the issues in a timely fashion will make the national integrity stronger and create a truly inclusive Nepal, else the country may have to face a political disaster.
Video and Photo Credits: Manoj Sah, Birgunj