Despite this fact, the myopic Kathmandu elites feel that Madheshis are more loyal to India than Nepal and that is a ludicrous presumption. These elites easily forget or choose to overlook Madheshi people’s contribution in defending the border.
By Bindesh Dahal
The issuance of Nepal’s new political and administrative map after India’s unilateral action has understandably heightened the feeling of nationalism among Nepali people. Unfortunately, this nationalistic feeling has been co-opted by some fringe elements to smear people in the southern plains, i.e. Madheshis just because the latter’s resemblance to Indians across the border.
Offensive social media posts that demean and mock Madheshis are a legion. Worryingly, no action has been taken against such outliers. Even a national television channel aired a very offensive skit that brownfaced a character to give him a Madheshi look and ridiculed him through dialogues. Press Council Nepal, the government authority for media monitoring, has taken action against the TV channel and asked it to make public apology. The TV channel has apologized and terminated the programme.
These kinds of demeaning activities do not serve the cause of national unity. Nepal is unique in the world because of its diversified population and geography. The constitution has recognized different ethnicities, languages and cultures of the country. Therefore, it does not make any sense in humiliating an entire community just because of their appearance, language and culture.
At a time when the issue of Dalit killings have haunted the conscience of the nation, the problems faced by Madheshi people also merits discussion. It should be remembered in this context that due to Madhesh uprisings after the Jana Andolan II federalism was enshrined in the constitution, thereby restructuring the country. Many Madheshis had to face state violence and sacrificed their lives for th e cause of federalism, inclusivity and fair representation. But whether the current practice of federalism has served their interest or not is a matter of discussion that is beyond the scope of this article.
The biggest challenge native Madheshis face in the country is that Kathmandu elites have always been suspicious about the former’s loyalty to the country. The roti-beti (bread and bride) relationship across the border in no way shifts Madheshi people’s national loyalty but the elites choose to overlook this. The spree of citizenship card distribution at a time when Nepal was facing a wrenching political transition contributed to the worsening of perceptions, affecting even the native Madheshis.
Just like Hindu supremacists in India doubt Muslims’ fealty to the country, so is the fate of Madheshis here. Madheshi leaders’ greed, corruption and unhelpful statements (remember Sarita Giri’s misplaced salvo in the parliament) have contributed towards the entrenchment of the elites’ doubts. Due to these leaders, common Madheshi people have to bear the brunt of discrimination and doubt. In fact, India has been using Madheshi parties as a tool to bargain with Kathmandu and has nothing to do with the Madheshi cause. Had India loved common Madheshis, it would have stopped investing on corrupt leaders but on infrastructure and other development activities.
Despite this fact, the myopic Kathmandu elites feel that Madheshis are more loyal to India than Nepal and that is a ludicrous presumption. These elites easily forget or choose to overlook Madheshi people’s contribution in defending the border. Dev Narayan Yadav in Tilathi, Saptari district, Province no. 2 was brutalized by Indian security force while defending the border and breaking the illegal dam. Madheshi people at other points in the Nepal-India border have been protecting border pillars.
In fact, India has been treating Madheshi people badly even if it issues statements now and then that it will protect them. The Border Security Forces (BSF) deployed along the Nepal-India border often misbehaves with Madheshi people who visit the bordering towns to meet their relatives or for shopping. The ill-treatment at the hands of BSF makes Madheshis realize the duplicitous nature of the Indian state as it harps on cultural roti-beti relationship on the one hand while mistreats Madheshis on the basis of their nationality on the other.
What annoys many Madheshis is that the BSF is engaged in erecting more than 15 feet tall dams as well as roads along Nepal-India border and has been conducting massive excavation of lands adjoining Nepali territory. Such constructions are of strategic importance. There are BSF camps every two to five km, view towers every two km, bigger dams and taller roads for the passage and movements of BSF vehicles and other constructions of strategic importance. This development has given the possibility of India shutting down all other border points, except major ones, in days to come which will hamper Madheshi people’s movements across the border and also lay their fields to waste.
The embankments are built largely in the buffer zone or no man’s land between the two countries. During rainy season, which lasts from June to September, rivers overflow and rush towards bordering districts of India but India’s embankments obstruct the natural flow of waters. India’s dams across the border divert rivers flowing from Nepal towards canals. The diverting of the natural flow of rivers ultimately brings disaster every monsoon. Flood damages hundreds of hectares of Nepal’s land and also wash away hundreds of thousands of homes of Madheshis. They have to abandon their homes for no good reason. If India loved Madheshi people, it would never have carried out such atrocious acts.
The Indian defence personnel often obstruct the construction of roads in Nepal, stating that the infrastructure encroaches upon no-man’s land. Indian paramilitary forces arrive at the construction site and ask the Nepali side to stop the work. Recently, Indian paramilitaries obstructed the construction of roads in Thori, Parsa district. Moreover, Indian government is busy in constructing roads in no man’s land or setting up paramilitary camps in broad daylight. For instance, Bhittamore-Patna highway witnesses construction of road near Sursand village at no man’s land. Indian bus stand is established at no man’s land adjoining Jatahi, Dhanusha district. Land in Susta has been massively encroached upon by Indian paramilitaries. This act ultimately harms Madheshis.
Another problem Madheshis face is while visiting bordering towns. They don’t get their Nepali currency exchanged as per Reserve Bank of India or Nepal Rastra Bank directive. They have to suffer loss of NPR 40/- on every transaction as “Batta” (i.e., commission for exchange of currency). The bordering towns of India have many illegal money exchangers asking every visitor to exchange Nepali currencies. The exchange rate of Indian currency is NPR 1.60/- for INR 1/-. Illegal changers charge NPR 1.70/- or above. People who are in need of Indian currency for travel, health or education are worst hit due to this illegal exchanging rate. The Indian government has done nothing to crackdown on these unlawful activities.
India, despite its token appreciation for the Madheshi cause, itself appears condescending to Madheshis. Only people from the Hill origin get deployed in “Gurkha regiment” under the Indian Army. But there is no such arrangement for Madheshi youths. Former Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai took a dig at India on this issue years ago but things have remained the same.
These instances prove that India has no affection towards common Madheshi people and it takes them only as a political tool. Kathmandu elites need to understand this and stop alienating Madheshis with debasing statements and treatments. The problems caused by the pincer attack from the Nepali and Indian establishment on Madheshis will allow external forces to manipulate them for a greater geopolitical game that is rapidly unfolding in Nepal. It will harm both Nepal and India in the long run.
With inputs from Jivesh Jha