Journalist, Associated with Kathmandu Post
Peace building is an important task in the post-conflict societies, as the process involves “reconciliation, development of capacities for conflict resolution and building of sustainable peace” (Morris, NY). The term gained wide currency after it was used by then Secretary-General of United Nation Boutros Boutros-Ghali, when he announced his “Agenda for Peace” in 1992. “Peace building involves a full range of approaches, processes, and stages needed for transformation towards a more sustainable, peaceful relationships and governance mode and structures.” (ibid)
Social movement on the other hand “has become a source for challenging status quo and for preparing the community for social transformation.” (Dahal, June-July 2004). For this there is a need for collective mobilization. In fact social movements are often found to be in response to the structural violence prevalent in the society. Such violence “is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances.” (Galtung, 1969)
In this paper I would attempt to establish the link between the peace building efforts and social movement in Nepal with especial reference to Madhes movement. Madhes or Tarai is the Southern plain of Nepal bordering India. The area represents a diversity of culture and is extremely important to establishing the idea of nation to Nepal. However, the area and its denizens have been expressing resentment over the continued exclusion of the place both culturally and politically. In fact the voices of disgruntlement have been heard right from the 1950s. In 1951, Bedanda Jha had led the community demanding the autonomy of Terai, recognition of Hindi as national language and equal opportunities for denizens of Tarai in state bureaucracy. (Kharel, Prasai, 2009).
In the fading years of the Panchayat, Gajendra Narayan Singh tried to give momentum to the issues of Tarai/Madhes, when he formed the Nepal Sadhbhawana Parishad. (ibid). The agendas put forth by the Parishad were similar to that of Bendananda Jha. The opening of the polity in the post-1990, provided opportunity for the expression of views of the Madhesi community. However, continued discrimination by the ruling elite built up the frustrations. Usage of derogatory term to refer to the community was found to be common in the non-Madhesi communities. Nepali proverbs also demean the community. In addition to this, the continued suspicion of the Kathmandu-based elite on the loyalty of the community towards the state has only worsened the situation. Given, the inbuilt “injustice”, the Madhesi communities have always found it difficult to claim an ownership in the state structures, particularly in the security-related institution. The agendas pertaining to Madhes found new expression with the launch of the Maoist-led insurgencies. The Maoists termed the situation in Madhes as that of “internal colonialism” (ibid). This, analyst argue provided new consciousness to the Madhes (ibid). However, the “uprising” of 2007, became very important in establishing Madhesi agenda as that of national. Though many hesitate to state the developments of January 2007 as movement, I argue that they are part of the social movement in Terai/Madhes, which has continued, albeit interminably, for last six decades.
The focus of the paper would also be on this period, where I would argue that post-2007; Madhes has altogether established itself at the national level. However, subsequent development in the post- 2007 has nurtured communal discord, with many resident of the Pahade origin having to flee for their safety from the region.
The movement and the initiative for peace building:
As argued above, the pent-up frustration of the Madhesi community was manifest in the “uprising”. But it would also be important to note that the decades long discrimination of all sorts only add to the frustration. Despite repeated attempts, the social and cultural recognition of Madhes in the larger Nepali imagination remained a far cry. Though there are evidences in the history that rulers now and then gave some sort of recognition to the cultural space called Madhes, it was largely viewed with suspicion. The Rana period and even prior to that thought of Madhes as only a means revenue generation.
One of the grievances often heard is that the Pahades have enchroached the lands in Tarai. However, it should be bore in mind that the practices held in the distant past cannot be made an excuse to target the fellow resident of the region. I would also argue that the cultural space of Madhes is shared by the members of Pahade origin as well. The movement for Madhes has not taken a fact into cognizance. And that is the continued “discrimination and exploitation” of the region is done by both Pahade and Madhesi elite, who often are found to be working hand -in –glove. The movement, though has brought the larger issues to fore, it has not enough highlighted the unequal relationship within the social and cultural space of Madhes such as those marked by caste and gender relations. And if the movement is seeking to “alter the medium of knowledge, communication and the structure of social, economic and political power” (Dahal, June- July 2004), these issues will have to be addressed.
The movement had sought to establish genuine agendas of the Madhes. And the latest addition to the movement was believed to have accentuated the process. However, the leaders of the January 2007 movement, the Madhes-based- political parties have not lived up to the expectation of the people, who were “inspired by promises of better future and had intrinsically related to democracy and inclusion.” (ibid).
The parties, which are one of the legitimate actors of the movement, have been marred by internal divisions. This is weakening the legitimate forces in the movement. Madhes movement in the post-2007 also saw the rise of armed groups claiming to be fighting for Madhes and they have tried to associate themselves with the larger agendas of the movement.
The rise of the armed group has posed a significant challenge to the traditional structure in Madhes. The framing of narrative that Pahades exploited the Madhesis has only added fuel to the fire. It has to be understood that such skewed narrative will only weaken the moderate forces in Madhes. If the peace building initiative is to have any impact, then multi-level approaches have to be applied. These may include engaging key political leaders, academicians, and grass-root workers (Prendergast, 1997). Along with these the traditional leaders in the community could also be mobilized. All of these actors have a role to perform in an effort to build peace in the region.
The urgency for peace building can be summarized in the statement of a local shop owner in Janakpur, who confessed that the exodus of the Pahade community from the area has led to the decline in the business (as told to the author). Hence an environment has to be created in restoring communal harmony in the region, which helps sustain peace. One of the ways of doing so is by making Local Peace Committees (LPCs) more effective. The peace committees were designed to sustain peace by providing a common forum for people to locally implement national peace agreements. LPCs were to promote the notion that the responsibility to maintain peace at the local level lies with the people. They would bring together political parties, NGOs, and relevant local government agencies to prevent potential conflict, resolve them as they arise, and promote peace in the district (Sapkota, 2009). In a report released this May, the Carter Centre has put forth certain observations regarding the LPCs. Carter Center observers found that although the overall functioning of Local Peace Committees (LPCs) has improved since November 2009, their effectiveness remains unclear and they continue to face serious challenges. A small number of LPCs have engaged in successful conflict mediation and received praise from district administration officials, political party members, and civil society for being highly active and effective.
While LPCs constitute an example, where by peace building effort can take place at larger level by engaging multiple actors, efforts also need to be directed towards addressing the aspect of structural violence. In here, I would like to highlight the provisions of Arms and Ammunition Act 1962, which after further amendment has seen power of the Chief District Officer (CDO) increase. The legal authority of the CDO though may have helped maintain law an order, in the long run has proved to be detrimental. CDO enjoys a semi-judicial authority to look into the cases pertaining to arms and ammunition. However, it has been found that the CDO often times misuses the authority. Studies have shown that the localization of administration has only made the situation worse. Janak Sapkota, of Nepal weekly argues the same.
The role of political parties—which are legitimate representative of the people—is also important in building peace. In fact engaging them would be important for they can influence the policy matters. But, this has been a hard task, as they are found to be preoccupied with power politics. Therefore, it is likely that the weakening of legitimate political actors will bolster the confidence of non-state actors, in this case the armed groups.
The Madhes movement of last six decade has made a serious attempt to establish the issues of the region as national agendas. The post-January 2007 developments reinforced the agendas. In fact the term federalism was incorporated in the Interim Constitution, after then-Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala addressed the nation on Feb 7, 2007 owing to the pressure from the Madhes movement (Kharel, Prasai, 2009). But, the communal discord has to be checked and for this the confidence of denizens in Madhes—both of Pahade and Madhesi origin—has to be restored. In doing so, multi-level approaches including both local and national have to be mobilized. In this role of state becomes pivotal. Perceptions have to undergo change. It should be kept in mind those social movements derive strength from the discrepancies between democratic ideals and undemocratic performance of the regime (Dahal, 2004).
The movement was also for democratizing power relation between Madhes and the centre. And, if the peace building initiatives are to succeed, the narrative of the power relation has to be redefined. The larger imagination of Madhes in Nepali psyche has been informed by years of exclusionary policies of the state and demeaning social and cultural construct. Hence, this needs to undergo change. School text books catering to young minds should be able to put the narrative correctly. Symbols, images and icons from Madhes have to be given due recognition. Often time conflict is found to have been accentuated by past animosities. Therefore, it should also be considered that various elements that contribute to the structural violence need to be addressed. In case of Madhes, it is also important to democratize the relation among Madhei communities which is sustained by caste and gender relation. One of the basic reasons for the success of 2007 movement was that those at the lower strata of the Madhesi society wanted a fair share. In addition, the ideals and the aspiration of the 2007 movement were for larger change in the location of Madhes in the Nepali psyche, both politically and culturally.
However, the achievement of the movement is under pressure from the communal tension. And in order to keep the ideals of the movement alive, this has to be checked. For this, inter-communal dialogue should be initiated. Restoring communal harmony along with addressing larger structural issues can lead to sustained peace as envisioned by the Madhes movement.
(Paper submitted to Seminar on Track Three Approaches to Sustainable Peace in Nepal organized by Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS) in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), 5th & 6th September 2011)