Tangible and intangibleGovt should simultaneously address the post-quake problems and the Tharu protests against the proposed provinces
We are inundated with problems that our scholars and politicians ironically consider to be a productive phenomenon. They discuss about the problems by developing political and social models of working. History has shown if you let chaos continue for a longer period of time, you are likely to push yourself and your society into a state of uncertainty. Nepal, gripped by the tension of a pervasive geo-humanistic nature, is poised to undergo a new historical experiment. Some examples are discussed below.
We are tackling the earthquake and its political effects simultaneously. The problems which are both geological and humanistic in nature are multiplying. This nation is currently tackling these issues with a certain degree of recklessness. The government has also realised that these problems are far more complex than it initially took them to be.
The effects of the earthquake are both tangible and intangible in nature. The tangible aspect of the quake is reported and talked about because it is largely related to the management aspect of the quake: housing; loan distribution; clearing debris; resettling people whose houses are threatened by the falling rocks, rivers and rivulets swelling with monsoon rain; building bridges damaged during the earthquake; building schools that collapsed in the calamity; providing food to the earthquake victims; opening routes blocked by the earthquake, floods and so on. It involves a huge amount of money collected locally as well as through foreign donation.
The intangible side of the reconstruction of damaged buildings, spaces and ruined structures has recently surfaced in public debate. I was appalled when a senior architect, Sudarshan Raj Tiwari, showed in his presentation Martin Chautari a few weeks ago how the ancient and very important cultural sites of ancient spaces of Bhaktapur and other towns are under the risk of being bulldozed. He showed us one solitary non-descript vertical stone image in one old Bhaktapur lane dating back to the Licchavi times waiting on a death row. Another senior architect Devendra Nath Gongol in a piece about art and the city published in this paper (‘Art and the city,’ September 2, Page 6) has taken this discourse forward. The tussle between those who want to bulldoze everything and build new structures, some of which may be monstrosities, and those who want to rebuild, restore and bring back the heritage has already started in earnest. Most leading politicians in the government and outside have a weak sense of heritage preservation because they do not seem to value aesthetics.
A piece of art becomes effective only if it is good. A work of literature appeals to the readers only if it is written well. Otherwise, it becomes a cliché, a mere repetition of techniques and forms. Last week, I attended an exhibition at the Nepal Art Council which displayed the works of artists of different generations organised by the Relief Fund for Wildlife Victims. Not all paintings were inspired by the calamity. Only a few of those paintings on display were good. The repetitions of clichés, slow treatment and inexpressive brush swaths and motif selection, a somewhat perfunctory response to the calamity marked a great deal of those works. The intention of the exhibition was, however, good. That is a different story.
History of the Tharus
Still, I have noticed a tremendous sense of apathy in some important people in this country. I was shocked by the Tikapur tragedy of August 24. The cold-blooded murder of eight policemen and a two-year-old child by the alleged ‘protesters’, in which a head constable was burned alive, was shattering news to me. But then, this incident reveals the erratic handling of the delineation of the provinces by the major political parties. The insensitivity shown by the Nepali state and the feudal behaviour towards the Tharu people at different times demands a serious revaluation.
The histories of the common people seldom get written properly though their past does have all the important elements that the other so-called privileged people’s histories have. But they are ignored. The history of the Tharu people reveals a lot both in the written and oral traditions. There is one other side to the history of the Tharus. It has been used and exploited more than any other peoples’ history in Nepal. Tharus have projected a strong cultural logic of history. Some important books have been written about them. Claims about the Buddha being a Tharu is one such trope, a very important one that the late Ramananda Prasad Singh, a Tharu scholar himself, said “is no figment of imagination”. Among the several cultural textual interpretations, I would like to mention an eloquent text ‘Mahabharata, the Tharu Barka Naach’,a folk version of Mahabharata edited by Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel, and translated by Dinesh Chamling. This text shows the sheer strength of the Tharu identity and culture, and their space in the folk epic civilisation.
The other side of the Tharu identity is the tangible manifestation of exploitation and suffering. The exploitation of the Tharus by keeping them as bonded labourers, Kamaiyas and Kamlaris, reveals a grim social structure. The state freed the Kamaiyas but took no heed of what they ate, where they lived and where they went.
People’s history would reveal that the Tharus were the principal medium of contact with the Tarai for the Kathmandu-based rulers. Tharus braved the jungles and malaria. There are several folk-stories of how the Tharus worked for the Nepali rulers who visited the forests under the Tharus’ supervision. Federating a state should project these tantalising human issues. The Tharus’ case presents itself with greater ease in terms of presence and space, language and identity. Therefore, the tangible and intangible debate is much more complex than it is projected in our media, political discourses and seminars today.