Monday, January 13, 2014

Think beyond identity, culture and nature

Satire #2

“How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?”

When Bob Dylan scribbled the song, I am sure he must have had a poor fellow in mind. Let’s say he was either a Red Indian or a hard working man belonging to an indigenous, aboriginal, or a tribal group per se. At every step of life he needs to prove that he is a human being and belongs to the same planet.

The need to prove the identity
Now, take the example of Tharus. How many times do they need to prove that they are Nepalis?

It starts right from the moment they are born. Getting registered at the Village Development Committees (some are fortunate enough to be born in municipalities), the first and foremost question faced by the parents is – “For how many years have you been living in this place?”  Give me a break. The officer-in-charge should be slapped in the face with the reply – “Talk about generations, not years”.

Ones who inhabited the place – tilled the soil for ages – are asked about the origins. However, those who migrated to the land only a few decades ago claim to be the sons of the soil. Phew! What an irony.

Same story repeats when they attain an age to receive the citizenship. Again the roots are questioned. To my amazement even silly questions like “Did you come from India?” are posed. Now, let me know, which race evolved from the bottom of this part of the earth? At a time, all the people came here from one or another place. And to be precise most of them came by and large through what is India right now.   

When they land in Kathmandu for higher studies or employment, they are again enquired about the identity. Tharus are still considered Madhesis by the people of hill origin, even though the state has tagged them as Indigenous Peoples. It might be due to their complexion resembling to Madhesis or by intention. Whatsoever be the level of their intellect – whether the person is a mason or a PhD holder by education – they still get the kicks despising their own brothers from the south by terming them “Madise”, an extremely derogatory and heart pinching word for the Madhesis and Tharus. Not to mention, the famous real incident turned diatribe, “Manu makhu marsya kha”, is still alive and kicking in the valley. Meaning, they are not humans but Madhesis.

While the Kathmanduites easily assimilate Indians from Darjeeling, Assam and even the people of Nepalese origin from Burma as their own brothers, they don’t hesitate to raise questions against the rightful citizens from the Terai. That’s a sheer pity. And a hammering blow to the so-called equal and equitable society builders.       

The culture and tradition lovers
The other day I was amusing myself with the rest of my team during a cultural performance by a Tharu dance group. My colleagues were clapping to each step of the dance being performed. The reason; it was entertaining and the troupe was doing it with finesse. They had traditional clothing on and the costume design and jewelleries seemed to belong to the medieval days. And to show that they still belong to the jungles, they had adorned themselves with peacock plumes and applied black paint on their faces. 

My question. Are Tharus and other tribals the objects of amusement? Is it necessary to prove that they are indigenous peoples? By dancing and singing?

It’s just like rich countries asking the poor countries to save forests while they plunder the earth, earn billions and return the favour by paying back few thousand dollars. While others study, rise up the self esteem ladder in the society, the Tharus and other indigenous minorities are busy saving their culture. Being mere dancers and gaines, the singers.

The so-called stewards of nature
I don't understand the tactics of conservationists and conservation organisation when they term the aboriginals, tribals and indigenous peoples the custodians of nature. By adorning them with the sobriquet, do they mean to abstain them from the modern day development? Do they want them to stay in the jungle for ever while the rest of the world leapfrogs to a different era?

The conservationists term them as guardians of nature in respect of their contribution to saving the surrounding (jungles) and the animals living in the vicinity. My question is how long will they keep guarding the beasts which are adamant to kill them any time?

Are they the guards meant to keep an eye on the oxygen tank while the rest of the world enjoys freedom, emitting the sins of development? Or, do they still need to prove that they have been protecting the nature till date?

The supper-less food growers
Another point that I don’t understand is the indigenous peoples remaining poor in spite of growing food for the rest of the richer counterparts. Why do they have to live in abject poverty? The rice that they grow in their fields or piece of leased land adding the expensive seeds, fertilisers and irrigation, sells at a mere less that Rs 20 per kg at the time of harvest. However, when they have nothing remaining in their storage, they need to buy the milled rice at more than Rs 50 per kg.

While they provide food to the rich at a price of penny, they end up paying fortunes to buy the same rice, once grown by them. Even providing the proof that they are the food growers, they don’t get any subsidy. Neither from the naive government nor from the merchants who hoard the rice.

For how long?
While others pretend to be mere onlookers I appeal to all Tharus and other indigenous, tribals and aboriginal groups.

So for how long will you people suffer? Come on wake up, rise for your rights. Catch up with the rest of the world. Think out of the box. And you will see there's a different world beyond. Beyond proving yourself at each step of life, amusing the world with your culture and tradition, saving the forest and animals, and growing food for others.

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind.

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

(The views are solely personal. Any allusion is sincerely regretted)

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