Looking back in melancholy at the events of September 2015Madhesis have forgiven but not forgotten.
For a large section of the Nepali population, September is the month of mourning. Adherents of ritualistic Hinduism mourn their dead and pay respect to paternal ancestors during the 16 days long Sorha Shraddha rites. The gaiety of Indra Jatra is filled with pathos as the Newars of Kathmandu remember the day when their city fell to the machinations of the victorious Gorkhalis.
It was in September 2015 that the state turned into the main enemy of its own Madhesis. The wounds of the Madhesis are still raw. As the continuing clampdown in Kashmir and showdown in Hong Kong have shown, there is precious little that the protestors can do to have their grievances heard when the people’s protectors turn into predators.
The sanctity of the state is so hallowed that, when faced with excesses of the government upon its minorities, all that the so-called international community can do is give out a perfunctory wail. That is unless the interests of the P5 countries—permanent members of the UN Security Council—are directly at stake.
Bereft of oil or any significant mineral deposits and having no border other than with some of the most backward states of India, the Tarai region has remained a geopolitical orphan since the days of the Treaty of Sagauli with the British East India Company. When the state used full force against the Madhesi protestors, there was literally nobody to speak for the victims.
Madhesis had begun to voice their concerns soon after the signing of the 16-point conspiracy that sought to undermine inclusion, postpone federalism indefinitely and weaken most of the gains of Madhes Uprising, in the name of institutionalising the republic. The draft of the fast-tracked statute lit the fuse.
Madhes burnt for months as the establishment in Kathmandu remained unaffected. Blockages along the main entry points in central Madhes gave the permanent establishment of Nepal a convenient stick to beat protesters to death or shoot bystanders in the heart and head.
The German novelist and poet Hermann Hesse sings of September blues in Europe: ‘The garden is in mourning. Cool rain seeps into the flowers. Summertime shudders, quietly awaiting his end. Golden leaf after leaf fall from the acacia trees. Summer smiles, astonished and feeble, at his dying dream of a garden.’
After his conquest over Nepal valley, the Gorkhali king had purportedly made a post hoc comment that the kingdom of his dreams was to be a garden of ‘four castes and 36 nationalities’. But the establishment failed to imbibe its intent and refused to enshrine an inclusive imagination in the first republican constitution of the country.
When Madhes was burning and Madhesis were being killed by their own government, the liberal intelligentsia in Kathmandu proved to be as jingoistic as the lay chauvinists representing the three Ms—Male, Mandale and Mashale. Martin Luther King Jr once lamented, ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ In fact, blaming the victim was the norm as it often happens in many xenophobic societies.
With the exception of Khagendra Sangraula, there was no Émile Zola from among Nepali litterateurs to thunder ‘J’accuse’. There were no activists with the conscience of Joseph Reinach, save perhaps late Padma Ratna Tuladhar. And no politico showed the courage of Georges Clemenceau in speaking for Madhesis (including Tharus). Little wonder, Resham Chaudhary remains in jail despite the thunderous majority of votes that he received in the parliamentary elections.
Those who sing paeans in praise of physical courage often forget that moral courage in the middle of a crisis is a scarcer trait. No politico of some repute from the ranks of Nepali Congress had the nerve to stand up to the caducity of the dotard at the helms of their party. Little wonder, the default party of Madhes is struggling for existence in its traditional stronghold.
Since the-then CPN (UML) was the moving force behind the 16-point conspiracy, it was natural that its spokespersons in the media and intelligentsia were at the forefront of demonising protestors and onlookers that fell to police sticks and bullets. The press spiritedly carried the palanquin of the Khas-Arya chieftain to Baluwatar and declared him to be the greatest ethnonationalist of Nepal since King Mahendra—no less.
Corruption is rightly derided for corroding democracy. Corruption of power, however, is when the mighty ones exercise their authority expressly to humiliate and harm those that they consider being the ‘other’ of the self-defined ‘self’. Often, the corruption of money and power are intertwined. But separately considered, abuse of power is much worse as it has the sole purpose of devastating the powerless. It's not difficult to see to which category signatories of the 16-point conspiracy belonged that widened and deepened the gulf between the constitutionally-created category of Khas-Arya and most other Nepali communities.
Many janajatis of mid-mountains have made peace with the status quo. Most Madhesis, however, continue to seethe in silence. Even the more outspoken of them have forgiven—the weak have little option but to exonerate the strong—but not forgotten the humiliations of the blood-spattered September.
In the name of celebrating the divisive constitution, the government has decreed that lamps be lit on the day ethno-nationalists triumphed over claimants of dignity politics. Despite its prevalence, the Deputy Prime Minister Upendra Yadav will do well to remember that he abstained from signing the contested constitution on the day of its promulgation. Pradeep Giri was the only notable Nepali Congress lawmaker to refuse to go with the herd on the day of reckoning.
Everything looks calm on the surface. Except for a few by-elections, there is little activity on the horizon. The Samajbadi Party Nepal and the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal—both outfits that have the country in their names to establish nationalist credentials—are contemplating unification. The ruling Nepal Communist Party appears technically unassailable but politically dysfunctional.
The supposed main opposition party is rudderless, directionless and leaderless, surging towards an abyss on the flotsam of the Hindutva agenda without realising that the concept is inherently against the territorial integrity and the very independence of the country.
Whatever be the merit of his agenda, CK Raut had at least provided a platform to air the anger of wounded youths in the Tarai. Such an outlet no longer exists. There is a Maithili term for the leather-drying rays of the September sun—Gumar. Roughly translated, it implies the sickening, bleak and exasperating feeling of heat with little hope of any relief.
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