- Banita Khanal
As a Pahadi brought up in Kathmandu, I never had a close Madhesi friend in school although there were few Madhesis in my school. Furthermore, even at home, I had no Madhesis as my neighbour. My case is similar to many other Pahadis in Kathmandu and elsewhere.
Nobody explicitly told me to not become close to Madhesis. Although I had respect for them, there was an implicit understanding that you could not be close friends with Madhesis. They were different. They were more Indian and less Nepali. Their appearance and their accents were similar to Indians. It was not that easy to mingle with them. My first memories of a Madhesi is someone who collected “khali sisi purana kaagaz” (empty bottles and recycle papers) or others who sold fruits and vegetables on bicycles. The same Madhesi, whom my mom called “bhaiya”, (an Indian term used for brother) and addressed as “timi”, (a term used for someone younger in age than oneself). He was a “bhaiya” for all my family members.
As an adult, I found I was addressing them the wrong way. As a freelance writing about social issues, I frequently find myself explicitly asking people to respect another human being. Years of practice has made me confident enough to stand against the discrimination. I have come to realize that calling a Madhesi a dhoti or a bhaiya is an insult.
I am writing this piece from a social perspective. As a teenager, I was never interested in politics. History was like any other subject that I needed to get a passing grade for rather than understand it. The more I try to learn the issues behind, the more I find there are lots of things I do not know. As an outcome of the ongoing protest, I have started realizing that Madhesis are no different than me.
Because of their darker skin tone and accents while speaking Nepali, many Madhesis have dealt with discrimination while living in Kathmandu. I wanted to see a different side of Madhesis and so decided to visit Janakpur, the center of Madhesh. Although this trip was beyond my comfort zone, in a night bus and a two hour Tempo ride, I got to learn about the sufferings of Madhesis. I was accompanied by two international journalists, who interviewed the locals. We watched footage of the protest and police violence on Madhesis taken by the locals. Although the people of Janakpur knew I was a Pahadi, I was welcomed heartily.
I am not against Madhesh because I now know how they have been systematically oppressed for decades. If I say this to a radical pahadi the probable answer I would get will be “there are other oppressed groups as well, they are not protesting, why only Madhesis?” To this question, my answer is “just because other groups are not fighting for their rights, we can not ask Madhesis to not do the same. In fact, other marginalized groups should follow suit to support the movement and join hands with Madhes for the principle of equality.” Madhesh is protesting and that is why I am supporting them. If any other groups start the same, I will support them as well.
We can not deny the fact that we, the people from Kathmandu, have always seen Madhesis Indians rather than Nepalis, one of the reasons that has created a gap between Mahesh and pahad. India is closer to them than Pahad due to their cultural proximity and the “roti beti” relationship. Cross border marriages mean that Madhesis have relatives in India. This is also the reason why we should not surprised that India supported the blockades caused by the Madhesis. Rather than tagging #backoffindia, Kathmandu should have pressurized the government to taking actions in easing the situation. Although Kathmandu people may consider India as an enemy, Madhesis take them as friends.
Why is Government not addressing the Madhesis demand? The answer is that the government suspects that Madhesis would let India interfere directly in Nepalese politics. As hypothetical as this situation is, ironically India has been interfering with the Nepali politics even under the pahadi rule. One can simply gather this information from the number of visits our politicians have made to Indian in the past few years.
The so called scholars and elites of Kathmandu need to pressure the government to take the Madhesh issue seriously and prevent Nepal for further crippling. The Kathmanduites need not join hands with the Madheshis but they can at least look into their inner selves that do not see Madhesis as equal Nepalis, and sympathize with this historic movement to create an equal Nepal.