Jan 12, 2019-
Nepal’s southern border with India was created 150 years ago by external parties who probably did not realise they were cutting communities in two.In India, federalism has existed for a long time, providing communities with self-realisation. But on the Nepali side, the ruling class has emphasised cultural assimilation in order to create a unitary Nepali identity. But in the populous open border region, where Nepalis and Indians share marital ties, cultures, languages and histories, the promise of
federalism has given way to a rhetoric and ideology based on ethnic identity.
Among these communities, are the Madhesis, who like many others struggle with their identity. “When we go to Raxaul in India, we are identified as Nepalis and when we go past Simara, further north into Nepali territory, we are called Biharis. After all, we must belong to a country. Who are we? We are seeking our identity,” says Saroj Yadav, a young Madhesi man from a small village close to the border in Parsa.
The search for identity is a question Madhesis are confronted with but is hardly acknowledged, let alone addressed by the establishment even after the creation of the Federal State of Nepal.
In 2015, a sizeable portion of the marginalised Madhesi community protested against the government in the streets of Birgunj. They were demanding fair treatment by the state in the form of equal constitutional rights, as well as a larger sanctioned territory, as the current division of federal states cuts through their ancestral lands. This agitation led to a terrible confrontation with the police which eventually forced them to stage their protest in no-man’s-land, disrupting the Nepal-India customs gateway. During this uprising, 58 lives were lost to bullets fired by the government forces trying to suppress the movement.
“We did not cast votes in the ballot to receive a bullet! Nepal can only sustain a bright future when the marginalised, Dalits, minorities and privileged majorities are reflected equally in the mirror of the state,” says Professor Bhagya Nath Gupta, a senior political figure of the Madhes Movement.
Every time Madhesis have displayed their discontent, the government has resorted to violent suppression, resulting in a rise of feelings of detachment and radicalism among many Madhesi youths. During the four month-long economic blockade of 2015, a young Madhesi cadet, during the no-man’s-land protest, said, “This is our ultimate battle, like Bangladesh separated from Pakistan, if our demands aren’t addressed, Madhes will separate itself from Nepal.”
The reluctance of the political class, primarily hill Hindus, to acknowledge the authenticity of the Madhes in the Terai plains, certainly hasn’t had a calming effect.
This photo project, Eclipse, is an open-ended exploration of a core sentimental value that the Madhes Movement has raised and the peoples’ hope for a more egalitarian and secure future.
Eclipse received a Magnum Foundation Grant in 2018 to further develop the project.
Photos & Text: Sagar Chhetri
Published: 12-01-2019 08:28