As beleaguered Madhesis and their opponents from other communities pelted stones at each other at Bhairahawa in Nepal’s Terai region recently, it seemed the violence that had already taken 40 lives in the ongoing protests is not about to end any time soon.
Indeed, this latest skirmish only underscored the growing divide within Nepali society that has implications for India: the Hindi-speaking Madhesis, who inhabit the flat southern region of the country bordering India, and constitute 31 per cent of the whole population, have been agitating for a proportionate share in political participation and governance to be enshrined in the country’s newly adopted Constitution.
If the agitators have accused the Nepal government of ignoring the aspirations and sensibilities of the Madheshis, Janajatis, Dalits and women, the dominant communities from the hills, have started targeting the protesters, accusing them of being “Indian agents”.
The new Constitution has failed to address the demands of Madhesis, Tharus and other minorities, former Nepali Ambassador to Denmark, Vijay Kant Karna, told The Hindu . “The basic structure of the ruling class in Nepal is that, at the most, 150 families control the whole system.”
Mr. Karna, who currently teaches at Tribhuwan University in Kathmandu, and is part of the core group espousing the Madhesi cause, added: “It is a fight by the marginalised to get their fair share, but those at the helm do not wish to devolve power.”
The promise for an autonomous region of Madhesh was not kept despite repeated protests in the second Constituent Assembly, the new Constitution was adopted, he said. The current agitation has not only claimed many lives but also disrupted the supply of basic essentials, including fuel, from India. “Fuel stations will soon dry up. All essential items come through the Terai region,” Krishna, an anxious hill resident of Irkhu, told The Hindu .
The Madhesis have also demanded recognition of Hindi as a link/official language in their province, and proportionate representation in government, in which it currently has only eight per cent, mostly in the middle and lower categories.
“It is sad to see Madhesis and Tharus on the streets since the day the Constitution was adopted. As a Madhesi, I did go through a lot, because of my colour, identity, the language I spoke and the culture which was clearly alien…,” social activist Moni Jha said, stressing, “It is ignorance that makes people pass baseless comments.”
A new social harmony will be established when the people and politicians understand the true meaning of diversity and inclusion, said Ms. Jha adding: “On the brighter side, it is overwhelming to see people talking and understanding their basic rights and rights to social and cultural freedom, exchanging ideas.”