“Letter to Madhesi Youth” and “Don’t talk, just listen” are two op-ed articles published last month in Republica and The Kathmandu Post, respectively. The two writers hail from Kathmandu, a region that celebrated constitution and belong to the so called khas arya — the privileged Bahun-Chhetri elites of Nepal . Nepal promulgated its much-awaited constitution after nearly a decade of political wrangling on September 22, 2015. However, while half of the nation’s population gleefully welcomed constitution with candles and fireworks, another half, mainly in Madhes, remained shut, blacked-out, and reeled with persistent strikes and protests. These protests at times turned violent, costing more than 40 civilians lives – most of them brutally shot and killed by the Nepal Police and 8 Police killed in retaliation.
Kathmandu has been an insulated city – both physically and metaphorically by valley and modernization
Kathmandu, the capital city and the Terai-Madhes region, a single belt running from east to west in southern plains of Nepal are two different worlds in themselves. Kathmandu has been an insulated city – both physically and metaphorically by valley and modernization. The hills and mountains have posed a barrier for different ethnicities across plains and hills to mingle. There has been that perennial separation from the time immemorial that has discouraged long-distance mobilization. While people in the hills live in pockets of settlements, Madhes, because of flat plain easy for commuting, has evenly widespread settlements.
The current Madhes Protest – a result of centuries of subjugation, non-realization of legitimate demands of prior two Madhesi movements and frustrations of being constantly sidelined in the constitution-writing– percolated into major ethnic protest shutting the entire region for more than two months since mid-August. Pranaya SJB Rana, through his article “Don’t Talk, Just Listen”, advocates for Madhesi rights and accuses the major three hill-centric parties (Nepali Congress, UML and the CPN-Maoists) at the center of this situation – borne after their non-compliance on previous agreements with Madhesis, which ultimately led the latter to protests. Shiwani Neupane, through her article, ‘Letter to Madhesi Youths,” while not being “anti-Madhesis” in her words, accuses the Madhesi leaders and youths for inciting violence and “looming anarchy (p. 14, LMY)”.
Neupane’s piece, in this regard, is outright confrontational and rigged, not an article one would appreciate reading during an unstable time period, especially if one cares about social harmony. Her piece shows narrow-mindedness, lack of research and maturity on writing on such sensitive subject. In an unapologetic tone, she bashes all the actions taken by Madhesi movement without exploring the reasons that led them to protest. A Columbia graduate, she lived most of her life in the insulated Kathmandu, bereft of long-term acquaintance with other cultures/ethnicities of Nepal, a common phenomenon for Kathmanduites. Her overt claims like “What have I done to you? I have not enslaved you, beaten you and snatched food from your mouth – the way some in the extreme side of this debate make it to be”, smell a snap, immature judgment and align with racist voices in Kathmandu, which she ironically states as being “often ignorant” in the article. It reinforces the notion that Kathmandu is an insulated, unconcerned city, distasteful of ethnic uprisings.
The language portrays a grossly misjudged assumption that “Madhesis are out of their minds and they need to be taught a lesson
There is a pattern evolving in “Letter to Madhesi Youth”, it negates the very thing the writer says she is not. She assures that she is not against the Madhesis but her writing style refutes the claim. Her use of intransitive verbs such as “Think” and “Mind” shows a form of subjugation. The language portrays a grossly misjudged assumption that “Madhesis are out of their minds and they need to be taught a lesson.” The pattern is instructive, which stratifies the writer and Madhesis into superior and inferior categories, respectively.
Subtly, “Letters to Madhesi Youths” seems to be an orchestrated attempt to consolidate the vice viewpoint of the author in Kathmandu. Due to the Madhes protests and the total shutdown, it is unlikely that any newspapers reached the region. Moreover, the article is in English, a language remote to the Madhes region. The internet is a fairy-tale in the region and a small fraction of Madhesis adept in the language, are mostly abroad or in Kathmandu from where they have little influence on the movement. In this regard, the purpose of the article, as a “Letter to Madhesi Youths” seems hopelessly irrelevant.
Another downside of Neupane’s piece is that it has little to no fact checks. Kathmandu is generally unconcerned about others unless it’s own comfort is threatened. Due to continued Madhes strikes, the passage of basic daily goods from India have been halted at the border. This means that Kathmandu has to deal with high demand and less supply, and skyrocketing price hikes. Madhesi parties eventually created this discomfort so that Kathmandu would be forced to listen. Neupane’s writing gives an easy window to her egotistical, insensitive beliefs, complaining and often misjudging. “Aside from ignorance, it is violence to many like me means instability, attack on the cushy life to Kathmandu.” She presents herself as an overt Kathmandu devotee, for whom “stability” and “cushion” are the important everyday necessities. However, she forgets to mention the 40+ Madhesi deaths, the hundreds of Madhesis injured by the state police who are stranded due to strikes, and the hundreds of thousands who are on the streets for their rights. By regularly pointing out her problems – result of the Madhesis movement, she unconsciously paints herself as an irritated, insensitive, and complaining persona.
There is a propensity in Kathmandu to sideline concerns and prolong them. Over time, these concerns start appearing as illegitimate to those in power and people become immune and ignorant, and Neupane is a victim of this phenomenon, easily trapped in paradoxes. “Truth be told, Kathmandu can be often ignorant and may not know of the intensity of these attacks.” This statement leaves a comfortable space to criticize the author’s knowledge on the issue and attack the fundamental motive of the article. As a Kathmanduite, she, as per her revelation, is under the domain of “ignorance” about the non-Kathmandu issue. This gives a healthy reason to not see her as any authoritative figure on the issue related to the Madhesis and their movement. Also, by her argument, if Kathmandu is ignorant, it gives Madhesis’ fight for their rights legitimacy. Her fallacy in logical arguments transcends beyond this and are conflicting. She says of abolishing the discrimination (which she even hints does not exist at some points) by going through one-on-one approach. Some of her assumptions upon which the article stands– “Madhesis youth are the pawns of the political parties”, “Lots of Madhesis read English” – are unfounded.
Instead of throwing facts and numbers, which will not quell the tense climate, Rana prods, raises the obvious questions thrown under the rug for long time. He also attempts to answer them morally and humanly
In contrast, Rana’s article “Don’t talk, Just Listen”, the targeted audience is “we”, the broader hill community, which makes the title more appropriate since the latter community have more access to information. His article paints him as an emotionally fragmented person, his “excitements” of the new constitution diluted by the concern of increasing violence in Madhes. This fragmentation is also rhetorically demonstrated in his use of “we”, where he shifts his loyalty from sounding an anti-Madhesi earlier in the text to a pro-Madhesi in the end. Instead of throwing facts and numbers, which will not quell the tense climate, Rana prods, raises the obvious questions thrown under the rug for long time. He also attempts to answer them morally and humanly. He mocks the Hill community for their apparent unconcern, self-interest and insulation. The author disdains those who approve of the Police killing their own unarmed people by stating that there is nothing remotely heroic in that act.
Rana digs out at the imperialist nature of governance – supplicants and benefactor, criticizes media whose op-ed pages are skewed, and the “privileged” class, who are unconcerned. He starts as an observer and then goes beyond that status by using “we”, expressing that he equally shares the blame for all the injustices, discriminations and hatred. He sympathizes with the Madhesis and criticizes the Hill community, which he is a part of, for their unbecoming attitude. The writing alienates him from the support of the radical hill-centric upper caste people, but wins him the support of liberal people with his reflective and humble approach to bring harmony. He does not make overt claims but just sticks closely to his explorative tool: how people are reacting to the movement, how people generally treat Madhesi and what is stopping the Hill to accept them?
Neupane’s article, however, focuses around the short term issues and fails to address the major issue of “Why the Madhesi Movement is taking place for the third time? Are the demands legitimate? What can be done to have the broader ownership of everyone in the constitution?”
This fight for emancipation does not only address their demands but also calls for the rights of other ethnic minorities scattered across the hills and mountains who lack easy access and numerical strength to keep forth their legitimate demands
Terai-Madhes movement is symbolic and Madhesis could potentially end the years of widespread ethnic oppression in a conclusive way. This fight for emancipation does not only address their demands but also calls for the rights of other ethnic minorities scattered across the hills and mountains who lack easy access and numerical strength to keep forth their legitimate demands. Neupane fails to address this by meandering around, suggesting Madhesis to renounce political affiliations of Madhesi youths and advising them to talk to like-minded people like her. Her judgemental tone and guidelines present her as a byproduct of the old imperialistic thought. Her intellectualness is lost in her inability to see the larger picture. Contrarily, Rana represents a New Nepal thought, progressive, attentive, reflective and inclusive with an attempt to clear era-old misconceptions.
[Bikash is a college freshman at Ramapo college, New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]