Nepal: Campaign to secure rights during constituent assembly
Dr. K.B.Bhattachan, Central Department of Sociology & Anthropology, TU
It is believed that about 75% of the total 25 million Nepalese people do not know about the meaning of constituent assembly. These people indeed need civic education that includes the following:
Door to door awareness raising program about the meaning and process of constituent assembly;
Door to door awareness raising program about peoples’ voting rights;
Door to door campaign about the rights if women, Dalits, Madhesis and indigenous peoples;
Development of IEC materials should be in different languages; and
Broadcasting of awareness raising advertisement and radio and TV programs in different languages.
Given the fact that there are a large percentage of peoples who are illiterate and simple literates, youths and media could play significant role in educating them about their voting rights, ensuring names in the voter’s list, stopping buy-and-sell of votes, choose right candidates, give votes in a valid way etc. Also, youth and media could educate them about their rights and issues and encourage and help them to submit their suggestions during collection of suggestions by the thematic groups and/or constituent assembly.
Demystification of prevailing wrong perceptions relating to federalism and autonomy:
Youth and media could and should play crucial role in civic education about constituent assembly, restructuring of the state to the common people and party cadres, and vote to political parties and/or candidates who are firmly, clearly, and sincerely, committed for restructuring of the state, and fulfill the aspirations and demands of these excluded groups. Also, after the election of the representatives/members of constituent assembly, media and youth could and should play crucial role in educating and exerting pressure to the members to restructure the state by respecting the aspirations, voices and demands of the excluded groups. It means, media and youth could demystify some prevailing wrong perceptions relating to their aspirations and demands. For example, “Autonomy does not promote secession; on the contrary, true autonomy prevents secession” (Yash Ghai 2000 Autonomy and Ethnicity, p. 23); “Autonomy is more likely to be negotiated and to succeed if there are several ethnic groups rather than two” (Ghai 2000, p. 17); “...a federalistic structure should contribute to the attainment of social objectives without at the same time leading to excessive power on one side and to total lack of power on the other” (The Charter of Basel in Gunther Bachler (Ed.) (1997) Federalism against Ethnicity?, p. 319); “Federations should guarantee the cooperation and independent self-determination of territorial groups in the framework of a pluralistic structure which functions from the bottom up, on the principle of subsidiarity” (See Bachler 199, p. 319); “The members of federation should have at their disposal the maximum amount of autonomy in the greatest variety of sectors” (See Bachler 1997, p. 319); “...federations cannot function as compulsory coalitions controlled by the center. Rather, a federation forces its members into negotiation, compromise, reconciliation, and solidarity, all of which presupposes a consensus regarding basic values” (See Bachler 1997, pp. 319-20); “Whereas today many groups hope to achieve autonomy through secession, federally structured states should try to maintain unity in order to guarantee the greatest possible autonomy. Secessions within a federation thereby become an internal process which does not lead to separation but to the formation of new member states, each with its own community” (See Bachler 1997, p. 320); and “Federations are structures of many in one, one in many. They thereby mirror the heterogeneity and disparity of today’s and tomorrow’s world, in which peoples want to be independent and nevertheless remain dependent on each other” (See Bachler 1997, p. 321).
Citizenship certificates to eligible Madhesis:
Nepal Government has decided to provide citizenship certificates to all eligible Nepalese citizens. In spite of criticism from UNOHRC Nepal Office that it discriminates against Nepalese women married to foreign citizens, it has raised hopes to millions of peoples, specially Madhesis, Dalits such as Badi and indigenous peoples such as Chepangs. Both youth and media could play significant role in putting pressure to the government to implement it it sincerely and in time, i.e. before election for constituent assembly.
Inclusion in election and nomination of members of constituent assembly:
SPA and the Maoists have agreed to have 425 members in the constituent assembly. Mixed electoral system has been accepted for the election of constituent assembly. Media should build favorable public opinion for and youth should exert political pressure to all political parties to nominate 205 members in proportion of sex (e.g. 50% to women), caste/ethnicity (e.g. 15-25% to Dalits and 37.2-70% to 59+ indigenous nationalities), region (50+% to Madhesis and 80% to rural areas) will be elected on the first-past-the-pole system. 204 members elected through proportional representation should not be on the basis of votes received by political parties in the first-past-the-pole system. Instead it should be used to proportional representation of all caste, ethnic, linguistic, sex and regional groups. Also remaining 16 members to be nominated from among the prominent personalities should follow inclusion of different caste, ethnic, linguistic, regional and sex groups. If SPA and the Maoist have agreed with the demands of the excluded groups to have two tiers, one of the political parties and the other of the caste, ethnic, sex and regional groups, it would have addressed their demands and satisfied them. Even now SPA and political parties could modify the agreed upon two types of election system to address these demands as much as possible. It is for sure that they would not do on their own. Hence, media and youth could play significant role in correcting the faulty system of election for constituent assembly.
Representation of youth in constituent assembly:
It is expected that majority of the Maoist candidates would be youths whereas the seven political parties would be dominated by older generation. Youths belonging to these political parties should exert tremendous political pressure to its leaders to nominate maximum number of youths during the elections for constituent assembly. Media, both print and electronic, could play significant roles in projecting youths as real leaders.
Restructuring of the State:
Demand for restructuring of the state started with re-establishment of democracy in 1990, following the wave of democracy, mainly in Eastern Europe. Such demands were raised slowly by indigenous peoples, Dalits, Madhesi, women and linguistic and religious minorities. With initiation of People’s War by the NCP Maoist demand for restructuring of the state has become one of the main national agenda. The Peoples’ Movement-2 has given popular mandate to SPA and the Maoist to do so.
The state continues to be unitary, predatory, feudal, exclusionary, Hindu Kingdom (although the House of Representative declared Nepal as a secular state but practice of Hindu domination continues unabated) due to domination of one caste (Bahun-Chhetri), one language (Khas Nepali), one religion (Hindu), one culture (Hindu), one sex (male), one region (Hill/Urban/Kathmandu) and one class (ruler). Indigenous peoples, Dalits, Madhesis, and women have been demanding for full respect for diversity/plural character of the Nepalese society and address these issues accordingly by changing constitutional and legal provisions and inclusive policies, plans, programs and practices. The government restricted rights-based movements to pursue their rights as socio-cultural organizations by using peaceful means with reform approach. The NCP Maoist pursued it politically and to intensify their pursuit, they formed ethnic and regional national liberation fronts since they began armed People’s War in 1996.
Indigenous peoples’ movement has been demanding for federal state with ethnic, linguistic and regional autonomy by exercising right to self-determination, equal language rights, secularism, customary and collective rights, rights to land, forest, water, pasture and mines, proportional representation and special measures. Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) and its affiliated 59 indigenous peoples’ organizations have been saying that they fully respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nepal and that they against secession. The NCP Maoist has made it public that their party gives right to self determination with rights to secede and armed insurgency. They believe that secession and armed insurgency occurs in repressive state and guarantee of the rights of various groups ensure strong bonding among these groups.
Dalit’s movement has been demanding to end caste based discrimination, including caste based untouchability (“descent based discrimination”) both at the private and public shperes, violence against Dalit women, and feudal systems such as “Baligahre,” “Haliya Chariya,” “Bista” and “Dola” systems. Their other main demands include secularism, restoration of human dignity, proportional representation, special rights or affirmative action, land, modernization of traditional occupation and strict enforcement of existing laws and also legislate new laws as needed. Madhesi Dalits have additional demands such as elimination of regional discriminations against the Madhesis and for equal language rights.
Madhesi movement has been demanding for elimination of all forms of regional discrimination against Madhesis. They have been demanding that 4 million Madhesi who have been deprived from getting the citizenship certificates should be granted immediately in a simple way. Other main demands includes federal state with regional autonomy, equal language and cultural rights, proportional representation, affirmative action and equal access to government employment including army and police. Madhesi indigenous peoples, Madhesi Dalits and Madhes women have additional demands of their respective communities.
Women’s movement has been demanding for elimination of all forms of gender discrimination, including patriarchy and violence against women. Their additional demands include 33%-50% representation in all public positions. Their other demands include affirmative action or special measures, right to one’s own body and equal rights on parental property. Women belonging to indigenous peoples, Dalits and Madhesis have their respective community’s demands as their additional demands.
The demands for restructuring of state by these movements and ethnic and regional liberation fronts of the Maoist such as Khambuan National Liberation Front, Dalit National Liberation Front and Madhesi National Liberation Front are identical. The main differences between them are that the former has raised and pursued purely as socio-cultural movement with socio-cultural organizations and/or NGOs and the latter in contrast raised and pursued it politically by using violence as “needed.” Ethnic and regional national liberation fronts are fraternal/sister organizations of the NCP Maoist. These fronts are not Maoist political party per se as they will continue to support NCP Maoist as long as they fulfill their demands but the moment Maoist political party deviate from the track, they will abandon them immediately and pursue to achieve their goals independently or in alliance with other appropriate party. Most of the Bahun-Chhetri leaders, cadres, intellectuals etc. still do not want federalism with ethnic and regional autonomy as they see it disintegration, secession, “communal” and “dangerous for national sovereignty and integration.” Parliamentary political parties, including Nepali Congress and NCP UML are not in its favor. Nepal Sadvana Party being a Madhesi political party, they have been raising these issues. Among the Maoists, their supremo Prachanda is strongly in favor of federalism and ethnic and regional autonomy in spite of the fact that their Bahun-Chettri cadres and low ranking leaders do have reservation about such autonomy.
Preference of political parties and political leaders:
It is said that it does not matter whether cat is black or white as long as it kills rats. Similarly, it should not matter to youth and media to show their preference to any political party that is sincerely against elimination of monarchy, Bahunbad/Brahmanbad, patriarchy and Hill domination. Additionally it should not matter also to political party that is genuinely for restructuring of the state in an inclusive way with federalism and ethnic, linguistic and regional autonomy with right to self-determination. I personally would suggest all indigenous peoples, Dalits and Madhesis to get united and support any political party that is strongly committed, not only in theory or promise but also in practice, for it. So far, my personal observation is that the Nepal Communists Party Maoist is the only political parties that have made strong commitments both in theory and practice in the past and show maximum potential at present and in future. If any other political party supersede the Maoists in these regards that could be another cat that kills the rats.
[Excerpts from the author’s paper presented at a telegraph weekly seminar dated 16th Dec 2006, The Role of Youth & Media in Development: A New perspective]