Marching Marginalization

 

courtesy -EKantipur.com

 

Most of Marchwar’s 16 village development committees (VDCs) in Rupandehi are connected with the Indian border state of Uttar Pradesh. The majority of the population consists of Madhesi Dalits and Muslims. There is much poverty in the area and discrimination is prevalent. There is a huge disparity between the communities of the so-called upper castes and the Dalit/Muslims. These communities have been voting for Madhesi parties since the 1990 election.

 

The political boundary between Nepal and India does not seem to matter to the residents of Marchwar. Everyday, residents cross the border to towns in India to buy cheaper commodities. Thus, they are heavily dependent on India for their economic activities. Almost all households also have marital relationships with the other side of the border.

 

The effects of internal colonisation are plain to see in Marchwar. State authorities often victimise Marchwar residents because they look different and speak different languages. Thus, Marchwar is a unique example to study relations between the state and marginalised communities. The reality of this area is in direct contradiction to the internationally-accepted definition of state-society relations as “interactions between state institutions and societal groups to negotiate how public authority is exercised and how it can be influenced by people”. For one example, in this small area, three large Armed Police Force camps have been established. There is a big cultural and linguistic gap between the rulers and the ruled, as most security forces do not speak the local Bhojpuri-Awadhi languages.

 

Speaking up

Locals shared their grievances with state authorities on February 9 during a mass public hearing at Bogadi Parsaha, near Marchwar. A young college student named Upendra Yadav angrily asked the APF authorities why a large number of security personnel had been mobilised in his village. He complained that APF jawans had snatched five of 10 notebooks that he was bringing from India a few days ago. Yadav said that the police had used racial slurs against him.

 

Middle-aged Khalil Musalman complained to the security officials that residents were not allowed to bring even four buckets of sand from local rivers to construct toilets and when they attempted to do so, they were asked to pay a bribe. Musalman said that the government had stopped distributing driving licences to Rupandehi residents since the last year, but it had deployed a large number of police to check driving licences. Rupandehi also residents cannot travel to Kathmandu to get their driving licences there. The locals had a question: If the government stops issuing driving licences in the Tarai, why does it allow motorcycle dealers and business houses to sell motorbikes?

 

Ramkesh Chamar from Baguli VDC lamented that his family had been victimised for his brother’s marriage with a non-Dalit girl. He said that the police had started harassing his family members, following which they approached the Butwal Appellate Court. The court issued an injunction order against the Thori police post to stop harassing the family. Subsequently, Chamar’s family members were dragged out of their home and beaten on the street.

 

Sipahi Kuarmi, a timber trader, said that he had been arrested by the police despite having papers from the District Forest Office and the VDC that allowed him to collect timber from the nearby forests. He was released after paying a bribe of Rs 8,000 to a police officer and a local journalist leaked a video of the bribe being paid. Kuarmi was treated badly and was forced to leave his home for 15 days.

 

Chanardip Dhobi and Abdul Mojid Dewan broke down in tears narrating how both of them had lost sons to the police. They had received mandamus orders from the Butwal Appellate Court against the police to file a First Information Report (FIR) and investigate the case, but the court orders were of no use as criminal investigations had been refused.

 

A young man Jitendra Prajapati had his own grievances. He wanted to be a policeman and had applied. He stood first in the physical test results but was ridiculed for scoring high marks in the test. Prajapati said jealous police authorities had conspired to have him fail the written test.

 

Furthermore, locals complained of how all development works seemed to be carried out in the northern parts, around the East-West Highway. They said that they wanted to see good roads built in their localities, good education centres that could teach pupils in their local languages, and proper healthcare facilities. They wanted to be respected by security officials.

 

Tarai disconnect

These were their concerns but neither the state nor the political parties have paid any attention to them. The state must understand that if people’s grievances are not addressed in time, extreme forces could cash in on their disenchantment. Nepal’s permanent establishment tends to ignore the concerns of the Tarai. Discrimination against Madhesis has been designed in a systematic manner by political masters and is perpetrated by their state agencies, such as the bureaucracy and security.

 

Security officials may have had good intentions but the impacts of their initiatives have been largely negative. Most state representatives don’t speak the local languages and don’t understand local culture, history and social traditions. There is a large gap between the state structure and Madhesi society. Even the Madhes-based political parties seem to have failed to connect with the genuine agendas of the people. In the rural areas, people hardly understand vague words like ‘identity-based federalism’ and ‘proportional representation’. The cadres of the political parties lack the capacity to connect these words with the daily lives and exploitation of the people.

 

Political leaders and policymakers must take it upon themselves to visit Marchwar and other areas of the Tarai to understand the plight of the residents. Nobody in Singha Durbar has ever attempted to understand the grievances of the local people. This is the reason why the people are demanding autonomy. They believe that autonomy could help create suitable political and institutional structures, a responsive bureaucracy, and representative security agencies. Under the status quo, the locals view Kathmandu as colonisers. Kathmandu needs to acknowledge that the level of awareness and assertion has risen in the Tarai in the post-conflict period and look beyond mere institutions to rebuild state-society relations and establish state legitimacy.

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