Fear the future
- Drafters of the constitution have demonstrated myopia rather than long-term vision for gender equality
Jul 8, 2015-
Men of average abilities become great when they rise to a momentous occasion and perform as the occasion demands of them. But what happens to men of average abilities when they fall short,even when confronted with commonsensical tasks? The time has come to ask this question to the creators of the draft of the new constitution that has just been approved by the Constituent Assembly (CA).
The media, and especially the intelligentsia, has done an admirable job of dissecting the draft and pointing out its shortcomings regarding citizenship rights for women, press freedom, language policy and the delineation and naming of federal provinces. Given the stance of the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML on federalism and identity, it comes as no surprise that they deferred the task of finalising the names and boundaries of the provinces while agreeing to carve eight provinces based on identity and capability. This way, they can satisfy both the Supreme Court and the Madhesi and Janajati groups by putting the CA on hold rather than dissolving it and going ahead with their power-sharing deals. And once the CA-appointed federal commission presents its report, they can revive it for a day or so and pass the boundaries of federal provinces. One can see a solution emerging here.
But the delay in fixing the boundaries and naming the provinces was predictable and expected. After securing a majority in the 2013 CA elections, the Congress and the UML did what they intended to do. What did we expect? That they would draft a constitution that would make the Madhesis and the Janajatis roll over with happiness? The Madhesis and the Janajatis—political leaders and voters both—need to introspect on how they conducted themselves in the time period between the first and the second CA election.
I also understand the frustration of the top leadership of the political parties about press freedom. They possess all the state power and yet,pesky reporters, columnists and editors pillory them with the power of mere words—and the wielders of state power cannot do anything about it. Very exasperating, indeed!
But what baffles me most are the constitutional provisions onwomen’s rights related to citizenship. So far, critics have pointed out the restrictive provisions and their consequences for women, both homegrown and of foreign (read: Indian) provenance. The consequences of such restrictive provisions are obvious. Even the Indophobia of the drafters is not difficult to understand because Indophobia has guided, defined and shaped the patriotic psyche of all and sundry among Nepali speakers.
The subtext behind gender discrimination in the draft regarding property inheritance and citizenship has deep rhizomic roots. Look at the roster of drafters and their leader. The prominent figures, whose intellectual productis the draft, are all from the eastern districts of Nepal: Morang, Jhapa, Ilam and so on. What is the image of these districts in the Nepali imaginary? Highly educated (proximity to Darjeeling, Calcutta and Patna), politically advanced (count the number of prominent men from these districts in political leadership positions at present) and progressive (both Congress and UML spent their formative years inarmed struggle, the communist movement, labour union and nationally influential student politics). And yet, these men, in the present draft, have demonstrated cleverness more than wisdom, sharpness more than depth, and myopia of patriarchal power rather than a long-term vision for gender justice and equality. Why?
Many in the media have yelled patriarchal this and patriarchal that regarding the draft. Well, patriarchy is not an abstract category rooted in scriptures or in the fatwa of the Hindu priests and godmen. It is an everyday reality. Our drafters have closely observed their wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts and other women in their villages and towns. Women do not score very highly in their eyes. Many men there call their women (I have heard this phrase used only for wives) ‘chamalko bora’ (a sack of rice). So, what sort of constitutional provisions would you expect for women? It is offensive but that is what many men, even those in prominent political families, think about women.
Footnotes in history
So, the journey is long and arduous. The problem has multiple facets and roots. But what these drafters seem to have forgotten is that they are not making the constitution for just their mothers and grandmothers or their wives and daughters, but for the women of the future who will rapidly rise to challenge them intellectually in the not-too-distant future. They also forget that King Mahendra must have gloated with satisfaction when he suspended the elected parliament in 1959 and promulgated his Panchayati constitution not long after. But his constitution was a short-lived one that destroyed his entire dynasty and hurled the country into an ethnic vortex because ofhis one language, one dress nationalism. Our drafters do not even have that autocratic satisfaction. Their hubris, their cockiness, their audacity—not to mention their blindness—is nonetheless remarkable. All of this has diminished their reputationin the eyes of current changeseekers and those of posterity. Can they rescue themselves from the footnotes of history? We will soon see.
Published: 09-07-2015 07:54