It is easy to make Kathmandu the centre of Nepal’s universe and forget that other parts of the country even exist. In our parochial view, there is little difference between Saptari and Itahari, Pokhara to many of us is just Lakeside and the Tarai is the home of barbers, fruit vendors and scrap collectors.
The pampered, insular denizens of the capital have a stereotype view of the rest of the country. Caste discrimination, we believe, is an evil of the past. We don’t understand why the rest of the country wants to settle down in the Valley. We consider ourselves to be liberal, unprejudiced, and egalitarian.
So when news like the one about an entire village in Siraha coming together to prevent a Dalit family from fetching water from the community well gets reported in the media (thanks to the presence of a movie superstar) we are supposedly outraged, and call for an end to this inhumane treatment. But our anger is limited to Facebook, and meanwhile at home the Dalit maid eats and sleeps separately.
We claim to be so enlightened that stereotyping is beneath our intellect, that is a thought process of simple people who make oversimplified generalisations. Yet, our everyday lingo is laced with racially derogatory remarks. “You better be careful, he’s a Tamang from Kavre.” Just kidding. “How did you even fall for a Madhesi guy, they are so ugly.” LOL. “For a Brahmin man you are actually quite generous.” HEHE. Everything unacceptable can be said as long as you append a ROFL or a smiley sticker. We are not racist, you see, we just like to judge people by their association to the group they are born into.
Kathmandu’s reaction to the ongoing bout of bandas is another case in point. It is an unacceptable form of protest as long as the Valley is affected, but the Tarai has been shutdown now for nearly two weeks and one is hard pressed to find mention of that anywhere in the Kathmandu-centric press. When a strike is enforced in the city, however, we hit back with hashtags, tweet pictures of ourselves walking to work with #dieNepalbandhdie, and boast about being banda defiers. An indefinite strike outside the capital is rarely a cause for concern, unless we have plans to take a road trip to Pokhara and Chitwan the towns that let us behave like the expats we are not.
Banda enforcers, we argue, do not have real genuine grievances, they are merely paid instigators with little idea about the cause they are promoting. We believe all ethnic groups, men and women of this country have been given equal rights and opportunities and thus even a mention of identity-based federalism irks us. That’s a devil that’s going to destroy the harmony of this country we write, but we collectively fail to propose measures that would in other ways help ensure equal treatment of all and not make more than half of the citizens feel like they would better belong in the lands of our neighbours.
Deaths of protesters in Surkhet and Saptari earlier this month didn’t touch us much. That there had been abuse of power by police was all but ignored, and our super inept leaders slept through the ordeal. Life went as normal in the capital until a gangster, enjoying protection of a ruling party, is killed in a police encounter in Kathmandu. That generated a hue and cry over police accountability. NC lawmakers suddenly woke up from their slumber, questioning the police under ultimate command of a UML home minister and demanding that the deceased, a man accused of multiple manslaughter be declared a martyr. Within a day everyone and their grandmother had heard that the Don was dead thanks to social media and front page news. Strike-hit Saptari, Surkhet, Banke could as well be on another planet.
Kathmandu-based opinion makers and commentators, all well-educated citizens from right across the ethnic spectrum, fail to speak to the voices they seek to represent. Extremist, exaggerated, manipulated and partisan these leaders mislead readers with their biases, and can be mostly blamed for damaging the legitimate struggle of the marginalised for their rights, to erode the gains in devolution, secularism and equal rights.
Monday’s violent clash between protestors demanding a separate Tharu province and police in Kailali’s Tikapur which resulted in deaths of eight people
including the district SSP should serve as a warning to those in the capital that they can no longer afford to stay aloof. The longer we stay this way, the greater will be the discontent elsewhere.
The article has been edited to correct the number of people killed in the clash on Monday.