Those in favor of institutional exclusion and denial of identity of the single largest ethnic group of the nation, Khas—Chhetri 15.8 percent, Bahun 12.74 percent, Thakuri 1.47 percent and Sanyasi 0.88 percent: Population Census, 2002—who along with the Hill-Dalits (7.11 percent) comprise 38 percent of the population, are now unhappy that the nameless community has started to speak against the injustice.
In fact, their collective categorization as ‘others’ in Interim Constitution was not without preparation and purpose. It was a carefully scripted sequel of the National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities Act, 2002 which recognizes, except Khas, 59 ethnicities/castes as ‘indigenous/tribal’ (now likely to be extended to 103 to include the remaining fractional groups, of course, again excluding the Khas upper-castes).
The legislation had also been used to de-recognize Khas as indigenous people for the purpose of ILO Convention 169. Although “Peoples regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country” is the definition of indigenous community under Article 1.1(b) of the Convention, Khas upper-caste groups—one of the oldest and original inhabitants of the land—had, arbitrarily, been denied the status.
On the other hand, all other communities including the recently migrated ones are recognized as indigenous. If the segregation was carried out using the authority of ‘Self-identification’ under Article 1.2, the decision to separate Khas upper-caste and its underlying principles should have been made public, preferably preceded by public hearings. But no: Whatever was done was done in the most secretive and subjective manner.
In fact, nowhere else on the planet has this course been followed in implementation of the Convention. For instance, India, which like many democracies, is not a signatory to ILO Convention, defines all its citizens as indigenous people. (Nepal is one of the few countries in the world and one among just two in the whole Asia-Pacific that has ratified the Convention so far; another is Fiji). Also, to deny the Khas community their rightful status of ‘indigenous people’ (as they are not tribal people, and they don´t claim to be) the perpetrators have been wrongly assuming indigenous and tribal communities as one and the same. For example, the word ‘and’ that appears between the words ‘indigenous’ and ‘tribal’ in the authentic English/French text of the Convention had been falsely changed to a slash (/) instead of being translated as ra or tatha (Nepali words for ‘and’) in all internal documents of the government.
Reverse exclusion that downgrades a whole citizenry into second class status is not the answer to historical exclusion.
The Khas were/are avenged for two reasons; one, for their over-achievement in politics and civil service, and two, for their opposition to ethnic federalization of the country. The community believes that ethnic states with provisions of agradhikar (right to rule over others and right over natural resources) and right to self-determination for a few select communities will invite inter-ethnic clashes (between the ruling and the ruled communities) and inter-state clashes (between powerful and weak provinces) thus pushing the nation towards eventual disintegration. Anyway, regardless of what Khas communities believe, ethnic-identity-based-federalization is a universally failed model.
Besides being politically regressive, it is not economically viable either, at least in this country. For a country that has a mixed mosaic of ethnic population in almost all parts and is sandwiched between two giant and powerful nations, ethnic federalization that appeases some ethnicities at the expense of others is a road to disaster. At best, it will make Nepal another Bhutan, forcing a whole race to flee, and at worst, it will make her another Yugoslavia. Even the silent majority is, therefore, against the notion. Nationwide surveys, conducted time and again across the population by reputed institutions have revealed that very few people are in favor of it. Hence ethno-lingual activists’ objection to plebiscite on the issue; which they know they will lose, if held.
The Maoists, who fuelled the identity politics to win a losing insurgence, are riding a tiger. They can neither continue the ride nor step down, nor can they call on others for help as admitting mistakes is not in their characteristic. Of late, their own leaders such as Lekh Raj Bhatta and Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, along several others, have stood against the party´s position on ethnic-federalization and the degradation of the Khas communities. On the face of it, Mohan Baidya´s hardline faction seems committed to ethnic states; but, its intention is to bag the various ethnic fronts of the party for as and when the party splits, the innocent janajati youths can be recruited for yet another brutal rebellion, rather than to really federalize the nation.
As regards the alleged political exclusion of certain communities in the past, it is true that Bahun-Chhetri have been overrepresented in civil service and politics. But, so have Newars, one of the most privileged, urbanized, wealthy and educated elite group that ranks quite high in the Human Development Index of the country every year; so have ‘Janajatis’ in armed forces, both within the nation and beyond, for example British and Indian Armies. Civil service and politics are not the only public services, armed services too are, where janajatis are fairly well represented. The majority of the chiefs of Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force, since the very beginning, had been Janajatis. The incumbent Chiefs of Army Staff is a Janajati. If they were politically excluded they would not be so well represented in jobs in uniform, on which the state invests and trusts far more than it does on jobs without uniform.
Madhesis too are well represented in the latter, especially in technical fields such as agriculture, forestry, healthcare, engineering et al, besides police force, judicial services and public enterprises. Yes, they are under-represented in the Army but of their own choice. Army’s attempt to recruit more Madhesis by forming a separate battalion “Naya Sabuj Gan” met with little success as few Madhesis applied; moreover, many applicants didn´t complete the selection process and quit. A community that had been denied entry into the army could never have held the positions of country´s President, Vice-President and the majority of ministers, including minister for defense, which they have done since last so many years.
In traditional societies like ours, historical, ancestral, economic and educational backgrounds, not politics, influence the community´s choice of profession. While Newars, Marbadis and Thakalis prefer self-employment to public service, Bahun-Chhetris do the opposite. To maintain balance and equity, inclusive democracies practice affirmative action. We too have one (45 percent), which again is ethnicity-based that singles out the Khas upper-caste despite the fact that, except a handful, the overwhelming majority of the community is as deprived and poor as other ethnic groups; and, those handfuls exist more or less in every community. Therefore, in all likelihood, the new arrangement will only benefit the cream of a few vocal and powerful ethnic groups instead of enhancing opportunities of employment and education to the weaker, poorer and socially backward groups.
Khas community is not averse to need-based reservations; their opposition is only to the rise of neo-anti-Semitism. Reverse exclusion that downgrades a whole citizenry into second class status is not the answer to historical exclusion, if any; it is revenge. Moreover, political exclusion of some communities won’t correct social exclusion of women or dalits; for, they were, and are, social evils for which no community or regime in particular can be held responsible.
In a democracy, citizens can’t be graded into super and sub citizens on grounds of ethnicity. As people who believe in the principle of ‘live and let live’, Khas community supports any demand that says ‘justice to us’, but a demand that says ‘injustice to them’ is simply unacceptable to them, call it ´angst´ or anger!