Taking to the streets

  • Protests and movements have provided the marginalised with an avenue to make their voices heard
- TASHI TEWA DOLPO
Taking to the streets

Jul 21, 2014-

French philosopher Michel Foucault, in his book Madness and Civilisation, reveals the other side of madness. He links our narrow understanding of madness with the development of civilisation, emphasising that deviance and transgression are all mirrors of society and hence, should be analysed properly to understand the society we live in. Foucault’s objective was also to explore madness in the civilised world; therefore, his works shock the reader, showcasing the existence of an opposite force within the confines of a beautiful ‘civilised’, individualistic and industrialised world order.

Protests as voices

Generally, protests and mass movements are characterised as ‘anti-social,’ ‘disorder’, and ‘unconscious’ collectivisation. This article is an attempt to explore that ‘disordered’ dimension and the complexities that can reveal voices ‘excluded’ and ‘suppressed’ in the creation of an ordered collective. I will be focusing primarily on sit-in and hunger strike protests organised by the Joint Struggle Committee of the Dolpo Indigenous Development Centre, the Dolpo Concern Centre and the Dolpo Welfare Society.

The exclusive nature of the Nepali state is no secret. In the exclusive domains of the state, the tyranny of the majority was never as evident as when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was appointed Prime Minister, making a mockery of democratic principles. This led to people arguing that authoritarian and totalitarian regimes are not needed in ‘New’ Nepal when we have old demagogues both at the centre and at the districts. This negatively affects the country with regard to providing proper rights to indigenous, Madhesis, women, Muslim and Dalits groups.  More so, in spite of the 1990 constitution declaring Nepal a multicultural, multilingual and the Interim Constitution declaring it a secular Federal Democratic Republic, these assertions remain limited to paper, akin to countless other flawed agreements.

This exclusive tendency has led to development of several protests and movements. Silenced voices have become united, ultra-conscious and have planned protests with extensive consultations among the representatives of those excluded.

Two protests

After the ‘Black Day’ at Do-Tarap, which left two locals dead and several with physical and psychological injuries, many reporters and Op-Ed writers commented on the violent issue. Ujjwal Prasai, in his article ‘Police State’, linked the Dolpo incident with the recent arrest of Saptari’s Mohammad Abdul Rehman. After his and other subsequent writings by Deepak Thapa, Rajendra Maharjan, CK Lal, Abdullah Miya, and other collective initiatives started by the Dolpo Joint Struggle Committee led by Norbhu Ghale and Sey Namkha Dorjee, the Home Minister formed an investigation committee, but without consulting with locals. A regional committee was formed under the chairmanship of Surkhet’s Chief District Officer (CDO) Krishna Prasad Khanal, along with two others.

This move shows how serious the government is about the death of locals. According to the Joint Struggle Committee, which staged sit-in-protests and a hunger strike from July 1-9, such an exclusive committee will not do justice to locals. Therefore, locals have asked for the dissolution of the regional committee to form one central committee, including representatives of local communities. The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (Nefin), the National Human Rights Commission and other concerned authorities want to make the investigation committee more inclusive. According to sources from Do-Tarap, locals are now set to reject the committee’s visit to the area.  

Furthermore, near the black statue of Jung Bahadur in Kathmandu, Panchabir Lama and Saenli Maya Lama have also been demanding justice for their daughter Sushila Lama’s untimely death. According to the Lama family, and a press release issued by the National Indigenous Women’s Federation, Sushila Lama ‘Tamang’ was found hanging in the residence of Smriti Shrestha and Bijayaman Shrestha. A post-mortem revealed that Sushila was two months pregnant.

After several rounds in court and threats from the Shrestha family, the Lama family has now resorted to a permanent hunger strike until the government acknowledges their demands and provides justice. The Lama family was on its 26th day of the strike when the Dolpo protest  concluded. The Lama family still stays strong while sharing their grief with pedestrians and other attendees. The government, including the Kathmandu district officials and security forces, has so far succeeded in silencing their voice.  

A continuing quest

Even as the overall theoretical debate on social movements shifts away from resource mobilisation, state actors need to seriously reconsider the interlinked issues of marginalised groups : their identity, caste, lineage, language, indigeneity, history, gender, geography, and ecology.

The mass culture is fed by caste discrimination, along with the hegemonic discourses of Mahendra’s nationalism and Bhanubhakta’s Nepali in schools and other centralised economic structures of development. Local communities have been reduced to mere cheap labourers. The increasing trend of emigration and the tragic return of workers in coffins is also telling of the exclusive nature of our society.

Hence, the rise of ‘bourgeoisie,’ ‘middle-class,’ ‘proletariats,’ and ‘peasants’ who are now reviving their forgotten history to relive their own identity is inevitable. Some are indeed finding their marginalised voices and hence, such protests should not be seen as ‘anti-social’. They have unquestionably remained a part of the communities’ quest towards recognition. Nonetheless, if they are not managed properly with continuous dialogue with locals, the ‘secular’ state should pray to its deities so that another Robespierre or Hitler is not born.

Tewa Dolpo is currently working as a Research Assistant at the Nepa School of Social Sciences

Published: 22-07-2014 09:00

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