For the peopleIf the drafters want to prevent large-scale unrest, they should invite Madhesi and Janajati leaders for discussion
The draft constitution endorsed by the Constituent Assembly coincided with NASA’s New Horizons’ flyby photography of Pluto, the dwarf planet. Even though I had heard about S. Chandrasekshar’s research on the black hole and Stephen Hawking’s insights into the Big Bang theory, I had not paid much attention to or reflected on the implications of the Milky Way and other galaxies beyond our solar system since my reading of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography. In the book, Russell mentions getting a letter of questions from Will Durant about the crisis of meaning a person faces when confronted with geological discoveries about the universe and the earth. Given the scientific fact that Ice age preceded life and Ice age will follow, Duran asks, “How can one have faith and meaning in life?”
The question once again came to my mind when I googled the solar system, its planets, galaxies beyond the Kuiper belt and so on. An awareness of this macro universe of planets, stars and galaxies and their duration and distances between them and the micro world of bacteria and neutrons and plutons surely compels us to confront the question of how we can define and shape our relationship with other humans, our surroundings and the natural world. And then, these are also the weeks when we are defining and shaping our relationships with our fellow countrymen and women through the constitution.
Document of the past
At a time like this—the first decades of the 21st century; an age of large scale migration of Nepalis, both for permanent settlement abroad and for short-term work, at a time when India is rising like never before when the poor from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh no longer come to Nepal for seasonal agricultural work—to see a draft that is filled with all kinds of fears boggles one’s mind about the drafters’ intellectuality. There is the fear of Madhesi girls getting married across the border and then bringing their grooms for citizenship in Nepal; the fear of Pahade girls marrying foreigners; the fear of other languages competing with your own and the fear of losing power. Just think of Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams of over 200 years ago.Think of the conservative Rajendra Prasad, Dalit Ambedkar, and liberal Nehru of six decades ago. Think of Mandela, Tutu, and other South Africans even 20 years ago—and then think of our own Sitaulas, Acharyas, Olis, Khanals, and Koiralas in the 21st century. The former were forward-looking; the latter, backward looking. The former made their constitutions for the future; the latter for the past that is gone, dead and dying.
If nothing else, this draft constitution has ignited anew hatred of the Janajatis, Madhesis, Dalits and even women toward the hill-caste men. And this is not a good sign for the future. The same people who voted for the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML men in the second CA elections will now turn against these parties and society will get polarised in the future. Perhaps, that is what these men want, deep down. Judging by their actions, they are joining the tribe of CK Raut.
Such a draft has done no group any good. The discrimination ingrained in the structure of the state in terms of language, religion and nepotism has certainly impoverished the Janjatis, the Dalits and the Madhesis, besides insulting their culture and humiliating them in a myriad of ways. But this unearned structural privilege has harmed the hill caste men no less in other ways. It has made many conceited, raising a wall of ignorance in their mind; patriotic to the degree of foolishness, incapable of thinking beyond conspiracy theories, always tied to the wheel of narrow nationalism. It has turned them into the shadows of a vast, populous India that they take to be a monolithic whole of a one language, one dress ideology rather than a conglomerate of many peoples, languages and cultures. But more importantly, this unearned privilege and mindset has stifled their creativity, locked their genius and killed their nobler thoughts, trapped as they have become in the grudge, hatred, and narrowness that such nationalism promotes.
I just came across a news item in the media that showcased the five wealthiest Nepalis who have made it big overseas: Upendra Mahto, Binod Chaudhary, Shesh Ghale, Aditya Jha, Balram Chainrai. Almost all of these men are from non-Nepali speaking groups. Could they have made it big had they remained confined to Nepal given its policies? Surely, geography makes it harder for Nepal to progress but if you ask me, I would say that promoting complacency and conceitedness through structural privilege, on the one hand, and stifling talent and denying opportunity through discrimination, on the other, have been the biggest reasons why Nepal has remained poor.
Listen to others
So, the first order of business now is to rewrite the draft constitution to ensure equality of opportunities for people across different cultures. Rhetoric and composition experts tell us that good writers rewrite and revise; bad writers think they are Shakespeare and never erase a word. So, massive rewriting is important, whether the feedback comes from the people or not is not that important because the definition of ‘people’ can be tricky in Nepal. Most Nepali people still live in the villages, where the drafts cannot reach in such a short time. So, the feedback will come mostly from the towns and from those who have the time to come to the consultation centers. And even there, given the problem of language and entitlement, majority of those who will offer feedback will be mostly Nepali speakers. Even though the feedback process may yield some insight, the drafters, if they are open-minded and still want to redeem themselves and prevent large-scale unrest, should sincerely invite the leaders of Janajati, Madhesi organisations and parties for discussion and welcome their feedback. But the fundamental structural arrangement should be for freedom, justice and prosperity for all.