There seems to be a sudden trend of backlash against the progressive ideologies put forward by the Maoists, and the popular mandate (a slippery term) of the April Uprising. It seems a segment of the civil society are revolting against dogmas that even the ideologically bankrupt SPA had accepted – such as secularism, equality for all castes, and the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities. The recent coordinated attacks against dalits in Doti, the ever increasing number of protests by Hindu fundamentalists, and the sudden rise in the rhetoric of national unity and indivisibility are clear indications of this.
It has been 43 years since laws against the discrimination on the basis of castes was codified, and we haven’t come a long way since then. Examples of such discrimination are rampant all over Nepal, and even enjoy some degree of protection from law maintenance authorities who either turn a blind eye to such actions violating those laws, or in worse cases, persecuting the dalits in other excuses to mute them. We have only to look at the Terai and the far-western regions for evidence of this. In such a situation, the action taken by the dalits to break the taboo of allowing them entry into a temple is courageous and laudable (though I do not understand the insistence of the dalits to follow the very religion that has relegated them as outcasts).
Not only were the dalits beaten up on spot, there were a series of targeted attacks against them which included rounding them up from their houses and then subjecting them to beatings and humiliation. When will the simple truth dawn upon the upper echelons of the caste stratum that all human beings are formally equal? It cannot be emphasized any more – in the eyes of the law (and the non-existent gods), all human beings are and must be equal.
Then is the case of rising Hindu fundamentalism. Right after the declaration of secularism, there were a few scattered protests, most notably in Birgunj, which for some reason or the other has always been more vocal in its support of the religion as much as the king. But it didn’t take long for the organizations (including the Shiv Sena) to learn the skills of political assembly. As the number of such protests continues to grow, so have the theatrics and the locations.
Lastly, there has been a growing skepticism about the division of Nepal into more autonomous regions based on ethnicity. One has to be blind to notice the state of the ethnic minorities in Nepal. While racism might not be explicit in most cases (though it is in many instances), stereotypes and systematic discrimination is inherent in mainstream Nepali society. But most people have chosen to ignore it, and it helps when the majority controls all aspects of society – political, cultural, and economic. It was this dissatisfaction among the minorities and the blindness of the majority that the Maoists used to promote their agenda in the Eastern regions (while it used poverty as its foremost agenda in the West). And indeed, it managed to recruit many people and already nascent militias. If there is no federal division in Nepal, these militias will not rest. They will inevitably capitalize on the systematic racism and grow in popularity. In the worst case scenario, we might have a failed state perpetually marred in civil war as in some African nations. (Federalism has its own complications, but with proper study and good intentions, I am sure it can be worked out).
The job at hand is for the government, and also the Maoists who behave as though they are the government (and if they want the privilege, they better accept the responsibility), is to ensure that these tendencies are curbed, and in cases of clear violation of human rights, dealt with. I am not saying Hindu fundamentalists shouldn’t be allowed to assemble; that is their inalienable right. Nor am I proposing that discussions about federalism should be banned. But what happened in Doti was a crime, and they have to be punished. And they have to start thinking about how to rationally discredit fundamentalisms and empower minorities.