Thursday, September 24, 2009

We will establish an army of 100,000 people

(courtesy: www.kantipuronline.com)

Sep 21 - Laxman Tharu, the former Maoist who quit the party in 2006, has for the past few years been busy trying to organize his Tharu support base. More recently, he has formed an alliance with political groups from other ethnicities — the Federal Democratic National Forum (FDNF) - of which is one of the five chairpersons. In addition, he is chairperson of the Tharu Autonomous State Council. Aditya Adhikari and Pranab Kharel spoke to him about the reasons why he joined and later left the Maoists, the nature of his current political organization and its goals.

Q: Which groups are included in the Federal Democratic National Forum (Sanghiya Loktantrik Rastriya Manch) and what are your goals?
Tharu: Our Forum includes the Tharuhat State Council, Limbuwan State Council, Khambuwan , Tamsaling, Newa, Tamuwan, Magarat and Dalit. Before the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections we were an alliance of only three organisations: Tharuhat, Limbuwan and Tamsaling. We have two CA members.

We are trying to create an organization including all Adibasi/Janajatis (indigenous people), Khas — Chhetri, Bahun and Thakuri. This is a party formed on a federal model. We are looking for alternatives for Nepal. The Nepali Congress (NC), which was formed as a democratic party, has been around for 60 years. But it was unable to institutionalize socialism according to the vision of B.P. Koirala. It is not a democratic party. It is a party of traitors to the country. As soon as it gains power, it starts selling the countries rivers and destroying its forests.

After the 1990 Jana Andolan, and through the People’s War the communist parties gained in strength. We had thought that the Maoists would be able to represent us and so we joined their People’s War. But even they could not give Adivasi/Janajatis, Dalits, Muslims and people from backwards regions the direction that we were seeking. They’ve been trying to get away by talking rubbish, by propagating nonsensical ideologies. But we realized that they’re not even real communists, even Prachanda is not a communist. They have completely moved away from the principles they taught party cadres and the public during the People’s War. They have become more interested in their own material
wealth.

Communism has failed the world over. Why did this happen? Because the leaders of the so-called communist parties behaved in a way that was even more disgusting than that of capitalists.

Q: But you were a member of the Maoist party for many years. Tharu: I was just a normal person with a small job. Then, in Kailali in 2054 B.S [1997], elections to local bodies were held. Fourteen houses belonging to Kamaiyas were burnt down because they did not vote for the Shahs and the Singhs. I was in college at that time. We were beaten up and our cycles and vehicles were vandalized. When we went to the administration and the courts, they ignored us. Then, in Bardiya, Gola VDC, a powerful person managed to steal 135 bighas of land belonging to Tharus by registering it under his name. He turned the owners of the land into tenants, into Kamaiyas. These were grave crimes. We couldn’t bear this.

At this time, I began to understand how unjust and criminal the rulers of this country were. I began to look for people who were fighting against the system. As the Maoists were waging a war against feudals I went in search of them. There were hardly any Maoists in the far west until 2055 [1998]. I found a contact number in the Janadesh newspaper and journalists helped me get in touch with Maoists. I then met Badal and Pampha Bhushal and joined the party.

To a certain extent, I am happy that I joined the Maoists. They taught us how to fight, to revolt against injustice. I feel pride in that. But the irony is the leaders of the same party that waged this struggle are now acting like mega-feudals and mega-capitalists.

Q: How did you grow disillusioned with the Maoists?
Tharu:
Discontent and debate arose at the party’s Second National Convention held in 2057 [2000]. At that time Prachanda’s photo was made public and there was talk that he should be given supreme authority (pradhikar). The party was on the verge of a spilt at that point because of the conflict between Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda. It was there that ethnic/caste issues were raised for the first time. It was Jai Krishna Goit who raised the issue of federalism and the right to self-determination. We had good relations with him. He argued that the Maoist party was not at all committed to federalism and the right to self-determination. Being communists, he argued, the Maoists would never accept these demands. Then, at the convention, he said that the Tarai was a separate state, that it wasn’t part of Nepal. The party then removed him as Chairman of the Madhes Mukti Morcha, and installed Matrika Yadav in his place.

Baburam and Prachanda themselves decided to hold a great debate on the question. But no resolution was reached at that time. We had to focus most of our energy on war; we put these issues to the side for the time being.

Q: So Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai opposed federalism at that time?
Tharu:
Its not that they opposed federalism, the debate was about the means or methods of its implementation. They believed that federalism and the right to self-determination should happen as part of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We were more interested in the international laws and conventions that guarantee the rights of indigenous people.
The right to self-determination is not the right to secession. It means that the rights of indigenous people over the water, land and forests (jal, jamin, jungle) of their traditional homelands should be ensured. This cannot happen through the dictatorship of the proletariat, as Maoist leaders believe. The Maoists may say that they are going to form federal provinces according to ethnicity and that the rights of all groups will be ensured, but these are only tactical slogans to get the support of the people. They have no intention of delivering on it. Otherwise why would the in charge of their Tharu State Committee be a Kandel, the in charge of their Tamsaling State Committee a Sapkota.


Q: When exactly did you quit the Maoist party?
Tharu:
The debate about self-determination and federalism became more contentious, and so my relations with the party soured. Prachanda went to programmes organized by the Madhesis many times after the conflict with Jai Krishna Goit. Prachanda and Baburam both went to programmes held by Limbus, Rais and other groups many times. But they never paid any attention to the Tharus. We thought: over 2000 Tharus sacrificed themselves in the war, why is our leadership still ignoring us? Even now the Tharus don’t have an important role in the Maoist party. There may be 14 Tharu Maoist CA members. But there is no Tharu who is involved at the policy-making level in the party.

Moreover, after the Second National Convention, we began to realize that the Maoists weren’t committed to federalism and the right to self-determination. I quit the party in 2063 B.S [2006].

Q: What specifically are the rights that indigenous people should have in Nepal?
Tharu:
There are discussions on this issue both in the CA and outside it. Internationally too, this issue has become a matter of debate in countries like the Phillipines, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Turkey, Malaysia and most recently in Peru. There has recently been a revolt of indigenous people in Peru. There is one common slogan that we share: nobody should be allowed to abuse the natural resources of indigenous people. Multinational companies shouldn’t be allowed to destroy the natural environment where indigenous people live.

In Nepal, without ensuring the rights of indigenous people, neither peace nor development is possible. Nepal is a country rich in natural resources and the indigenous people have a great love of their environment. None of us wish to sell the resources of the country or to have our country’s borders encroached.

The first right that we desire is the right to information. No matter who is in power, we should be the first to be informed about what is happening on our territory, on our water, on our resources. Maybe the rulers will try to sell our rivers. Maybe huge forests will be destroyed. We should be informed of this beforehand. The state cannot unilaterally take such decisions. Our permission needs to be taken. The Limbus should have the power to decide what to do with the resources on their territory, to decide what industries should be established in Limbuwan, or what areas to urbanise. The Tharus should have the same rights in Tharuhat. Indigenous people should have the first right to natural resources on their territory according to international law.

Q: You say that you don’t agree with the Maoists’ insistence on class. But isn’t inequality in Nepal based as much on class as ethnicity?
Tharu:
Some Black people read the Communist Manifesto, which insisted on the dictatorship of the proletariat. They then wrote a letter to Marx that said: “Look Marx. You are a Brahmin. If you keep a servant in your house who happens to be a Brahmin and pay him Rs. 20,000 a month he will be considered an employee. But if you employ a Black person, even if you pay him Rs. 50,000, he will be considered a slave.”

I have seen Tharus employ Tharu kamaiyas in their houses. But in such cases master and servant work in the fields together, sing and dance together, and eat in the same kitchen in the evening. But if Tharus work in the house of a Brahmin or members of other ethnic groups, the master will live separately. He will probably keep his servant hungry and beat him with a stick. He may even rape the Tharu’s wife or daughter.

We need to be self-reliant. Tharus have worked in other political parties in the past. Some have become ministers. Some have gotten jobs in the Army and police. But this did not make us self-reliant. We only carried the bags of others, ate what they gave us and did what they told us to do. Today we are learning to become self-reliant.
Class struggle is not going to liberate us. I feel that we should have taken up arms. It is our right to revolt for our rights.

Q: What concrete steps are you taking to establish your organization?
Tharu:
We have just completed the formation of the Councils of all ethnicities/castes. We have a national convention of Dalits and Khas people soon. We are declaring the establishment of a political party consisting of all state councils within two months. We have already decided to hold a national convention to unite the party. We have also decided on our ideology. Our ultimate goal is “federal socialism.” We have rejected communism and Marxism; we have rejected capitalist social democracy. We are still discussing what the specific characteristics of “federal socialism” will be.

Q: This is all at the national level. How are you expanding your organizational base in your area, the Western Tarai?
Tharu:
When Mahakali, Tanakpur, Gandak and other rivers were sold, the administration, police and the Army just stood by doing nothing. We believe that these old state organs cannot provide security to the country. So we are out of necessity forming the Tharuhat army, the Magarat army, the Limbuwan army, the Khasaan army. It is not a big deal to learn how to use guns and bombs. People can do so easily. But the important issue is how to use the organizational power that you have for the benefit of the people. We have set a target to establish an army of 100,000 people. Cadres are being trained across the country.

Q: How will you procure guns and bombs?
Tharu:
It is not necessary to have guns and bombs for the process of demanding one’s rights. If they are properly trained, people can protect themselves, their communities and country with sticks alone. Our movement will not involve guns and bombs, will not involve the capture and looting of police posts. It is not a Maoist style People’s War.

Q: All groups seem to be part of your Forum except for Madhesis.
Tharu:
There is no such thing as Madhes or Madhesi in Nepal. I don’t know where this concept came from. I don’t know whether Upendra Yadav is from Nepal or Bihar. Somehow he has managed to get Nepali citizenship. But whatever he may be, he is not a Madhesi. He is a Yadav. He has his own caste. There are other castes: Tripathis, Thakurs. Why’re these people abandoning their castes and looking for trouble by declaring they are Madhesi?

Somehow those parties managed to lead what they call the Madhes movement and Upendra Yadav did well in the elections. That is good. But let us see if they will be able to win even five seats in the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) side of the next elections. We challenge them. It is no longer possible to do politics in the name of the Madhes in the Tarai. Those parties that did are all splitting up and becoming weaker.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The real story of the Tharus

Late Ramanand Prasad Singh, Ex-Attorney General of Nepal, speaks about the Tharu roots at a press conference in Patna, India on 17 May 1988

The purpose of this press conference is to expose some of the false senses that have been created round the Tharus community and to bring to light facts in history that tell us the real story about the origin and development of that community.

The fanciful, unfounded, maligned and false story about the Tharu community has done much damage to the community’s growth and progress which both the Government of India and Nepal have in view. Tenuous and recurrent are the themes about the origin of the name ‘Tharu’ from the ‘Tharu desert’. Many writers, without any substantial evidence, have put forward their proposition that the Tharus migrated from the Thar Desert in the 13th to 15th century and, therefore, they began to call themselves, or others call them the Tharus. To this story they attempted to lend credence by mentioning the immigration of Rajput women from Chitor Garha in Rajasthan during the Muslim and Mogal periods. They did flee Rajasthan during the sack of Chitour by Alloudin Khilji and Emperor Akbar. One story says that Jaimal and Fahta, decidedly great names in the annals of Rajasthan, were killed by Akbar’s forces and the men of their race fled to the jungles of Nepal, and the sons and daughters produced by their marriage with their carriers and servants are the ‘Tharus’. Some ignorant and crafty Tharus have indeed tried to cash in on this theory by saying that they came from Rajasthan due to Muslim atrocities over them and began their life afresh in the new land bereft of their sacred thread, because they adopted agriculture as their main profession and not war fare as true Rajput did in those days. Some so-called writers who came forward as Socio-Anthropologists have lent support to this theory thus: that the Tharus came from Rajasthan and their thesis is that they are the sons and daughters of the fleeing Rajput women who married their servants who came with them. Another theory, similar in nature, is that the Tharus are the descendents of the Bhills of Rajasthan who accompanied their Rajput Mistresses and came to Nepal Tarai during the middle ages. In support of their thesis they say that the Bhills colour and customs resemble Tharus complexion and some of their customs.

Now, I categorically reject these theories about the Tharu origin. What I have found in history is altogether different. I do not say on mere conjecture but on the basis of solid facts of ancient Indian History.

What I discovered about the Tharus is that it is a pre-Aryan race of Mongoloid origin. The socialists of India like D.N. Majumdar and others agree to this view that theories of their being Astroloids is nothing else but fiction and have not an iota of truth in it.

The true facts about the origin of the Tharus lie elsewhere. They originated in Nepal and are the remnants of the Sakya’s and Kolya’s, the two branches of the descendants of Okaka and Okamukha, the kings of Banaras. During the time of sage Kapil who had his ashram in the area which later became known as Kapilvastu, King Okaka had married a second wife in his old age and he was forced by the younger queen to promise to make her son the next king. The king Okamukha was very pious minded and, therefore, informed his three sons from his elder wife of his predicament and advised them not to revolt in his life time but to recapture their kingdom after his death from their step brother.

The four sons left the kingdom instead of thinking that there were no dearth of land and they could find a new kingdom. The five sisters, the eldest name was Priya, also joined their brother and left the country of Kosala and came to Kapil's Ashram and sought his permission to settle in the region by clearing the jungle and cultivating the forest land. Kapil readily agreed but requested them to name their state as Kapilvastu after his name. So the new country came to be known as Kapilvastu.

Now gentlemen, what I said is no figment of imagination. These facts are writ-large in the Buddhist literature-'Lalit Bistar' and 'Jatak' tales; the birth stories as narrated by Buddha, support it.

The world knows that the Buddha created a revolution in the then deteriorating Hindu society by denying and denouncing Varna Vyabastha and the caste system. His proposition that all men are born equal and are the architect of their own life was very painful to the Brahmins and the people supporting Brahminism. They saw their power structure shaking and near destruction. The doctrine of equality of freedom shook the very foundation of the Hindu Society based on the caste-system and fatalism, on the inexorable law of past Karm.

Manu, observing the social and religious conduct of the tribal to which Buddha belonged called them ‘Bratya Kshtriyas, that is, those noble men of power who believed in ‘Brata’ and ‘Upabas, and who, though they had their own territory and country, were farmers by occupation. Buddha’s father Suddhodhana was a big owner of the land and used to go round his farms with stick in hand. The Tharus have been farmer by occupation down the ages. They never did the works which is regarded by the caste Hindu as menial. If you will minutely observe their religious rites, they consist mainly of Brata’ and Upabas, just as obtained at the time of the Buddha. Buddha, as a matter of fact, being dissatisfied with the ascetic methods of the Hindu sages and seers, reverted back to his family tradition of ‘Brata’ and ‘Upabas, taking vow of achieving his goal determinedly and with resolution. The ‘Bhumi Sparsa’ or the earth touching posture of the Buddha bears witness to this fact. One can still find parallels in Buddha’s tradition and the Tharus tradition of ‘Brata,.

The facial features of the ‘THARUS’ too resemble the earliest stone images of the Buddha. ‘Dharm Chakra Paribartana’ Mudra of the Buddha is immortalized in the Sarnath Statue of the Buddha. The statue bears no sacred thread as do the images of Hindu gods. There is no mention of Yagyopabit (sacred thread ceremony) and chudamani karma in the biography of the Buddha as revealed in the Tripitaka religious literature. Vicent Smith, Oldenberg, Basham all renowned historians, have vouched that the Buddha was not of the Aryan stock, that he belonged to a tribe of mongoloid extraction. The Tharus bear that feature. The physiognomy of the Tharu tribe immediately comes before our minds here. The Tharus have the same facial features. They lived and still live in the same terrain. The place of their origin, Kapilvastu has always had Tharus as the main element of its population.

There is yet another proof I would like to offer in support of my proposition that the Buddha belonged to the same clan from which comes the Tharus community. Its scientific importance cannot be disregarded. Mr. Brayan Hodgson writes in his book, “ Bodo; Dhimal and Kooche tribes” that these tribes almost immune from malaria. To get that immunity, he says, that they must have lived in the present habitat for at least three thousand years. Now, gentle men, we celebrated in Nepal the 2532 birth, enlightenment and death anniversary of the Lord Buddha in the last Baisakha purnima. Does not it take the Tharus community’s origin back to the times of the Buddha or earlier? Recent books too suggest similar conclusions. The book the ‘Historical tradition of India’ written by learned Pargitar has suggested that if there be any remnants of the Buddha’s tribe, it is the Tharus. Tissa Kashyapa, who is a present day professor of Buddhism religion at Nalanda Pali Institute in his article “the history of Buddhism” contained in an anthology edited by Kenneth Morgan, mentions the Tharus rituals as reminiscent of their Buddhist origin. Prof. Rhys Davids is positive that Buddha belonged to a Mongoloid tribe, Vicent Smith is is of the same the view. And finally, I came to what history records. Those who have written about the Tharus, or referred to them in olden times, personalities, the veracity of whose statements are beyond doubt. Sylvan Levy, the great French Historian, whose ‘Le Nepal’ is a common source for all Historians who have written or who still write about Nepal and its people, cannot do without consulting ‘Le Nepal’. Now Levy refers to the great Buddhist historian and polymath, Taranath (Born 1575) as to Champaran as the land of the Tharus from which tribe issued Ashoka. I see no reason to doubt him. Ashoka is the grand son of Chandragupt Maurya, who was born in Champaran at a place which abounded in Peacocks. The place of his birth, Piplikanan’ points out to the Tharu habitat. As a matter of fact, the meal of Ashoka contained as one major item, the peacock dish.

Bear with me gentlemen of the press. I have yet one more proof to offer which tells you of the Tharus’ ancient origin and ancestry. The name of Padma Sambhawa, the ‘Lotus Born’ is known all over the world, as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism. It was he to whom credit goes as the great founder of Vajrayan Cult of Mahayan Buddhism in Tibet and Nepal. He is respected in Tibet as great Guru or Guru Rinpoche. His biography tells us that he visited Kamru, Tharu, Tirhut and many other important places in India. He was a renowned professor of yoga in the famous Buddhist University at Nalanda in the eight century. He is worshiped in Mahayana Countries as a Bodhistawa that is a future Buddha.

The father of Buddha, Suddhodhana was not a Chakrabarti king but only a large Bhumipati and was the elected leader of his people who lived in the land cleared of mighty Sakhuwa trees. Sakhuwa was their national tree and from that name Sakya (mighty, able) derives. Buddha's father's name Sudhodhana literally means pure rice. The Tharus still use the world 'Odana' when they inquire of their guests as to whether they had had their meals by asking then whether they had had their 'Odana'.

Again, it is well known to the Buddhist historians that the Buddha’s ancestors, when they came to resettle in the woods of Kapilvastu, the brothers married their own sisters while the eldest sister Priya ran the household by remaining unmarried. Now if the Buddha’s ancestors had been the Kshatriyas of Hindu concept, they could not have married their own sisters. It would have been sacrilegious, abhorring to the caste Hindu. Siddhartha married his own maternal sister Yashodhara of the clan of Koliya, begotten of Priya by king of Banaras who lived in a near by jungle suffering from leprosy and who was cured by eating leaves of the Koilar (Koliya) tree. Priya, who had to leave her brother due also to leprosy, was helped by Ram to get ride of leprosy and who ultimately married her and begot many sons and daughters. It was the Sakya and the Koliyan people who became initiated later on in Buddhism, after the Buddha having gained enlightenment and having many disciples came to Kapilvastu to meet his family. The people of those two clans who conducted themselves according to Buddha’s original doctrines as reported by their elders came to be known as Therabadins. These followers of Theravada Buddhism came to be called ‘Sthavir’. It is from this word that the name Tharu derives. From Sthavir to Thavir and from Thavir to Tharu is an easy and logical verbal transition. This interpretation of the word ‘Tharu’ is logical and in keeping with their traditional values and behavior.

The Tharus live a simple life and are renowned for their honesty. Sociologists and anthropologists all bear out this truth about the Tharus. The Tharus believe in ‘Brata and Upabas’ and know not the Hindu rites of Yoga or Homa. They do not wear sacred thread as do the Brahmins and Rajput communities. As a matter of fact and honesty, they were converted into Hinduism by the Hindu priests and Shankracharya both by

Now when you hear from him that in the eighth century he visited Tharu or the land of Tharus, where does the fictitious theory of the’Tharu origin’ from Thar Desert, or branding them as the sons and daughters of the Rajput women and their servant, stand?

The Tharus are of Nepalese origin. They originated in Nepal and around Kapilvastu and are to-day to be found all over Nepal Tarai and many border lying districts of India ranging from the border of Uttar Pradesh to the border of Bengal. Hope, these expositions of the origin and development of the community called the Tharus will help eradicate some of the mischievous and twisted, much maligned stories about the Tharus and scholars, historians, sociologists and others would review the stand of the past writers on the subject.

Thank you all.
photo credit: Yodod via photopin cc

Digging for Tharu roots



Book Review: The Kings of Nepal & the Tharu of the Tarai Edited by Gisele Krasukopff and Pamela Deuel Meyer rusca press and CNAS

A new book pores through royal records to find how past kings dealt with Nepal's indigenous Tharus

CK Lal in Nepali Times (Courtesy: Nepali Times)

Under oppressive circumstances, it's too frightening to contemplate the gloom that lies ahead. Dreams turn into nightmares. Fear replaces hope. Saving sanity becomes the top priority. In such situations, it's not unusual to fall back upon the glories of an imagined past.

The only source of glory of all subject communities in a kingdom is their association with the ruling dynasty. Hence it's not unusual that Tej Narayan Panjiar began to collect Royal Documents to reclaim the honour that was accorded by the rulers of the land to his ancestors.

In Maithil society, Panjiar is traditionally a person who keeps the genealogical records of a particular cast. In this volume, the collector's canvass is much bigger ranging from Vijayapur in the eastern tarai to Binayekpur in the Gorakhpur district of Indian territory. However, the omission of four districts of Naya Muluk (Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur) raises an important question-isn't the present plight of Tharus in this region and their absence of any visible connection with the royal dynasty somehow interrelated?

Land administration in the tarai for the benefit of the rulers is the basic theme of all the lal mohars in the collection. The current Chairman of the Raj Parishad Parshu Narayan Chaudhary is perhaps the first Tharu court noble. The Panjiar Collection gives a glimpse of Tharu history spanning nearly three centuries. No Tharu in that entire period seems to have acquired an office of prominence under any king.

Unsurprisingly, most anthropologists studying Nepal have concentrated their interests on ethnic groups of the hills, valleys and mountains. Academic enquiries aren't as unbiased as they claim to be. It has been in the interest of the ruling class-and their imperial sponsors abroad-to create a body of knowledge about Rais, Gurungs, Magars and Limbus because these valiant tribal groups have traditionally produced cannon fodder. Bahun, Chhetri and Newars had to be studied because they are the ones who have always ruled, and continue to rule, this country. Tarai communities were never considered important enough to deserve special attention, but this book could be a harbinger of change.

In addition to the names credited on the cover, acknowledgements in the book mentions Mahesh Chandra Regmi, Harka Gurung, Rishikesh Shaha, Prem Khatry, Tirtha Prasad Mishra, Kanak Mani Dixit and Suresh Lama. It's difficult to imagine a more exclusive team of Nepalis to appropriate the history of Tharus for the court in Kathmandu.

Educated Tharus bemoan the double jeopardy of their community: they are too close to madhesis to be anything else, but too beholden to the court in Kathmandu (due to tenancy relationships) to develop local solidarity. The crisis in Naya Muluk is even more acute where, at present, the security forces consider every Tharu youth to be a Maobadi unless proven otherwise, and the insurgents are so suspicious about cadre there that most militia commanders are from the hills.

This collection succeeds in laying the foundation of future studies by chronicling the glories of the past. The challenge now is to overcome fears and begin dreaming about an inclusive Nepali society where Tharu will cease to be a term of abuse and acquire its rightful place in the polity of the country. (Review by CK Lal)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

थरुहट आन्दोलन, दलित र मनुस्मृति

महेश चौधरी


2009-03-24,Tuesday (Courtesy: www.nayapatrika.com)

थरुहट आन्दोलन मधेसीकरण र विखण्डनवादविरुद्ध थारूलागायत तराईका अन्य आदिवासी, धार्मिक अल्पसंख्यक र राष्ट्रपे्रमी, देशभक्तहरूले स्वस्फूर्त गरेको आन्दोलन थियो । दुई साता लामो विदेश भ्रमणबाट स्वदेश फर्केपछि मधेसी जनअधिकार फोरमका अध्यक्ष एवं सरकारका परराष्ट्रमन्त्री उपेन्द्र यादवले चैत ३ गते त्रिभुवन विमानस्थलको विशिष्ट कक्षमा त्यहाँ उपस्थित पत्रकारलाई भने, 'थरुहट आन्दोलन भूकम्पको अन्तिम धक्का हो, हाम्रो पार्टीलाई फाइदा पुगेको छ ।' थरुहट आन्दोलन चरम उत्कर्षमा पुगेको वेला मन्त्री यादव देशबाहिर भएकाले त्यसको झट्काको अनुभव गर्न पाएनन् । तसर्थ उनले भूकम्पीय धक्काको अन्तिम तरंगको मात्र अनुभव गर्न पाए । जे होस्, फोरमलाई झट्का लाग्न त लागेकै हो । भूकम्पीय धक्का कति रेक्टरको थियो, सिस्मोग्राफ यन्त्रले नाप्न सकेन, तर भूकम्पको इपिसेन्टर -केन्द्रविन्दु) भने मधेस आन्दोलनको बीचै भागमा रहेको थियो । धक्काले गर्दा मधेस आन्दोलन तीन भागमा विभाजन हुन पुगेछ ः मधेसी, आदिवासी र मुस्लिम । दलितमा भने चिरा मात्र परेछ, चिरा परेपछि अन्ततः ब्रेक हुनेछ । यसर्थ थरुहट आन्दोलनबाट फोरम पार्टीलाई राम्रै फाइदा पुगेको रहेछ भन्ने कुरा हामीलाई थाहा भयो ।

दलित र अन्य सन्दर्भलाई हेर्ने हो भने फोरमको पवित्र ग्रन्थ मनुस्मृति हो । हालका मन्त्री यादवले जब नेकपा -माओवादी) परित्याग गरी फोरम गठन गर्ने क्रममा पहिलो कार्यक्रम गरेका थिए काठमाडौंको राष्ट्रिय सभागृहमा, त्यहाँ उपस्थित श्रोतामाझ 'मनुस्मृतिका आधारमा नेपाल सबै मधेस हो' भनेर केसम्म भनेका थिए, हुटिङ भयो र कार्यक्रम नै बिथोलियो । त्यसपछि जेपी गुप्ता र यादवले आठ सय वर्षदेखि भारतमै हराएको मधेस, आर्यावर्त, हिन्दू धार्मिक राज्य यही नेपालको तराईमा भेट्टायौँ भन्न थाले ।

मनुस्मृतिअनुसार श्रीकृष्ण ब्राह्मण र क्षेत्रीलाई छाडेर केवल वैश्य र शूद्रलाई चाहिँ रक्त अशुद्धता भएको जाति ठान्छन् । यसर्थ यादव समावेश रहेको सरकारद्वारा जारी अध्यादेशमा तराईका दलित, जनजाति र धार्मिक अल्पसंख्यक समुदायका मानिसहरू मनुस्मृति धार्मिक ग्रन्थअनुसार पापयोनिबाट जन्मेका हुनाले उनीहरूको अधिकार हरणयोग्य छ भन्ने मान्यता राखेको हुनुपर्छ । मन्त्री गुप्ताले आध्यादेश खारेज भए विद्रोह गर्छौ भनेर त्यसै भनेका होइनन् । जम्बुद्वीप, आर्यावर्त वा महाभारत जे भने पनि त्यहाँ बाहुनवाद थियो । वेद पढेमा शूद्रका कानमा सिसा पगालेर हालिन्थ्यो । ब्रह्माको मुखबाट ऊ जन्मिएकाले, उसलाई सर्वश्रेष्ठ मान्ने परम्परा थियो । यो व्यवस्था सात सालअघिसम्म कानुनी रूपमै रह्यो । अब नेपाल तराईमा त्यही व्यवस्था पुनः फर्काउने प्रयासमा फोरम छ । आर्यहरूको मानवताद्रोही र जातिभेदवादी दस्ताबेजको नाम मनुस्मृति ग्रन्थ हो । यद्यपि, मनुनामक क्षेत्रीले समाजमा राम्रो व्यवस्था कायम गर्नका लागि योे ग्रन्थ रचेका हुन्, तर भृगु बाहुनहरूले मनुस्मृतिलाई भृगुस्मृति बनाइदिए । यसमा आर्यहरूको जन्मदेखि मृत्युसम्मको कर्मकाण्ड, उनीहरूका भक्ष-अभक्ष पदार्थको विवरण उल्लेख गर्दै ब्राह्मणले क्षेत्रीय, वैश्यलाई कसरी कजाउने र शूद्रलाई भोजननिम्ति जुठो अन्न, आङ ढाक्न पुराना वस्त्र तथा ओछ्यानका लागि धानको पराल र ओढ्नका लागि जीर्ण सिरक दिनुपर्छ भनेर उल्लेख गरिएको छ ।

शूद्रलाई बुद्धि दिनु हुँदैन । आफ्नो सेवकलाई बाहेक कुनै दोस्रो शूद्र -भोकै मर्छ भने पनि) लाई जुठो अन्नसमेत खान दिनु हुँदैन । देवतालाई मन्सिएको खाद्यपदार्थ पनि शूद्रलाई भक्षण गर्न नदिइयोस् । शूद्रजातिले ब्राह्मणादि उच्च तीन वर्णलाई कठोर वचनसाथ आक्षेप लगाउँछ भने त्यस शूद्रको जिब्रो काटिदिनुपर्छ, किनभने त्यो सबैभन्दा नीच वर्णमा उत्पन्न भएको हो । शूद्रले बाहुन, क्षेत्रीको जात तथा नाम काट्दै निन्दा गरेमा त्यसको मुखमा दस अङ्गुल लामो फलामे किला आगोमा पोली रातो पारेर घुसारिदिनू । शूद्रले घमण्डका साथ बाहुनलाई उपदेश दिएमा राजाले त्यस शूद्रका मुख र कानभित्र उम्लँदो तेल खन्याइदिनू । शूद्रले आफ्नो हात-गोडामध्ये जुन अंगद्वारा उच्च जातिउपर प्रहार गर्छ त्यही अंगलाई राजाले काटी फ्याकिदिनू, यो मनुको आज्ञा हो । शूद्र बाहुनसँगसँगै एउटै आसनमा बस्यो भने राजाले त्यसको कम्मरमा आगोले रातो पारिएको फलामे डन्डीले डामेर देशनिकाला गरिदिनू वा नाक काटिदिनू । शूद्रले घमण्डका साथ ब्राह्मणको शरीरमा थुकिदिएमा त्यसका दुवै ओठ, मुतिदिएमा यौनांग कटाई फ्याँकिदिनू ।

कस्तो अमानुषिक तरिकाले यातना दिनुपर्ने हो, ती उपदेश मनुस्मृतिमा उल्लेख गरिएका छन्, जुन मनुस्मृतिको हिमायती पार्टी हो फोरम । मनुस्मृतिमा उल्लेख छ— चाण्डाल र स्वपच -अछुत) हरूको बसोवास गाउँबाहिर हुनुपर्छ । यिनीहरूसँग भाँडाकुँडा केही हुनु हुँदैन, कुकुर र गधा यिनीहरूको सम्पत्ति हो । लासलाई ढाकी फालेको कात्रो यिनीहरूले ओढ्नुपर्छ । शूद्रको सम्पत्ति हरणयोग्य छ । शूद्र खरिद गरिएको होस् वा नहोस् उसलाई दासको काम गराउनुपर्छ किनभने विधाताले त्यसलाई बाहुनको दासकर्म गरिदिनका लागि नै बनाएको छ ।

विसं. १९१० मा राणा प्रधानमन्त्री जंगबहादुरले आश्विन ५ देखि दसजना मधेसी बाहुन -नौजना झा र एकजना मिश्र) लाई जातअनुसार नियम बनाउन अधिकार प्रदान गरेका थिए । उनीहरूको विपरीत गएका खण्डमा रु. पाँचदेखि रु. ३० सम्म जरिवाना गर्नसक्ने अधिकार पाएको र कसैले उनीहरूको धर्म र भनाइअनुसार नचलेमा आफ्नो जातैबाट पतीतसम्म गर्न सक्ने अधिकार पाएका थिए । यसै अधिकारका आधारमा तराईमा राणाकालभरि यिनीहरूले मनपरी गरेको कुरा रेवतीरमण खनालले आफ्नो कानुनको पुस्तकमा उल्लेख गरेका छन् । ठीक यसै गरी श्रीकृष्णका सन्तानहरू र मधेसी उच्च जातिहरूले एक्काइसौँ शताब्दीको हाम्रो संघीय लोकतान्त्रिक गणतन्त्रमा 'मनुस्मृति'अनुसार तराईका आदिवासी, धार्मिक अल्पसंख्यक र दलितलाई मधेसीकरण गरेर 'मधेस' आर्यावर्त स्थापना गर्न खोजेका हुन् भन्नेमा कुनै शंका लिनुपर्दैन । हिन्दू धर्मका हिमायती, मनुस्मृतिका अनुयायी नेपालका केही कम्युनिस्ट घटकलाई आर्यावर्त चाहिएकाले उनीहरूलाई 'तराई मधेस' नामकरण चाहिएको छ । अफशोच, मन्त्री महोदय विदेश-भ्रमणबाट अलि ढिलो आए, थरुहट आन्दोलनको भूकम्पीय तरंग मत्थर हुने वेलाको अलि कम झट्काको अनुभव गर्न पाए, अब ज्वालामुखी विस्फोटको अनुभव गर्न बाँकी नै छ ।
-चौधरी नेकपा एमालेका सभासद् हुन्)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

भूमिपुत्र थारूहरूको आन्दोलन

किशोर नेपाल

(Courtesy: Naya Patrika, 15 March 2009)

सशस्त्र द्वन्द्वको समयमा सरकारी सुरक्षा निकाय थारू समुदायका तन्नेरीहरूलाई सोझै हिंसात्मक आन्दोलनसँग जोड्ने गर्थे । मध्य र सुदूरपश्चिमका सुरक्षा-पोस्टहरूमा बसेका हाकिमहरू कुनै पनि लक्का जवान थारू केटा वा केटीलाई देख्नेबित्तिकै माओवादीको आरोप लगाइहाल्थे । त्यतिवेला, यात्राका क्रममा यो स्तम्भकारले सुखड, पहलमानपुर, अतरिया र वुडरका चेकपोस्टमा सुरक्षाकर्मीले थारू केटा वा केटीको हुर्मत लिएको देखेको छ । द्वन्द्वकालीन सरकारहरूको अनुभवमा थारूहरूको सक्रिय सहभागिताले माओवादी आन्दोलनलाई ऊर्जा दिएको थियो । सुरक्षाकर्मीहरूको यो पूर्वनियोजित मानसिकताका कारण धेरै थारूले दुःख पाएका थिए । हिंसाको त्यो कालखण्डमा धेरै तन्नेरी थारूले अनाहकमा ज्यान गुमाउनुपरेको थियो । धेरै थारू विस्थापित भएका थिए । देशमा बृहत् शान्तिप्रक्रिया सुरु हुन्जेलसम्ममा धेरै सचेत थारूमाथि माओवादीको ठप्पा लागिसकेको थियो । टाठाबाठामा गनिने केही थारूले तत्कालीन सत्ताको ओत पनि नपाएका होइनन् । तर, ती नगण्य थिए । आन्दोलनको व्यापकतामा समेटिएका विशाल थारू समुदायका अगाडि ती केही पनि थिएनन् । जनआन्दोलनको दोस्रो शृंखलामा त्यो विशाल थारू समुदाय आन्दोलनको मुख्य ऊर्जा बनेको थियो ।

नेपालका आदिवासी जातिका रूपमा थारूहरूको पहिचान कसैले स्थापित गरिरहनुपर्ने विषय होइन । नेपाली जीवनको तस्बिरबाट थारूलाई निकालिदिने हो भने त्यो तस्बिरको औचित्य नै बाँकी रहन सक्दैन । नेपालीका रूपमा थारूहरूको निख्खर पहिचानलाई कसैले खोस्न सक्दैन । उनीहरूको त्यो पहिचान मेटाउन खोजियो भने देशका रूपमा नेपालको परिचय नै खण्डित हुने भयावह अवस्था आउनेछ । नेपाली राज्यको मौलिक स्वरूपको निर्माणमा अपरिहार्य र अविभाज्य भूमिका रहेका जाति र जनजातिको नाम लिँदा सबैभन्दा पहिले उच्चारण गर्नुपर्ने जाति हो, थारू । विडम्बना कि राज्यको बृहत् स्वरूपबाट सधँै उपेक्षित रहेको, सधँै ठगिएको र सधँै शोषित रहेको जाति पनि थारू नै छ । एकाग्रता र लगनशीलता थारू जातिका विशेष गुण, हुन् । कृषिकर्ममा होस् वा आन्दोलनमा, थारू कि त लाग्दै लाग्दैन, लागेपछि सम्पूर्ण तन्मयताका साथ लाग्छ । थारू जातिको सबभन्दा ठूलो गुण यही हो ।

नेपालका थारूहरू समाजको आधुनिकीकरणबाट पर्याप्त फाइदा लिनबाट चुकेका वा वञ्चित गरिएका जातिमा पर्छन् । भूमिपुत्रका रूपमा नुन र पीरोसँगै औलो र अन्य अनेक प्रकारका व्याधी पचाउँदै आएका थारूको विस्थापन पनि नेपालको आधुनिकीकरणसँगै जोडिएको छ । अमेरिकी सहयोगमा नेपालको तराई र भित्री मधेसबाट औलो उन्मूलन गरिएपछि ती क्षेत्रका भूमि विस्तारै गैरथारूबाट आवाद हुन थाले । थारूहरूले नयाँ आवादकर्तालाई खुला दिलले स्वागत मात्र गरेनन्, उनीहरूको स्थायित्वको जग बसाउन पर्याप्त सहयोग पनि गरे । यसक्रममा थारूहरूले थाहै पाउन सकेनन्, कतिवेला उनीहरू जग्गाधनीबाट कमैया भइसकेका थिए । अरूलाई स्थापित गराउने धूनमा स्वयं विस्थापित भइसकेका थिए ।

नेपालका समाजशास्त्रीले थारू जातिलाई शक्तिको हिसाबले थाकेका वा कमजोर हुँदै गएका जातिका रूपमा चित्रण गर्ने गरेका छन् । उनीहरूको विचारमा थारू यस्तो जाति हो जो आपmनो पृथक् जातीय अस्तित्वका लागि संघर्ष गर्ने स्थितिमै रहेको थिएन । अन्य उत्साहित जातीय समूहभित्र समाहित हुँदै गएको निष्कर्षमा पुगेका थिए समाजशास्त्रीहरू । तर, अहिलेका घटनाक्रमले त्यसलाई गलत सावित गरिदिएको छ । अहिले चर्किएको आन्दोलनले थारूलाई क्लान्त र राजनीतिक रूपले निष्त्रिmय जातिबाट जीवित ज्वालामुखीका रूपमा विस्फोटित गराइदिएको छ । अहिलेको आन्दोलनले थारूको चुलोमा सत्ताको रोटी पकाउँदै आएका मधेसवादी र माओवादीको नारा संकटमा परेको छ । मधेसवादीलेे एक प्रदेशका रूपमा बनाउन खोजेको मधेसभित्र आफू अटाउन नसक्ने घोषणा थारूहरूले गरिसकेका छन् । त्यसैगरी, सरकारका रूपमा प्रस्तुत हुनुअघि थारूहरूको छुट्टै प्रदेश बनाउने नारा दिने माओवादीले थारूहरूको विश्वास नराम्रोसँग गुमाएका छन् ।

०४६ को जनआन्दोलनले बृहत्तर थारू समाजलाई उद्वेलित नगरेको होइन । त्यसवेलाको आन्दोलनले थारू जातिमा क्रियात्मक चेतनाको राम्रै विकास गर्यो । शासनका विधि-विधानबाट पन्छिएर होइन, त्यसमा सहभागिता खोजेर मात्र थारू जातिको विकास हुने निष्कर्षमा पुग्यो, थारू समुदाय । देशको शासनमा भागिदार कांग्रेस र एमाले जस्ता पार्टीमा थारूको सहभागिता उल्लेख्य रूपमा बढ्यो । तर, ठूला दलहरूले किनारामा लेखिएका साक्षीका रूपमा मात्र थारू जातिको अस्तित्वलाई स्वीकार गरे । थारूहरूको घना आवादी भएका जिल्लामा समेत कांग्रेस र एमालेले थारूलाई नेतृत्वमा राखेनन् । यति मात्र होइन, थारू जातिलाई देशका कुनै पनि आर्थिक र सामाजिक गतिविधिमा समावेश गरिएन । विदेशमा रोजगारीको अवसर होस् वा स्वदेशमा शिक्षाको, थारूहरू सरकारका कार्यक्रममा कतै पनि अटाउन सकेनन् । यही कारण हो कि नेपालीे राष्ट्रिय राजनीतिको कुनै पनि पक्षमा यतिखेर पनि थारू नेताहरूको खडेरी परेको छ । पहाड वा मधेस जहाँका हुन्, ब्राह्मण र बनियाँहरूले आफूलाई भूमिपुत्र सावित गर्न जतिसुकै ठूलो स्वरले कराए पनि थारूहरूको अघिल्तिर उनीहरू पुड्का सावित हुन्छन् । ब्राह्मण र बनियाँ दुवै यस्ता जाति हुन्, जो तामाको एउटा थाली र एउटा खच्चडका भरमा पनि आपmनो अस्तित्व धान्न सिपालु हुन्छन् । मधेसमा यो कुरा प्रत्यक्ष देखिन्छ । कुनै एउटा ढुंगोलाई देवताको रूपमा स्थापित गरेर सबैको निधारमा टीका लगाइदिँदै दक्षिणा बटुल्दै हिँड्ने ब्राह्मण र खच्चडको पिठ्यूँमा दुई भारी बतासा बोकाएर बजार-बजार चहार्ने बनियाँका बीच अनौठो तादात्म्य रहेको हुन्छ । बुद्ध धर्मावलम्बी र मुस्लिम धर्मावलम्बीका बीच धार्मिक र समुदायगत रूपमा कुनै प्रकारको समानता हुँदैन । तर, जहाँ बौद्धमार्गी हुन्छन्, त्यहाँ मुस्लिमको उपस्थिति अनिवार्यझैँ हुन्छ । बौद्धमार्गी आफँैले पशु हत्या गरेर मासु खाँदैनन् । त्यसैले बौद्धमार्गीको बस्तीमा मुस्लिम समुुदायका मानिस मासुको व्यापार गर्छन् । ब्राह्मण र बनियाँको सम्बन्ध पनि त्यस्तै हो । ब्राह्मणहरू धर्म र पूजाको व्यापार गर्छन् र बनियाँ नैवेद्य अथवा बतासाको । यो अद्भूत जोडी जहाँ गए पनि सँगै फष्टाउँछ । थारूहरूले यस्ता व्यावसायिक कुरा बुझेका हुँदैनन् । उनीहरू माटोमा जन्मिन्छन्, माटोमै लडिबुडी गरेर हुर्किन्छन् र माटोमै बिलाउँछन् । धर्ती नै उनीहरूको धर्म हो ।

माओवादीलगायतका नेपालका राजनीतिक दलहरू अहिलेसम्म पनि परम्परावादी मान्यताबाटै निर्देशित छन् । जाति-जातिबीच अन्तर्निभर सम्बन्ध नभएसम्म सन्तुलित विकासको ढोका खुल्न सक्दैन भन्ने तथ्यलाई नेपालका राजनीतिक दलले राम्ररी बुझ्न चाहेका छैनन् । स्वायत्तता एउटा आकर्षक राजनीतिक नारा बनेको छ । तर, जाति र जनजातिका सामाजिक तथा सांस्कृतिक स्वायत्तता शून्यमा टिक्न सक्दैन भन्ने तथ्यलाई कसैले पनि केलाउन खोजेको पाइँदैन । अन्तरनिर्भरताबाट प्रादूर्भूत हुने स्वायत्तता मात्र टिकाउ हुन्छ । त्यस्तो स्वायत्तताले मात्र राजनीतिक स्थायित्व दिन सक्छ । दुर्भाग्य कि, यतिखेरको नेपाली राजनीतिमा विभिन्न जाति र जनजातिलाई एक अर्काको शत्रुका रूपमा चिनाउने खेल भइरहेको छ । जातीय अन्तरनिर्भरताको सूत्रलाई समेटेर राष्ट्रिय एकताको माला बनाउनेतिर संविधानसभाका माननीय सभासद्हरूको ध्यान पुग्न सकेको देखिएको छैन । जनताद्वारा निर्वाचित संविधानसभाले तयार पारेको कार्यसूचीहरूको औचित्य र उपयोगिताका बारेमा प्रश्न उठाउनु जायज नहोला । तर, राष्ट्रिय स्वार्थका मूल मुद्दामा संविधानसभाभित्रबाट कुनै पहल नगरिनु दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण हो । निर्वाचित संविधानसभाको गठनपछि पनि पार्टीहरूले देशका ज्वलन्त समस्याको समाधान संविधानसभाबाहिर खोज्ने हो भने राजनीतिक दलहरूको नियतमाथि जनताले प्रश्न उठाउनेछन् । आपmना अधिकारको खोजीमा थारूहरू सडकमा उत्रिनुपर्ने परिस्थितिको निर्माण पक्कै पनि थारूहरूले गरेका होइनन् । संविधानसभाभित्र वर्चस्व भएका दलहरूले यसको समाधान खोज्न सकेनन् भने देशको अवस्था अरू विकराल हुनेछ ।

नयाँ वातावरणमा भौगोलिक र ऐतिहासिक रूपले सर्वमान्य ठहरिएका भिन्न विचारलाई 'नेपाली' पहिचानभित्र सन्तुलित ढंगले मिलाएर लैजान सकिएमा मात्र हामी राष्ट्रका रूपमा जीवित रहनेछौँ । यसका लागि हामीले साझा संस्कृतिका आधार समात्नै पर्छ भन्ने केही छैन । मधेसीभित्र थारू अटाउने, थारूभित्र मधेसी अटाउने, सबैभित्र सबै अटाउने किसिमको स्वायत्त गणराज्यको खोजी नै अहिले सबैको अभीष्ट हुनुपर्ने हो । पुराना र शास्त्रीय प्रकारका राज्यहरूको संरचना भत्किँदै गएका अवस्थामा नेपालीहरूले समानुपातिक जातीय सन्तुलनसहितको राज्यको निर्माण गर्न सक्छन् । त्यसका लागि विद्वेष होइन, विवेकको आवश्यकता हुन्छ ।

photo credit: Jack Lazar via photopin cc

They're imposing their identity on us

(Courtesy : www.ekantipur.com)

Raj Kumar Lekhi is General Secretary of the Tharu Welfare Council (TWC), which, along with a number of other organisations, has been spearheading the protests that have caused great disruption in large sections of the Tarai for the past week. Aditya Adhikari and Pranab Kharel spoke to him about the political condition of the Tharus and what his organisation seeks to achieve.

Q: What are the reasons for your protest?

Lekhi: The Tharu community, and all the Adibasi-Janajatis of the Tarai -- Rajbanshi, Dhimal, Santhal, Tajpuriya, Danuwar, for example -- feel this andolan is necessary because the first amendment to the Interim Constitution has named the territories that have historically belonged to the Adibasi Janajatis as the Madhesh. The independent identities of dozens of groups that live in the Tarai, which have their own languages, culture, religions and traditions, have become erased. In addition, these groups have been deprived of the political rights that are rightfully theirs as indigenous people.

The state has used that clause in the Interim Constitution time and again to undermine our identity. This happened during the Constituent Assembly (CA) election when all Adibasi Janajatis were subsumed under the Madheshi cateogory in the election laws.

More recently, around two months ago, an ordinance passed by the council of ministers again classified all Adibasi Janajatis of the Tarai as Madheshis. This was the immediate cause of the protest. But it is not only the ordinance we are protesting against. We want a rectification of all past errors too.

Q: How have leaders of political parties responded to your protests?

Lekhi: Five days after the first amendment to the Interim Constitution, the Tharu Welfare Council had organized a programme. There, we had invited 16 Tharu members of parliament from various parties and held an interaction with them. We asked them, “How could you have allowed the political parties to erase your identity? You should understand your duties. Otherwise the coming generations will view you as traitors to your community.”

After that, by means of a peaceful andolan, we published and distributed appeals to the prime minister, the speaker of parliament and other leaders of political parties. But even after that, the government didn't do anything. More recently, we burnt effigies of the prime minister and staged demonstrations. We also appealed to all other Adibasi Janajatis in the Tarai that our identity is at a greater risk than has ever been before. This had not happened even during the Panchayat days, or Rana days, but is now happening during a time when a government that claims to be loktantrik is in power. We said that all Adibasi Janajatis have to stage an andolan together, and that is what is happening now.

Q: What does the government have to do for you to withdraw protests?

Lekhi: The government has to correct the mistakes it made in the past. The government shouldn't make one mistake after another. Didn't the interim government ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) convention 169 a year ago? Didn't they give this convention the status of law? ILO Convention 169 has stipulated and guaranteed the rights of indigenous people. The government has, however, worked against the convention.

Q: The government says that the classification of Tharus as Madheshis will ensure that larger numbers of Tharus will be included under quotas than would have been the case if they were classified as Janajatis.

Lekhi: I respect the leaders of Nepal's political parties. However, we have started feeling ashamed of them. That these big leaders who lead the country should talk in so childish a manner.

This morning I was listening to the thoughts of a Madheshi leader, Anil Jha. He was saying, “All the Adibasi-Janajatis of the Tarai are Madheshis. Their identity is our identity.” Why is he trying to impose his identity on us? A Bahun living in Surkhet might say, Tharus living in Surkhet are Pahadi Tharus. But how can Tharus be Pahadis?

The Tarai and the Madhesh are not the same; they are not synonyms of each other. We call the historic territories of the Tharu people Tharuhat. The Madheshis have their historic territories -- it is called Madhyadesh. The Tarai is a territory where many groups live, including Tharus, Madheshis, Muslims, Dalit, Pahadis. Now, if one community, the Madheshis, claim the entire Tarai from the Mechi to the Mahakali as their own, our identity will become extinct. If that happens, we will lose our political, cultural and linguistic rights.

Q: How have relations between Tharus and Madheshis been historically? Have you had grievances against Madheshis for a long time?

Lekhi: The Madheshi communities' history in the Tarai does not exceed 200 years. They came from Madhyadesh to the Tarai after the rise of Prithvi Narayan Shah to work as advisors, bureaucrats and farmers. The Shah rulers, in the process of distributing birta land to those close to them, forcibly seized land from the Tharus and distributed it to others, including Madheshis. Before Nepal became a nation-state, the Tharus had their independent state. The Tharus and other Adibasi Janajatis of the Tarai were responsible for converting jungle into cultivable land. After this happened, immigrants from both the hills and from Madhyadesh came to live in the Tarai. Our languages and traditions are completely different from Madheshis.

Q: So the Madheshi community has oppressed your community?

Lekhi: It is natural that migrants and people who live around towns and cities are more aware and clever than people who are farmers, live in the villages, and are honest and innocent. So we may be honest and innocent, but this must not be regarded as weakness.

Q: It has appeared that in the current political context, groups that haven't formed political parties haven't been able to hold much leverage over the government. Do you have plans to form a political party?

Lekhi: All the leaders and members of our organization are members of one or another political party. Some are in the Maoists, some in the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, The Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) or the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). Some of them are in leadership positions. The Tharu Welfare Council is an organization for that fights for rights, it is not a political party that will fight elections.

Q: The MJF was a similar organization to yours. But it only gained substantial power after converting into a political party.

Lekhi: I don't want to say much about the MJF. But the leaders of that party were in positions of power during the Panchayat era and also during the post-1990 democratic period. Even in the Rana period, their families were in the ruling class. There is therefore a substantial difference between the MJF and our organization. In 2005 BS, when there were no political parties in Nepal, the Tharu Welfare Council held its first general convention in Bara. The organization itself was formed in 1988 BS to bring reform to the Tharu community and fight for its rights. It has a long history. So it cannot be compared to any NGO or political party.

Q: You are personally affiliated to the CPN-UML. How successful have you been in raising voices for Tharu rights within the party?

Lekhi: The Adibasi Janajatis of Nepal, through their movements, have been an example to South Asia. We have been successful in having the government ratify ILO Convention 169 which guarantees our rights. We have been taking our concerns to each political party and pressuring the government.
One should understand however that our organization is not armed organization. We believe that we should fight for our rights through peaceful means, unlike the various armed groups in the Tarai.

You are now Madheshis

Sushma Joshi

Of all the groups who have blocked our highways, the Tharus are one group who need to be heard more than anybody

Blocking highways has become the defacto way to exhibit political protest. Everyone gets up in arms about this; perhaps we have no one to blame but our political leaders who started this method of guerilla warfare to bring attention to their presence and issues. Highways appear to be easily blocked in Nepal. More importantly, disrupted highway traffic garners immediate attention. Did I hear somebody say something about putting highway blockers in prison? Now that would be a good way to start civilizing Nepali methods of protest (next should be a one year prison term for those who burn toxic tires, and who release carcinogens in the air, pollute densely populated areas, and contribute to global warming.)

But wait -- don't just put these highway blockers into prison yet. Because of all the groups who have blocked our highways, the Tharus are one group who need to be heard more than anybody. Dispossessed by both Pahadis and Madheshis, it is no surprise that the Tharus are not taking kindly to being lumped in with the uber term of Madheshi. An indigenous group (or groups) of people with their own languages, ethnic identity, history, cultures, and a sense of being an integrated political unit shouldn't have to suffer the indignity of being lumped into a group which may have seized their lands, put them at the bottom end of a foreign caste hierarchy, tied them in debt bondage, and delegitimized their political identity by seeing them as simple pawns of a larger political game.

The Muluki Ain of 1854 put the Tharus at the lowest rungs of Hindu untouchability. And the groups who identify as Madheshi, along with the Pahadi, were able to take advantage of this by appropriating lands that the Tharus had traditionally cultivated because the Tharus didn't have a concept of private property or land ownership. The next step was to tie them in debt bondage through loans and then using labor as repayment through a chain that spanned generations. King Mahendra's highway andmalaria eradication brought a further waveof Pahadi migrants to the Tarai, dispossessing the Tharus further.

Till 2000, many Tharus from Western Nepal were indentured labourers or Kamaiyas to both Madheshi and Pahadi families. The government declared them free on 17 July 2000 -- unfortunately there habilitation of former Kamaiya was done in a dismal pace and the land and citizenship cards promised to them never materialized in many cases, forcing families to return to former employers.

One corollary of the way the Nepali state has always marginalised Tharus manifested in a recent historical moment. During a research project conducted via the UN, I was part of a team that documented a systematic disappearances campaign from one Tharu village. The army officer in charge was well known in that area and he would pick up and disappear Tharu farmers and locals with no apparent cause whatsœver. The Tharu people picked up had no affiliation with political parties and were not politically involved, leading observers to conclude that rather than following orders to politically repress opponents, the army officer may simply have been exercising his impunity.

In another case we documented, a Tharu widow had been accused of gaubadh-- killing a cow, which is a punishable offense in Nepali law. The neighbour's bull had died and he accused her of witchcraft and cow-murder. Interestingly, the woman had just converted to Christianity, which may have been a reason for the neighbourly dispute. The neighbour filed a case against her with the intent to seize her land, but he was thwarted when both the courts and the Maoists gave a verdict in her favor. Despite winning the case, however, it was clear that she faced an extreme amount of ostracization based on both her ethnicity, religion as well as widowed status. It would require not just a win at the appellate court but an entire overhaul of the Nepali Constitution to make her feel part of the community.

The Tharus make up 6 to 7 percent of the Nepali population -- a not insignificant number. With 26 major subgroups (with Dangaura Tharu, Rana Tharu, Chitwan Tharu, and Katharia being the four largest)and different dialects, the Tharus may not be as integrated as they seem, and putting aside 6 percent for Tharus in all government a land administrative positions may be difficult to implement. What is possible to implement is their demand that they be considered a separate ethnic group, a position that is not difficult to understand. What is clear is that the Tharu andolan is a legitimate andolan of indigenous people(not just a plot of the UML to destabilize the Madheshi movement and make inroads in the Tarai), one of many which we will see as grievances and demands of minority groups rise to the surface. How the Nepali government deals with the Tharus will be a test case of how the Nepali state will deal with its indigenous groups. It will also be a test of how we go about a federated Nepal.

Police harassment against Tharus has been on the rise since their agitation. Going house to house to beat up Tharus, unfortunately, is no different from the army officerwho went around disappearing people with impunity.

What the Tharu andolan has also brought to the attention of Nepalis is that these ordinances being passed are by-passing democratic discussion and process. The government passed an ordinance on inclusivity, which should have been a progressive act, but it did it without telling the Tharus they were now Madheshis. Now that's a definite no-no. Having a 600 member CA Assembly makes no sense if all important decisions, from disappearances to inclusivity, is being decided through a small clique of decision-makers. After all, the whole point of democracy is to make governance open to the public.

(Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post, 14 March 2009)