Betrayal of the knowledgeableNepal is where it is not just because of ignorance of the masses, but also the betrayal from the academics
Justice seekers and injustice perpetuators are arrayed in the Kurukshetra of Nepali public and political sphere, ready to go at each other. And this is after the abolition of monarchy, after 25 years of the advent of multiparty system and free media culture, two constituent assemblies and a botched constitution born of a flawed and bad-faith political process.
Storm clouds of a civil war ominously loom large in the not so distant horizon. How did we get here?
I understand that politicians act in their party’s and constituencies’ interest, and to win elections. Party leaders seldom have longue duree vision when they make decisions because they only have short-term exigencies in their mind, not what will happen in years, let alone decades or centuries from now. Longue duree vision is the work of statesmen but it is exceptionally rare among dime a dozen politicians. But what about intellectuals or academics or human rights leaders? Should they not think, profess, act differently from party politicians?
At the conference
These two questions—How did we get here? And should scholars and intellectuals behave differently—converged in my mind this week after I listened to a celebrated Nepali sociologist and read an op-ed by a celebrity human rights leader and an academic. To be sure, political interests drive politicians’ decisions. But what is the role of intellectuals and human rights leaders in shaping public opinion for the greater good and mediating conflicting, colliding ideas, perspectives and group self-interests? Do they have any role at all to find a negotiated, mediated path amidst the thorn-bush of conflicting, colliding interests when society spirals down into mayhem?
More than once, I had read about this sociologist described and covered in glowing terms in Nepali-language media. So, I thought I should go and listen to what he had to say about sociology in theory and application. In this South Asia conference in Madison, Wisconsin, the US, a small world of noted Nepal experts had gathered in the audience and even more noted expert-panelists from more than one discipline commented on the Nepali sociologist’s paper on the dialectics of agency v. structure in mapping Nepal’s major political events from Prithvi Narayan Shah’s unification’ to Prachanda’s republicanism. Obviously, the sociologist knew his sociology from Emile Durkheim and Max Weber to Pierre Bourdieu and Immanuel Wallerstein and the commentators commented insightfully by demonstrating their knowledge of anthropology and history. Questions and answers followed, and before it came to an end, two scholars from the audience asked the same question: how can we understand the blockade and the Madhesi issue?
Without batting an eye, the sociologist replied, “Oh, it is India’s colonialism over Nepal.” The audience wanted to know what the non-Nepali panelists thought about the question. The panelists shrugged their shoulders and mumbled that they had nothing to say. And as I had gone there just to listen, neither to ask questions nor to comment, I found myself in a moral dilemma. I did not want to demoralise the guest by challenging his statement. But if I did not, I thought, the narrative would remain incomplete. So, I reluctantly raised my hand. “Well,” I cleared my throat, “I think I agree with the professor but would like to add that the blockade is equally a result of Nepali state’s internal colonisation of Tarai-Madhes.” And I briefly summarised the argument of my last fortnight’s column in this paper.
Coming home I read the human rights activist-academic’s op-ed in Kantipur. Knowledgeable in international law and treaties, he had written about prosecuting India through international organisations. But in the entire harangue against India, he had nary a word to say about the killings of innocent Madhesis in Birganj, Janakpur and other places and the torture of the Tharus accused of killing police officials in Tikapur.
If an uneducated lout from the boondocks of Nepal spews venom against another ethnicity, we can dismiss it as the stupidity of the ignorant. If a SLC fail or pass youth espouses one-sided views and mouths obscenities from the construction sites and factory floors of the Middle East and Malaysia, you can say, he does not know any better. If a leading politician of a political party uses derogatory, racist epithets, one can say, the leader is whipping up hysteria among his followers because a) he is not well-educated and b) has vested interests. If a sociologist, board member appointed by the Panchayat government discriminated against someone in the selection process for a fellowship or a job or a geographer issued discriminatory report to please his Panchayati employers, one could say he did so because he was following the orders of his one language-one dress proponent masters.
But what can one say about scholars and human rights advocates in republican Nepal, who forget almost a century of sociology and human rights theories and practices and the complexities these could bring to an understanding of the ongoing crisis in the country? Nobody says India should not be blamed, criticised or even condemned where it deserves. But scholars are expected to take multiple perspectives into account while dealing with a complex issue. And human rights activist-academics at least pretend to side with the victims of murder and torture.
Therefore, my preliminary conclusion is: Nepal is where it is not just because of the ignorance of the masses or the myopic, what Plato would say, crushed under “the leaden weights of birth and becoming” of political leaders but equally because of the treason of the academics, intellectuals and human rights activists. And that is very unfortunate for a multicultural, multilingual country because a few such prominent examples may tarnish the entire community.