Identity Struggle of Madhesh

Cover photo by Chandra Kishore

Abhishek Jha

The central-level politics of identity has always been used to delegitimize the confrontation. Madhesh is fighting for the space in the sphere of national identity.   The definition of identity shaped by the politically included groups gives an expression of ambiguity in ideology, divergence in behavioral commonness and discrepancy in what we are talking about. Regardless of what the present point illuminates, madhesh is making constructive efforts to embroil the discrepancies for instituting the identity that is equal and non-discriminatory. A shared identity would mean power sharing under consociational democracy, as opposed to majority rule.

Nepali Identity is a consolidated form of what really has been in existence since the history. The existence of homogeneous social group was made peripheral and a more robust monolithic expression of identity was framed at the core of the politics. Differentiated from the national identity, madhesh felt isolation from the politics and perceived state policies as a tool used against it for systematic discrimination. The liberal democracy of Nepal failed to assert the problem of exclusion though it is a multiethnic in nature. The fight of madhesh is to extend the definition of Nepali Identity, to make it more inclusive.

Once I attended the paper presentation by political analyst CK Lal. There he established the cause identity issue in Nepal. He said the cause of identity difference is because of hubristic indifference to acculturation, brutal suppression of dissenting voices and consequent loss of hope of madheshi on state-sponsored identity. This identity politics of the ruling elites kept the nation’s territory intact but severalized the unity among the people. The state has made minimal efforts to address the agendas of politically excluded groups and this has dishonored the spirits of all the outstanding political agreements and settlement measures. The recourse of identity politics that madhesh is currently resorting to, is intended to unionize the difference.

Those proximate to the so-called national identity, have harmonized it with the extended version for the nation, nationality and nationalism of their own. Assertion of any identity by populace depends upon series of action that has happened to strengthen it. The identity discourse led by the madhesh movement is more tenacious about unity and shared interest. The retentivity of political motility, among the people, has shaped an ideological meaning of politics in madhesh. The agendas carried on by the present identity movement are federalism in its fullest sense, inclusion in practical, positive discrimination for demographically marginalized and all possible proactive measures to create plebeian nation.

A decade long and still continuing struggle in madhesh for seeking a common identity has raised a serious question on how we have defined the national identity till now. Deconstruction of identity politics has sparked off. Leaders can again fall back to the same orthodoxical approach of defining national identity, but people cannot. Randhir Chaudhary, a young activist from madhesh has been deconstructing tangled identity politics in Nepal. Along with him, others too understand what identity they hold, how it has been belittled and what measures should they opt to make it more common at a larger level.

Prashant Jha, a journalist, univocally agrees on the political fact no provinces can be ethnic or solely ethnic in Nepal as there is diversity in residents. But he also argues that can we not carve out provinces that give a demographic advantage to the marginalized groups. Off course we can. Assertion of any new political system is a tool to redress the disparity of the past. Switzerland’s federalism respects the local language and the social values. South Africa’s federalism respects ethnicity. India’s federal system addresses the territorial and demographic balance. The political parties in Nepal ran afoul the finer nuances of nationalism. This fueled the identity displacement. Framers of the constitution of Nepal should take a reference of other countries and learn the possible solutions for institutionalizing a common identity of the people with respect for each other’s diversity.

A constitution must reflect identity of all in order to have the ownership of all. Indian Congress president Maulana Abul Kalam Azad summed up the position in two prepositions: i) Whatever constitution is adopted, there must be the fullest guarantee in it for the rights and interests of minorities, and ii) the minorities should judge for themselves what safeguards are necessary for the protection of their rights and interests. The majority should not decide on this. The Constitution of Nepal was promulgated amid the discontents. The dissenting clique of Madheshi , Tharu and Janajati opposed it since its inception. The forced derivative constituent power pushed the constitution and refused to acknowledge the struggle for identity.

The exclusion often leads to the disillusionment and hopelessness, which creates even more uncertainty. Madhesh demands for the constitutional amendment, that would safeguard its rights and interests, respect its identity and consider it as a integral part of the historical struggles, that shaped a new federal Nepal. Election before amendment would mean acceptance of the peripheral location of madhesh in circle of national politics. Amendment of the constitution would increase the ownership and belongingness to common identity.

Student of Law at Kathmandu University



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