Saturday, May 15, 2010

'Sequence of Justice' in the Kathmandu Post

Sequence of Justice

by Rukmini Chaudhary, Shakun Sherchand Leslie

On March 1, 2009, three women converged at the Mandala intersection in Kathmandu demanding justice to protest against the reservation ordinance issued by the Prachanda-led government that allocated only 45 percent of the spots to marginalised communities. The rule also included Terai Adivasi Janajatis within the Madhesi category. A Tharu’s search for justice, a Thakali’s effort to comprehend justice and a Tamang’s absconding from justice had juxtaposed them in the conflict between the state and the Maoists. Having burnt the ordinance, they felt closer to the truth of Nepal’s civil rights movement.

Ideological Politics

Two Brahmin men in the early 1990s envisioned freeing Nepal from authoritarian feudalism and spelled out the mantra of liberation from class, caste, gender and Kathmandu-centric oppression for those who were trying to comprehend their lives differently than the generation before. Within a decade, they had spread Marxist-Leninist-Maoist indoctrination, moving thousands of marginalised, discriminated and exploited within the arena of socio-economic-political dialectics. As the ideological dialogue over land reform in Naxalbari, India was instrumental in the Communist Party of India (CPI-ML) joining mainstream politics through elections in 1969, the Maoist-inspired People’s Movement (Jana Andolan II) overthrew monarchy in Nepal and challenged despotism and hedonistic capitalism while questioning the roots of gender-ethnic imbalances through federal aspirations.

Identity Embroiled in Ideology

Nepal’s prolonged peace process helped elevate power struggle to a scramble for state power and rule by gang politics. The jumbo CA provided for flimsy representation of citizens, which would supposedly draft a new constitution. Starting from the flawed electoral process of nominal proportionate representation, followed by enforcement of party whip over CA members, a deficient state restructuring map, a renewed anti-defection bill, the creation of a shadowy CA Gaps and Overlaps Committee and the continuation of the High-Level Political Mechanism — all were predatory strategies to wield power and control over the marginalised communities. Then, similar to other failed peace processes, neither the rebels nor the government fulfilled their disarmament pledges thus hampering national reconciliation. Attempts at reviving the monarchy, backtracking on federalism and revising secularism are all political tools designed to sidetrack the process of integration of Maoist combatants into the Army.

Restructuring imperatives requiring institutional engineering might derail the constitutional process with undesirable consequences. Can parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles lead us towards the desired social transformation? Who will drive the vehicle of change? Historically, no ruling party in Nepal has ever voluntarily relinquished power.

Maoism is just another form of economic violence sown to further impoverish hapless Adivasi Janajatis, Dalits, Muslims, Madhesis and women. A 2003/04 DFID/World Bank study showed 31 percent of the population living under the poverty line with the poorest 20 percent scrimping on 5 percent — further widening the poverty gap in our social transformation. Nepal has the unenviable task of emulating a viable social transformation model without also embracing their negative sides.

Scoring political points by mindless militancy has only confused the genuine issues raised by the Maoists. They are caught in caste dialectics after having initiated the dynamics of class struggle. In this climate, an individual’s willingness to commit more to his community than centrifugal caste-centric nationalism could help Nepal’s safe landing.

Obscure Allocations

Effective state restructuring requires rigorous state/donor partnership to divert the historically navigated capitalistic tendencies closer to real poverty alleviation. The CA is loaded with transitional misgivings due to the absence of rule of law and sans an effective bureaucracy. State restructuring calls for clear territorial provincial demarcations with planned infrastructure to be governed by effective reforms.

The Western template, however, does not match our economic stagnation rooted in the culture of despotism, feudalism and revolutionary capitalism. The reluctance of donors to put pressure on the government to correlate aid allocation and economic management with good governance stunts the country’s capacity for change. Their negligence is the result of their refusal to acknowledge the existence of casteism through informal political institutions, aptly abetted by formal bureaucratic procedures, and by the legal fa├žade of statehood controlled by the traditional male, upper-caste social network.

Lack of democratic culture has helped establish the transitional elite and warlords who have acquired power through violence. Human rights abuses and economic exploitation are co-opted by power sharing manipulative agreements. “Strategies of extraversion”, as characterised by Jean Francois Beyant, has ensured that the fight over poverty is being exploited to extract “obscure allocations” through public health, education, rural development and local NGOs.

Peace Wrangling

When Defence Minister Bidya Bhandari (a woman) denies an independent investigation into the three Dalit women murdered on the charge of poaching by military personnel, she defeats the virtue of proportional representation by failing to represent the marginalised, discriminated and exploited women. If the women are not ready to break the social taboos imposed collectively, how can they find justice in Nepal?

Our liberation from caste, class, gender and central oppression are part of an unfinished history. If a failed state is the prize of the visible Bahun men steering the three big parties towards political precipice, then a new politics must emerge from the cause of social justice, as the search for justice will forever continue.

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