Thursday, May 26, 2011

'Struggle for Inclusion' an Op-Ed piece by Shakun Sherchand Leslie

Struggle for Inclusion
Kathmandu Post
May 26th, 2011

by Rukmini Chaudhary, Som Maya Tamang and Shakun Sherchand Leslie

Once again, three women -- a Tharu, a Tamang and a Thakali -- congregated at Maitighar on April 26, 2011, to oppose the passage of the Samabesi Bidhayek. This Social Inclusion Bill has resurfaced without significant changes promised after the five-point agreement signed by the then UCPN (Maoist)-led government with the Adivasi Tharuhat Sangarsha Samiti in April 2009 when the Bill was issued as adyadesh (ordinance).

The April 27 banda was a civil disobedience act called by the Newars and the Tamangs, with solidarity from the Adivasi Janajatis, Dalits and Muslims, to protest this discriminatory Social bill. This issue of continued state discrimination has been raised by four political parties --the Sanghiya Loktantrik Manch, Dalit Janajati Party, Newa Party and Independent (Muslim) Party -- by obstructing the proceedings of the CA Constitutional Committee.

The original ordinance had 'imposed' the inclusion of 92 indigenous identities under the broad 'Madhesi' category, thereby manipulating the social inclusion statistics. What it effectively did was allow the hill high caste men, who have had all the historical benefits, to capture the 55 percent under the so-called "free competition" category. In fact, many hill high caste men have surnames which use "la" at the end (e.g., Dahala, Nepala, Khanala). They have sought to secure control of their traditionally dominant groups over the state bureaucracy and resources.

The Social Inclusion Bill perpetuates discrimination by setting aside only 45 percent of these reservations for the Adivasi Janajatis, Dalits, Madhesi, Muslims and women without any logic. The much-touted 33 percent women quota is in reality only required within the 45 percent allocated for the discriminated groups - not within the remaining 55 percent. This would bring the women's total share in government jobs to less than 10 percent-not the promised 33 percent. Furthermore, women would be categorized without caste or ethnic distinctions, thereby undermining the possibility of a truly diverse state structure. Therefore, the new Social Inclusion Bill must take into account the diversity of Nepali women in order to achieve the real changes promised by Jana Andolan II.

After the 2008 elections, only the Madhesi community benefitted from Dahal's 2009 ordinance. They secured a sizeable chunk of state positions at the expense of the quota reserved for other groups who were demanding full proportional representation.

Similarly, these historically marginalized groups were apprehensive about the major parties' proposal to distribute national scholarship schemes. The Adivasi Janajati had been slotted 32 seats, while the Tharus were placed within the Madhesi reservation of 28 seats. Despite the national claim for more educational opportunities for women, their reservation decreased from 33 seats to 20 seats. The Dalit claim for equal educational opportunities was actually curtailed from 15 seats to nine seats.

This resistance to achieving real inclusion as committed by the Interim
Constitution's Social Inclusion Bill can be defined as the traditionally dominant groups' desire to maintain their dominance through the Big Three leadership.

The Bill, if unobstructed, will continue the trend of the one-caste hegemony at all levels of statehood, irrespective of when the constitution is drafted. This would bring the new democratic process to a halt, questioning the preamble of the Interim Constitution which promised a truly democratic, secular, inclusive, federal state.

Without a workable and sincere blueprint for social inclusion that addresses the continuing historical discrimination, the new Nepali state would be encouraging and validating 'caste apartheid' on a new legal level. The democratic constitution for the racially disfranchised black South Africans only came into existence after the state accepted its guilt for its historical racial discrimination and was willing to end it through serious affirmative action.

The Nepali state is rife with nepotism and corruption, fed by continuing caste selection tendencies. Recently, the Kathmandu Municipality selected seven Brahmin men, three Brahmin women (under the women's quota), four Chetri men and only one Newar for the 15 vacant posts. Where is the inclusion? This continuing mono-cultural trend is detrimental to the well-being of the state. Without accommodating the aspirations of the historically discriminated and diverse groups, the trend of protests (and bandas) will not end anytime soon. Repressing diversity leads to exclusion and, in worse cases, instigates violence, as has been apparent in
the Terai and around the world.

As diverse groups feel squeezed out from most functioning organs of governance, they are questioning the Social Inclusion Bill much more seriously. As every Nepali is defined by caste, the new constitution is expected to solve these lingering, historical problems by collaborative dialogue and negotiation to achieve a new national social contract with full proportionate representation at all levels of the state.

The international community's effort in bringing viable balance to disproportionate representation in their own organizations strengthens the previously discriminated identities. To exercise political rights to challenge the unitary and exclusionary caste system without external intervention is in consonance with Nepali democracy.

At the most, donors can act as a powerful medium of change. Instead of applying conditional economic sanctions on Nepal's development, it may be more effective for the donor community to revaluate its role at this historic moment so as to benefit the most deprived of Nepal's 28 million people.

Freedom in the West was achieved through various civil rights movements and civil disobediences. While Nepal struggles to chart out its future, the Adivasi Janajatis and other discriminated groups will continue to fight for the soul of their country.

Chaudhary is a CA member
Tamang is hairman of the Sanghiya Loktantrik Manch
Leslie is president of the Nepal Federation of Himalayan Indigenous Buddhists

1 comment:

judith said...

Thanks for posting. This editorial makes clear what is most unclear. Good work!