Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Awakening Ethnic Identity and Freedom

-By Dr Pramod Dhakal

The events unfolding in the eastern terai have made us conscious of the fact that Nepal is boiling under a crisis that is looming along the blurred lines of a struggle for freedom and a struggle for ethnic identity. This blurring has made it difficult for ordinary mortals like me to figure out what is what. This is a painful predicament for people who stand for universal equality of all humans and harmony in the world. When emotions and passions rule over reasoning and aspirations of people take a wrong turn putting “me” against “you” among the oppressed masses, solvable problems become unsolvable ones. It has, therefore, become important for every conscious observer of Nepal to pause for a bit and think of solutions that are compassionate, fair, insightful and lasting.
A handful of visionless and uncompassionate rulers and their henchmen were ruling Nepal for centuries by keeping the population at large in an illiterate, poor, subdued and powerless state. It was next to impossible for the people who were living in perpetual indignity and neglect to experience any event to shore up their self esteem, confidence, emotions and passions. The changes in Nepal that gradually unfolded after 1990, and especially during the 10 years of conflict, brought a heightened awareness among its previously neglected populace. Every belittled human started to figure out that he/she is somebody like every other human and no one could ever dwarf his/her potentials through the continuation of unjust practices.

This awakening is a tremendous blessing for a society that is in a dire need of transformation. This awakening allows the people in power to take huge and bold steps that they could never have taken in the past. Also, it allows them to correct the injustices of centuries in a timeframe of a decade and release fresh energy required to fuel prosperity. Having said that, the same awakening can also turn into a curse if regressive elements become successful in steering it away from a struggle for freedom and turn it into a struggle for ethnic fiefdom. However, who is going to show the oppressed people who are in the process of awakening and searching for that illusive goal of fairness and justice the light?

The answer to this lies in one thing and that is trust. Whoever can gain the trust of the awakened people will be able to steer them to the destiny of his/her choice. It is not difficult to assume that if the trust were to fall in the hands of oppressors, landlords, and the fiefs, the aftermath of the struggle for the people would be no liberation. A challenge has, therefore, emerged in front of all those who stand for human freedom and to those who can expend their intellectual dexterity beyond protest and into a delightful world of serenity and compassion. We are not required to be compassionate to those who are knowingly exploiting the people’s awakening for unethical profit. But we must open our hearts to all those who are awakened with pure sincerity. It would be important to emphasize that others will trust us only if we prove to be trustworthy to them and vice versa.

For the last ten years, the Maoists steered many Nepali people – old, young, men, women, poor, oppressed, and controlled - towards a fight to gain dignity for the oppressed, the devolution of an old feudal power base, correction of old injustices and the construction of a fair society. They showed some of their positive mettle when they demonstrated a balanced sense of representation when sending representatives to the parliament. However, they disappointed many when they could not gain proportionality and federalism in the interim constitution while compromising with the old guard leaders who thought that Nepal had a just, equitable and democratic society in 1990 itself. The Maoists thought that they would fight through the interim parliament but their inability to produce results outright is now being capitalized by regressive elements.

The seven parties (with small exceptions) thought that because they had bowed to the Maoists on every other front, the only big ticket item where they could demonstrate their bravado was in not agreeing on the proposal of proportionality and federalism in the interim constitution. These leaders did not yield to these points in the hopes of limiting the credit that might go to the Maoists for devolving the old state structure of Nepal. However, this was nothing but a sign of attachment to the past. Ideally, it would have been better if their eyes had opened months ago, but it is better late than never; and they have an opportunity to correct their mistakes now. You do not need to do anything for the Terai. You just give what every individual of Nepal who has faced injustices in the past deserves. When a framework for upholding human equality is ensured, people of all ethno-cultural identities will feel a sense of justice including those living in the Terai.

It would be foolhardy to think that most people in the protests are puppets of bad leaders. It is better to think that many people are in the protests not due to any new vision presented by an enlightened leadership but because they are awake and can see that their grievances are not addressed properly by the interim constitution. And, it is also true that some regressive and opportunistic elements have utilized this as a good opportunity to destabilize Nepal; they could not have any better opportunity for pouring ample fuel than when there is fire. That is the reason why hindu fundamentalists and royalists are working day and night to steer this situation to a wrong end.

There is some burden of responsibility on the conscious leaders of the Terai people as well. Spreading an impression with great ferocity, glorifying separation in the same light as liberation! Although such statements inspire us and motivate us, and there are some examples in history that liberations and separations have come together, the destination of any movement depends on its vision, mission, plan, policies, architecture, methodology and system; and, on top of this, a unifying, compassionate, and visionary leadership, and a seasoned management required to deliver lasting liberty, equity, prosperity and peace. I have not come to believe that such mature leadership is in place at the moment in the Madhesi movement. On the contrary, there is a danger for the movement to be exploited by controversial and manipulative elements and opportunists. Fundamentalists opposed to human equality, opposed to democracy, active in bringing back the royalist regime and perpetrators of crimes are shouting as if they are bleeding for the freedom of the people of Madhesh.

We are better off advancing strong and invigorating debates on justice, equity, democracy and a whole host of other areas required to ensure freedom and fairness for all humans – whether they are young, old, men, women, Madheshi, Pahadi, Dallit, Janajati, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and what not. Let us attempt to build a constitution that is accommodative, that encompasses human ingenuity, and is advanced enough to be fitting to today’s connected and conscious world. If such an endeavor proves hopeless, we could all break apart amicably at that point. Let us make a fair attempt first to build one humanity, and, if possible, one world.

(The author is a former faculty member of Tribhuvan University and holds a Ph D in electrical engineering. He is executive director of the Canada Forum for Nepal and lives in Canada)