From the marginsWhile many voters across the nation have a premonition that political candidates will become indifferent to their needs once elected into office, Muslims voters living in the Far-Western hills of Province 7 lament that the candidates vying for electoral seats have not even stopped to listen to their plights.
While many voters across the nation have a premonition that political candidates will become indifferent to their needs once elected into office, Muslims voters living in the Far-Western hills of Province 7 lament that the candidates vying for electoral seats have not even stopped to listen to their plights.
According to the National Population Census 2068 BS (2011 CE), Nepal’s Muslim population stands at 1,164,255, around 4.4 percent of the total population, who are spread out across the southern Tarai belt. And while there are sparse Muslim settlements in the hilly regions of far western Nepal, they feel that the marginal number of votes they contribute to the overall process has meant that they receive little to no attention from government agencies, and political candidates vying for office.
In Kotila Village of Bajura district, for instance, the Muslim population of 100 individuals make only 0.07 percent of the total population. Similarly, Sanfebagar Municipality of Achham is home to 257 Muslims, while Dashrathchand Muncipality in Baitadi has just 19 Muslims. In all of Doti, the Muslim population stands at 116 (00.05 percent of the total population), while that figure stands at 37 and 31 in Dadeldhura and Darchula districts, respectively.
“We comprise of less than 1 percent of the total population in the region, which is a very small vote bank,” says Shambhu Miya, principal at Madarasa Darul Kuran School, located in Sanfebagar Municipality of Achham district, “So, our concerns never end up finding a political voice.
A little bit of attention as election fervour grips the region would not go amiss.” According to Miya, in a region where the general lack of infrastructure and resources is endemic, the Muslim population are struggling to make ends meet.
His school, which is currently self-funded, has 30 students, half of whom are children from the Dalit community, unable to access even the government schools.
Currently, a quota system is in place to insure the inclusion of minority groups in government services, but Miya and other Muslims in Achham and Bajura district, lament that they have been excluded from using the provision to obtain jobs. “The Muslims living in the Tarai have a strong political voice and have been able to enjoy its benefits, but not us,” Miya adds.
According to 30-year-old Naresh Miya, because the marginalisation of the Muslim minority is systemic, young Muslims from the far western hills have little options but to migrate to Dang and Nepalgunj, and abroad to the Gulf region, in search of better opportunities. “In the past, we were depending on agriculture for sustenance, but with food production drastically declining, we have little options but to migrate away from our homes,” he says.
“This election season will bring no different results for us than the previous ones,” Shambu Miya says, but, nonetheless, election fever has gripped the village. Even
though the residents from Sanfebagar are yet to hear from their candidates, the village is divided between UML and Nepali Congress loyalists.
Punditry is rife in the front yard and fields. “If not anything else, the election is at least a distraction from our everyday lives,” he adds, “We just wish we had a candidate to root for, knowing that they are rooting for us just the same.”