The Madhesi Movement: Prospects for Peace in Nepal
Minister for industry, commerce and supplies and vice president of NSP party RAJENDRA MAHTO dwells on the prospects of violence in Terai and the peace process in Nepal.
First of all I would like to extend my gratitude to United States Institute for Peace for organizing this program through which I am able to communicate my ideas and thoughts to American friends who are taking interest in Nepal at this moment.
I think most of you are aware of the peace process that is going on in Nepal for the last one and half years. Nepal is passing through a very difficult time. It is a very challenging time. The people of Nepal want peace which does not necessarily mean the peace of the graveyard; they also want progress together with peace. So this is the challenge at the moment in Nepal.
On the one hand we are working to bring the Maoists into the mainstream of Nepal's political process and we are very grateful for the ample assistance and goodwill from our friends all over the world and also in the region. And we are still in the process which has not come to accomplishment yet.
Now the Maoists have come to the parliament and have also joined the government [The Maoists quit the government on September 18, 2007]. However, the Young Communist League (YCL) affiliated with the Maoist party, has been active in such a way that their activities are not still within the limits of the law. And one of the challenges we are facing is how to bring the activities of YCL within the limits of the law of the country.
It is true that the Maoists have never been in the government, they are the rebels from country side and they have no experience of being in the government and behaving in a responsible way as if they are in the government. We know that it is difficult for them. We understand their difficulties and we understand their process of transition toward being more responsible party in the government. The difficulty that they are facing is that the Maoists trained their cadres for the last ten years as rebels not as political party [members] in the government so it may be a challenge for them also to retrain their cadres to become responsible political party because their training in the past ten years was different. But we feel confident that sooner or later we will be able to bring them into mainstream political culture. We have talked to them periodically in the parliament and the government and outside the government and the parliament and the topic of conversation is the transformation of the Maoist party into a responsible political party. We hope that we will also bring the activities of the YCL under the perimeters of the rule of law and the government is making every possible effort toward that direction.
The second part of the peace process is change-- political, economic and social progress according to the aspirations of the Nepali people. Nepal cannot remain the same as it has been in the last 237 years under the direct rule of the king without much social, economic and political progress. The people of Nepal want something new in their life.
When we talk about the change, the Terai movement automatically comes to the forefront. As the movement of Terai is one of the main points of our agenda today, I would like to speak about it in little greater detail.
Terai is the plain land adjacent to Indian border across the Gangetic plains. The people living in the Terai say that they comprise half of Nepal's population. Even according the government statistics the population there is 33-34 percent. So the movement of the Terai is the movement of the people living in the bordering areas.
The first problem of the Terai people is the problem of identity itself. Their identity itself was questioned by the government of Nepal in the past. The question was whether the people of Terai were the Nepali people or not because their culture and language and dresses and manners and customs were similar to the people across the border in India. It was wrong for the government of Nepal in Kathmandu to question the indigenousness or originality of the Terai people because we call them Bhumiputra-- the sons of the soil of Terai where before the political division between India and Nepal was decided the ancient cultural, religious, philosophical figures-- Janak and Buddha-- were born in that part of the region. For that reason it is wrong to suspect us to be somehow affiliated with the people across the border. We are indigenous people of Terai. Even the ruling royal dynasties of Nepal came from India. The present dynasty itself came from Rajasthan province of India and there were previous dynasties that came from Karnataka province and other parts of India. So to attribute our origin to India is an irony when our present dynasty itself is originally from India. This question was rather ludicrous.
I belong to Nepal Sadbhavana Party, a Terai-based party which has been for the last 15 years struggling to resolve this issue of citizenship and identity of the Terai people. And thanks to the efforts made by all the eight parties, currently we have promulgated a law under which the issue of the citizenship of the Terai people has been almost resolved. Millions of Terai people who did not have their citizenship or identity cards have now got their IDs. Previously, because of the lack of identity card or citizenship the people of Terai could not exercise their basic rights-- such as selling or buying their own land or property. They were suffering from a lot of troubles in the past.
The people of Terai were also were discriminated because of their culture, dress, language and manners. The national dress of Nepal is daura-suruwal-topi which is suitable for the people in the mountains because the temperature there is much cooler but in Terai, where it is 45 degree Celsius, it is very difficult to wear the same dress. So we were demanding that the languages of Terai-- Awadhi, Maithili, Bhojpuri, etc.-- be recognized as local languages and since Hindi is the lingua-franca in the Terai, so it be recognized and the dresses and manners and culture of the Nepali people also be recognized as parts of Nepal's diverse national culture. So that was our demand. The interim government has started addressing this problem and we can now go to the parliament in our local dress and we can also speak in the parliament in the local language and not necessarily in the national language. Some progress has been made in this direction.
The Terai people were alienated from the national bureaucracy, politics, army, civil service etc., No more than 5 percent Teraians were represented in the police. No Teraians were represented at all in the army. And in bureaucracy itself, despite their population, less than 5 percent people were represented. So there was also imbalance in national politics and bureaucracy. There also was no adequate representation of Terai people in the parliament and politics. Even for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections we are demanding that a proportional representation of the Terai people be accepted in candidature or membership of the political parties. The interim constitution has now stipulated that the people of Terai (both Madhesi and non-Madhesis), who constitute about 48.43 percent of Nepal's population, will be proportionally represented in the parliament. The government is also reviewing the demand that the delineation of the CA election districts be done properly so that the [indigenous] people of the Terai are adequately represented. Because the population of Terai is mixed; people from the hills and the indigenous people are living together there.
There are two types in the mixed election system. First is the first-past-the-post and another is the proportional election. We have been demanding that all elections be proportional, not first-past-the-post as in the past. There are 104 castes and ethic groups in Nepal so it is almost impossible to get all the ethnic groups and castes represented in parliament. So we have to devise a system in such a way that there is a just and reasonable representation of maximum number of ethic and caste groups in the parliament.
The NSP have been struggling peacefully for the last 15 years to have proportional representation in parliament. Now that the Maoists, who raised armed, have gotten in the government under red carpet the people in Terai feel that because they were peaceful they did not get anything. So they have also adopted violent movement now. This is a problem that was not addressed in the past and we hope it will be resolved in the days to come.
Becuase of this, there are today new armed groups -- as many as a dozen-- in Terai. Everyday a new armed group is formed. And criminal activities have also risen in Terai. Our belief is that the issue of Terai can be resolved democratically and peacefully and we want the entire international community to persuade everyone involved in it to resolve it in that way. There is no other way. We need your support, cooperation, sympathy and goodwill in our just struggle in the Terai.
We wish that those elements who believe in peaceful and democratic resolution of the problem be brought to the negotiating table and the criminal elements be dealt with under the rule of law. And any remaining problem can be resolved after the completion of a peaceful election of the CA which will promulgate a new constitution of the country and will resolve all the issues that still remain to be addressed.
Text based on a presentation entitled "Violence in the Terai and the Madhesi Movement: Prospects for Peace in Nepal." Minister Mahto spoke on July 17, 2007 at the United States Institute for Peace, Washington, DC.
Posted by Editor on September 2, 2007 11:29 AM