Rebuttal to CIJ’s Investigative report on Madhes by Sarala Gautam

Center for Investigative Journalism, Nepal (CIJ) presents insightful investigative reports. ln past few years CIJ has done commendable work to establish “Supremacy of rule of law”. It is beyond doubt that CIJ has raised the issues of public interest, whether it is regarding the age debate of, to be Chief-Justice or controversy regarding the age of Chief of Army Staff or malpractices in the medical sector of Nepal. Factual reporting without any prejudice has been a strong attribute of CIJ’s reporting.

Despite the above-mentioned feather in the cap of CIJ, a report published by Ms. Sarla Gautam on issues related to Madhes failed to live up to the organization’s reputation. In her report, “Duri Badhaune card” (Scheme of Increasing differences) on Terai/Madhes published in CIJ, Ms. Gautam has presented a prejudiced analysis of Terai/Madhes issues. I’ve tried to evaluate the report in par to the standards set by CIJ.

There have been many movements in Nepal from 1950 (2007 B.S.) to 2017 (2073 B.S.) In 1950, in movement against the Rana regime, Gangalal, Dasharathachand, Shukraraj Shastri, Dharma Bhakta Mathema, and Lakhan Thapa sacrificed their life; In 2015 (2072 B.S.), Rajeev Raut from Saptari attained martyrdom in the third Madhesh movement and in between hundreds of men and women sacrificed their life in different movement against the regime/system, be it movement for democracy, civil war, Madhesh movement, or Tharu movement, martyrs sacrificed their lives. The families of the martyrs, killed during the movement have consoled as it was for the prosperity and unity of the nation.

After six decades of the first movement against the Rana regime, is there any possibility that family of martyrs would be glad of the present dilapidated condition of the nation and consoled of the sacrifice made by their loved ones. Was the successful movement against the Rana’s to invite coup by King Mahendra and establishment of autocratic Panchayat system? Was People’s movement in 1990 to role our vulgar capitalism where syndicate calls the shot. Was the whole purpose of Maoist civil war, to establish Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the Prime Minister? Would those families of martyrs answer any differently than that Ms Sarala Gautam has been able to extract from Ms. Binita Devi, a Madhesi martyrs wife, is an important question that I would like to ask here. It is more than clear that the writer has portrayed the disappointment of the martyrs family to imply that Madhesh movement was a futile and unnecessary effort.

Despite the brutal killings of 4-5 people on daily basis during the Madheshmovement in 2015, hundreds of thousands of people took to street to express their dissent against the constitution promulgation via an undemocratic process. It is unfortunate that the investigative report doesn’t explore the effect of the death of more than 50 people, police brutality on Madhesi society, social harmony between Pahadi and Madhesi community despite state’s insensitiveness towards the demands of the movement, etc.

Ms. Gautam fails to maintain the privacy and secrecy while reporting on a polarized and politically sensitive issue. Generally, common people do not feel comfortable to express their political opinion while being recorded. Ms. Gautam failed to take into account that the interviewee might not feel comfortable to speak his/her mind while being interviewed by a person who could be seen as outsider and making audio/video recording of the interview. I, from my organization, am providing legal support for the people who have been harassed by police by filing fraudulent cases against them. It has become a common practice of the Nepal Police to threaten Madhesi youths of charging them under the false cases during the time of movement. Ms. Gautam fails to take into account of such crucial human aspects, to get the views of the interviewee in her reporting.

Ms. Gautam has understood the Madhes Andolan as a conflict between Pahad (hill) and Madhes, and has analyzed in the periphery of the same theme. However, the reality is that the Madhes movement is against the discriminatory policies of the state, against the deceitful removal of the previously guaranteed rights in the interim constitution. Ms. Gautam has pandered simplistic explanation, that one hears in Kathmandu, of the Madhesi political leaders manipulating the populace for the movement and in the process, she and CIJ have undermined the political consciousness of the Madhesi people.

The very first paragraph in her article Ms. Gautam exposes her biases and simplistic view on the complex issue. She states, “Constitution isn’t complete, and it won’t be.” Ms. Gautam has approved the way constitution was imposed on people. The CIJ report has failed to consider the events that were taking place during the constitution’s promulgation like fast tracking the discussion process to two days, which could have taken at least six months if done properly or ignoring the protest of hundreds of thousands of people or failure of people’s representative in constituent assembly to reach the people. Ms. Gautam asserts that the constitution should be amended as need be, but shies away from mentioning what are the basis of those necessity.

Ms. Gautam further adds, “The people of Madhesh are clear that their propsperity lies with the honest implementation of the Constitution”. I wonder if this is personal opinion of Ms. Gautam or based factual evidence? I am surprised that not one single dissent voice is reported throughout the piece which contradicts the conclusions of Ms. Gautam. Did Ms. Gautam only interview those who agreed with her conclusion or she excluded anyone who disagreed with it. I am also a resident of Madhes. Almost every month I visit my village in Mahottari but I don’t come across such uniform narrative as Ms. Gautam has been able to report.

Ms. Gautam further adds, “Madheshi leadership does not seem to heed the need to safeguard the social fabric and ensure that prosperity and democratic opportunity  trickles down to the lowest strata of Madheshi society.” However, in the very same article she also writes, “In the last Madhesh movement, there was a collective effort to ensure social harmony and as a result no communal strife spread in the society like earlier Madhes movement”. It is well known that the last Madhes movement was under the leadership of Madheshi Front (Morcha). I fail to understand why Ms. Gautam hesitates to give due credit to Madheshi Morcha, Madhesi civil society leaders for maintaining the social harmony. Not only that, Ms. Gautam fails to present the fact that the Madhesi movement had demands that were related to the implementation of federalism which would ensure equity and redistribution of right to lowest level.

It is justified to say that there is no animosity between the individuals from various communities but it does not imply that there was not or is not any structural discrimination against Madhesis in Nepal. There has been acceptance of this institutionalized discrimination by various analysts and civil society leaders from the Pahadi (hill) community as well. It is for this reason that various Pahadi civil society groups and common people overtly supported Madhesi movement against the discriminatory constitution promulgation. It was for nothing that renowned industrialist Mr. Sekhar Golchha had to express his disappointment in an article with heading, “What more should I do to become a Nepali?”. Ms. Gautam failed to show empathy towards the pain of similar millions of Madhesis struggling to get due recognition as Nepali.

Ms. Gautam alleges that Madheshi activists have spread rumors and myths. I have published a document comparing the interim constitution and the present constitution and put light on what rights the marginalised Madhesis, Women, Indigenous groups, and Dalit community lost and received. Was that document based on myth and rumor? Similarly, CK Lal, Pitambar Sharma, Tula Narayan Sah, Krishna Khanal, Manjushree Thapa, Ujjwal Prasain, Khagendra Sangraula, Prashant Jha, Rajendra Maharjan, Rita Sah, etc. have time and again written about the expectations of marginalised community with constitution. Are all those essays, documents a propaganda? If yes then on what basis?

Ms. Gautam fails to strike the balance in her research. She has made grave accusations against the Indian Consulate in Birgunj of influencing the reporters and civic society attributing to Bhushan Yadav, a local reporter of Kantipur Daily. But Ms. Gautam ignores the basic tenet of journalism by ignoring the accused individual or organization for their response on accusation or further investigating this accusation with the civic society and other credible reporters. Further Ms. Gautam has claimed that Nepali citizens living near to the boarder of India are under threat from across the border. She portrays serious issues of threat to citizens of the country as common and nothing to be serious about else she would have further delved in to the matter. This also indicates her ignorance about the ramifications of the accusations made on bilateral diplomatic relations between India and Nepal.  These cherry-picking point out that the report is more concerned on proving a predetermined conclusion, rather than investigating to find the truth.

The institutions of the nation should gradually evolve. Institutions should evolve as one which is impartial, non-partisan, inclusive and capable of challenging power centers on issues of public interest. CIJ has earned this reputation in short time. However, unfortunately, the report with regards to Madhesh has left a dent on the reputation of the institution. Instead of investigating the Madhes movement rigorously, the report came with quick and commonplace and full of prejudiced conclusion that people of Madhesh were being manipulated by a handful of politicians and activists to participate in the movement.

One can always claim to unsee an elephant in the room, but this does not deny its existance. This reporting on Madhes by CIJ which has flatly ignored the issues of Madhesh, is neither informing the people on the reasons of Madhes Andolan nor adding to the good investigative journalism. Having said that, the expectation that CIJ will bring out informative, investigative and factual reports in future is still alive.

This is a translation of the rebuttal by Dipendra Jha “मधेश मामिला रिपोर्टिङ पूर्वाग्रही” to Ms. Sarala Gautam’s “मधेशको मनस्थिति

Dipendra Jha

An Advocate practicing at Supreme Court of Nepal.