Building a bridge

Published On: December 16, 2017 12:37 AM NPT By: Ram Manohar Sah

Ram Manohar Sah

Ram Manohar Sah

The contributor for Republica.

Why can’t Madhesis and those who look like them, Indians from across the border, visit Pashupatinath without being called names?

I read Mahabir Paudyal’s article “Faults of Madhes narrative” (November 4), which was a review comment on my book The Middle Country: Traverse of Madhesh through War, Colonization and Aid-dependent Racist State. We differ on many issues but we listen to each other and debate through emails. We regard each other highly.

He is against the idea of hill-plain divide. Actually the fault lines of this divide have crippled the country for decades. But when Paudyal says Madhesis “don’t acknowledge suffering of hill folks”, I disagree. 

Madhesis went to the hills to support hill people during the devastating earthquakes of 2015. They distributed relief materials to the victims. For centuries, hill people have benefitted from goods and food grains going there from the plains. If anything, it is lowland Madhes that has received little or nothing from the hills.

Madhesis share two types of relations with hill people—people-to-people and people-to- government. Let’s focus on the first because the second has been discussed extensively in the media in recent years.

People-to-people relation between Madhesis and Pahades should have been warm but this is not the case. Madhesis are often derogatively derided as “Biharis”.  In Kathmandu they use this word to imply that Madhesis are illegal residents. It is common for lowland people to be called Bihari on the streets of Kathmandu.

Worse than Rolpa 
This hurts Madhesis. First, this promotes ethnic divide. As problematic is the fact that the government of Nepal also thinks of them as Biharis and does not address their development needs. If Pahades living in the plains can travel up to Kanyakumari without being insulted, why can’t Madhesis and those who look like them (Indians from across the border) visit Pashupatinath without being called names?

Madhesis are fully aware of the hardships the hill people face. Nature has gifted the hills with beautiful landscape but at the same time it has also made life difficult for them. A year ago, one of my Pahade friends asked me to visit Rukum and Rolpa to understand the poverty of the hills. I invited him to visit my home in Mahottari which is ranked much lower than Rukum and Rolpa in human development. Other districts of Madhes have similar tales. 

Madhes faces many more challenges than do the hills, even though Madhes has all the resources. This is because Madhes has been neglected in development. It was so during the Rana rule and it has not changed even today. 

If Madhesis and Pahades faced same kind of neglect and discrimination, they would unite and together fight injustice. The fact that this has not happened means that Pahades suffer much less than Madhesis. For example, people of the hills did not even express sympathy when Madhesis were being killed during the 2015 protests.

On the other hand, the struggle of Madhes has also somehow benefitted Pahades. Federalism, for which Madhesis fought so hard, is going to bring immense opportunities for the people of hills as well. 

There was a time when Kathmandu and Madhes shared the best of relations. During Malla period, Newar kings used to write poems in Maithili and they would reward scholars from Madhes. Malla Kings promoted translation of literature by Maithil scholars into Newari. Jyotriswara’s Dhurtsamagam and Vidyapati’s Puruspariksha are still available in Newari archives. Gangadhar Jha and his father were ministers in King Jay Prakash Malla’s court. 

Shah the destroyer 
This relationship started fraying with the arrival of King Prithivi Narayan Shah. Maithil families were pushed out of valley and Khas-Arya businessmen colluded with Shah Kings to expel businessmen from the south so that they had a commercial monopoly over Tibet-Madhes trade. As this discriminatory system became more entrenched during the 250 years of Shah-Rana rule, those good days have faded into long-lost memories. 

The democratic movement of 1950 raised some hope on the possibility of bridging the ethnic divide, but then BP Koirala failed to shed his hill prejudice. Nepali Congress was able to get many of its hill leaders elected from Madhes during 1959 election. But not a single Madhesi candidate was nominated from the hills; and not a single Madhesi has been elected from hills so far.

Congress today is no different to the Congress of 1950s. Except for paying lip service to Madhes issue it has not done anything. Ram Narayan Mishra and Mahendra Narayan Nidhi—two of the Congress icons of Madhes—are nowhere to be seen in their official posters. As for CPN-UML—which was born and brought up in Madhes—it has been riding an anti-Madhes wave in recent times.

In this situation, how can Madhesis trust these two parties? How can they trust those who support these parties? 

Yes, it is true that the country has been harmed. Government has been unstable for decades. People are suffering. Yet, when it comes to Madhes, there is visible exclusion. Those who come to power are from mostly Pahade Khas community. And the people to benefit from their rule, if at all, are mostly Pahades. 

If the hill people are also poor and suffering, it is because the rulers have not delivered. Madhesi people’s demand for equality, justice and development is not responsible for this. Suffering folks of the hills and those from Madhes should together fight for rights and equality.

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