Monday, July 19, 2010

Proportions And Politics Of Prejudice

Vice-President Parmanand Jha certainly spoke for much of the country last week. “Even after the year-long extension of the constituent assembly, the Nepalese people are not at all certain whether they will get their constitution,” he declared.
Seeking to prove the Veep wrong, the major parties have set April 13, 2011 as the date for promulgating the new statute. Seeking to project an element of seriousness to their assertion, they gave a two-month timetable to the state restructuring commission to come up with recommendations on one of the more contentious issues. Yet 22 out of the 25 parties in the assembly registered their disagreement over the decision by the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the UCPN-Maoist to form the commission. Not quite a confidence booster.
That’s where Jha’s other assertion gains relevance. In order to build an inclusive society, he said, it is vital to enact inclusive acts and put into practices rather than limiting them into mere words. It would be wrong to view the preceding as a mere reiteration of Jha’s well-known claims of anti-Madhesi discrimination. Things are different this time, something even the Veep appears to acknowledge.
In a statement he made a few days earlier, Jha had the candor to claim that discrimination had been reduced to some extent. The top two – albeit ceremonial – offices have gone to the community. The caretaker premier is associated with the Terai constituency he lost in the last test of popular strength than the Kathmandu neighborhood that spurned him. Moreover, a Madhesi leader is among the men staking their claim to form the next government.
And all this is happening at a time when we still haven’t settled on who is a madhesi or what it take to be one – geography, ethnicity, skin color, verbal intonation, political sympathies, social behaviors, etc.
“Why can’t the state openly accept that there exists discrimination at the state level?” “Is it incorrect to demand equal representation?” When Jha asks such questions, they must be taken as rhetorical ones. Otherwise, the deadliness of the Maoist insurgency and the difficulties of peace process are there for all of us to see.
Stung by the parochialism that marred his last attempt at prominence, the Veep has attempted to rope in the cause of other marginalized groups. But the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) has opted to break its own new ground. It declared a fresh stir to pressurize the political parties to draft the constitution on time. “It is immaterial for us which party leads the government and who is elevated as next prime minister,” Rajkumar Lekhi-Tharu, the chairman of NEFIN, said at a press conference. “We want a constitution that ensures rights to the Janajatis,” he said repeatedly.
Finally, someone seems to have their priorities right. NEFIN has declared economic blockade August 14, 2010 for Kathmandu valley and disruption of vehicle movement throughout the country. If this is not the kind of common cause Jha had hoped to build, then perhaps he should begin wooing other constituencies that now feel dispossessed, such as, say, Brahmins and Chettris.
As to the issue of discrimination in general, someone once said that if we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other causes for prejudice by noon. Another averred that human history is written by the fluid of prejudice. Still another claimed that everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences; no one can eliminate prejudices – they can just recognize them.
What do you do after that? Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by argument, we are told. Since it is all in the mind, if you believe that discrimination exists, it will. These nuggets of human wisdom accumulated over experiences good and bad over the centuries have their relevance in our context. But for the international laboratory that we have become, there is that added problem. We can’t really recognize where the highlighting of discrimination ends and the rationalization and legitimization of it begins.