Understanding the recent ethnic protests (Part I)
Some people still claim that the the most important question raised by Nepal’s Maoists’ war is “why were so many people willing to kill and die?” Today, I am hearing similar questions, “why are the protesters belonging to ethnic minorities willing to kill and die?”
I think the question is wrongly framed. Let me present some examples first. In India, almost one third of the territory is under influence of the Maoists conflict. But look at the amount and kind of press they get there. In almost an unequivocal tone, the state (comprising of the government, military, intelligence, main media entities) has been supported by the educated population in its mission against the Maoists. Some people, including Arundhati Roy frequently raise opposing arguments, but in the world’s largest democracy, even the educated village and urban youths ask for her blood because in their opinion, she is supporting the anti-state elements. Personally, I do not like what Arundhati Roy faces in India, but that is not the subject of my post.
In Nepal, even during the war, we were constantly provided with the Maoist propaganda in the forms of writings by Dr. Bhattarai and press releases of Prachanda, via entities including some of the most read and heard publications and radios. Granted that we are a leftist country and always like to dissent against the state. But should we learn something from our own history of violence and failures or should we expand it to new frontiers like ethno-political issues?
Let’s return to the issue of “it is important to address why so many people feel betrayed and involved.” I have no particular difference with this assertion that injustice and inequality has to be addressed. But is Nepal the only country in the world with such problems? India has far bigger problems of this kind. You will realize that what we see in the relatively liberal and progressive society of Nepal pales in front of the amount of atrocities the Dalits face in India. You have to find them in specialized publications, as they are not given any coverage by the mainstream media. Perhaps, everybody remembers the treatment offered by the central and the state government (which was, incidentally, a communist one) to the Gorkhaland activists.
In China, Tibetans, Uyghurs and farmers from the countryside are dying everyday and no one even hears of them. Bangladesh has one of the largest poor populations in the world, and Bhutan has serious problems related to population management. Do these countries endorse and support wars against these problems? Do the educated and the democratic sections of their societies support armed and violent rebellions because “so many people feel compelled?”
Let me remind you all that India has used all her diplomatic might to stop UN resolutions against caste-based discrimination inside her borders. And has succeeded in doing so. There are more INGOs in India (it is the country with the highest number of NGOs) and they are probably more well funded and manned than in Nepal. But India has so far, always managed to keep problems about its internal issues from being discussed in international forums. Why? For obvious reasons. Nepal has become a textbook example of what happens when you allow communists and Christian missionaries to run amok with ethnic and racist agendas inside your borders.
We have not even preserved structures to be able to cope with such problems. Nepali commentators blame the hegemony high-caste people have inside government, army and police as being problems for minorities to dissent. Again, unfair it might be, but look at the composition of the Indian state. Its commerce, army, central government and administration is mainly dominated by a limited section of high-caste Hindus, and especially by those from North India (and a few Aiyars from South India). The total population share of high-caste Hindus is lesser in India than in Nepal. In contrast, although there is a lack of balance in administration and government, different sections have strong positions in other sectors of the Nepalese society, like trade and commerce and land ownership.
Consider the case of the Sherpa people. The extremely affable Sherpa people of Nepal have made the country proud with several feats in the mountaineering activities. I think their contributions have been well recognized although they might have been inadequate (I don’t know). Despite the Himalayas being their native place of residence, they are rich people owing to their involvement in the lucrative trekking, tourism and mountaineering industries. They are perhaps one of the richest communities in all parts of Nepal, including Kathmandu, and even amongst the emigrant population. Historically, Sherpas have entered Nepal very late (according to anthropologists and historians), something like 300-500 years ago.
In Nepal, some communities have been staying for thousands of years and are in very miserable conditions, with no access to government, services or resources. Such people are spread across different castes and tribes. In recent years, some of them have been branded as the “indigenous people of Nepal” and some others as “ethnic and indigenous people of Nepal.” By definitions of oldness, Sherpas are not indigenous to Nepal, but I have not heard big complaints against their inclusion in that list. Sadly, in the last week, some Sherpas were the ones with the loudest voice against some other people of this country. Take for example, Aang Kagi Sherpa, Pasang Sherpa and Lucky Sherpa, the CA members who have been very vociferous in their criticisms.
Why? Is it just because of injustice and inequality in Nepal? Considering that rights-activists enjoy a much greater liberty in Nepal than in comparable societies? Is it fair to trash opponents of certain kinds of governance or modes of federalism as anti-national or public enemies? Is the matter that some people choose to come out to streets and to kill and die so grave that it drowns down all other arguments? Are we ready to discuss this frankly, and by putting aside our personal biases and influences?
I will propose my point of view in a next blog post. But they will be based on the arguments framed above. Let us discuss on the questions raised above first, and we can discuss other issues.
Ladies and gentlemen, some of your views are bound to differ with mine, but I am ready to be convinced with an opposing viewpoint if you are willing to try it in a civilized manner. I am here just to discuss, not to kill you