With the arrival of every major political party, the marginalised population of the Tarai had their expectation raised. However, Tara BK, one of the subjects of the book, reflects while telling her story, “the political parties promised to liberate us, but they all turned out to be oppressors.” Finally, when the torchbearers of marginalised voices, the Maoist, joined mainstream politics to instead become crony capitalists, these groups seemed to have realised that liberation will not come from without—from a benevolent liberator—but only from within, through internal mobilisation and organisation.
In the decade since the second Jana Andolan, there have been other movements to fight for the legal framework to allow for the dignity and liberty to live an average life. According to Yangesh, these social movements have mostly been helmed by women, and he has transcribed the suffering and struggle of these women as they non-violently fight against the various oppressive forces of Nepal.
For centuries, the Raji in the west and the Chamar and Mushahar in the east have been conditioned as beast-of-burden in human form—eating, sleeping, thinking like a human, yet deprived of the opportunity to be recognised as a human. Parbati Raji, even after slaving herself away for the satisfaction of her landlord, did not get enough food to nourish herself and her baby right after giving birth. In Tikapur, a few kilometres away from the Buffer zone where the Raji community lives, the writer discovers that half of those who are registered as ‘Sukumbasis’ are infact not, but they are reaping the benefits from the state, while half of the actual ‘Sukumbasis’ have not been able to register because they are not able to afford the 100 rupees required for the paperwork.
In the eastern Tarai belt, the situation is equally grim. In one of the stories that Yangesh recounts, a pregnant Musahar woman opposing the corrupt governance of a local school administration in Sunsari gets beaten and suffers a miscarriage. The district governing body ritualistically responds by setting up an investigation committee whose reports falsely claim that she was never pregnant. In the neighbouring districts, when the Chamars refused to remove dead cattle from the village, as a way of demanding social equality, they were boycotted by the entire society.
All kinds of imaginable oppression have led to the struggle for dignity. Yet the common origin of all this suffering is the historic landlessness of the people. Most of the struggles and fights recounted in the book have had little success, as it is rarely the case in Nepal that the poor are able to change oppressive policies. Despite that, some struggles, like the one against the corrupt school administrators, eventually came to a successful resolution.
The book starts out as a travelogue of a writer who is looking for a story, the way a vulture is looking for a morsel. The writing meanders and seems quite distracted in the early chapters; perhaps showing that Yangesh had not quite discovered a ‘right tone’ for his book. For instance, when the writer is going to interview Salma Behena—the first person we meet—he spends pages describing the market and the temple area of Nepalgunj. As these descriptions are laced with several social observations, it could have been a great newspaper article, but they don’t serve any function within the structure of the book. Furthermore, frequent typos and Yangesh’s occasional surfacial explanations can get testing at times. In spite of the few initial hiccups, however, as the stories progresses, the narrative gets tighter. But this is a book to be read for its subject matter rather than its literary flair.
Bhuiyan is written with journalistic dexterity which will serve as an important source document for readers and scholars trying to understand the internal hegemonic structure of Nepal that have plagued the lives of thousands of people in the Tarai belt, and elsewhere. Above all, through its stories, this book is an indictment of Nepali polity and its culture of not allowing some of its citizens the dignity to life. And in the portrayal of the struggles, it becomes clear that the historical missteps can only be absolved through a creation of a culture where the likes of Parbati Raji become capable of reading, and better yet, writing their own stories—in their own homes.
- The writer tweets at @nepalichimneyPublished: 2018-02-03 08:45:49