Ethnic Injustice in Nepal: Need of a Total Democracy

 By Shakespeare Vaidya

The views expressed here are solely of the author and do not reflect CFFN’s thoughts and values.

“As race is the great problem in western democracy including super power America, gender is the barrier in Islamic world, while feudalism is the greatest hurdles in third world democracies.” Anonymous.

The unfortunate truth about Nepal is that the poverty has robbed many Nepalese of their basic dignity for a long time. After 236 years of absolute monarchy and 15 years of “democracy”, only 5 percent Nepalese enjoys 85 percent of the development results, 55 percent enjoys 10 percent, and the rest 40 percent enjoys merely 5 percent according to government statistics. The rulers turned the nation’s think tank institution, National Planning Commission into a National Commission Planning!

The blunt fact is that if South Asia is the poorest region in the world, next only to Sub-Saharan Africa, Nepal is economically poorest in South Asia. The World Bank’s Report on Global Poverty of 2000 presents Nepal’s per capita gross national product as one-third that of Sri Lanka and about 10 percent less than that of Bangladesh. In terms of quality-of- life indicators, from provision of drinking water and basic sanitation to infant and maternal mortality rates, Nepal does considerably worse than Bangladesh even though the latter has a per square kilometer population ratio six times more than that of Nepal.

The frustration-aggression theory and the relative deprivation theory suggest that individuals become aggressive when they deprived to their success in life. The theory stresses that sometimes people or community or ethnic minority perceive themselves to be deprived relative to others leading to the intercommunity hostility politically known as armed conflict. The Maoist in Nepal has also consolidated the frustrations of all tribal and ethnic groups with its demands in order to bring social justice through constitutient assembly.

Poor governance and unequal distribution of economic resources to regions or ethnic communities have resulted in better opportunities for a small minority only. This has also cemented unjust power relations and persistence of poverty amongst for others – a threat to social stability. When people perceive the poverty as being inflicted on them, then the frustration-aggression thesis becomes relevant in understanding why people rebel. Maoist’s based their 40-point demand to realistically capitalize on the theory of frustration-aggression. Looking at the statistics of the rebel originated region, there is no distinct development at all.

Democracy and Ethnic Justice

Without addressing regional and ethnic disparities, neither “total democracy”, nor any other form of government will succeed in Nepal. Democracy is a desirable mode of political interaction, question arises, through which specific democratic practice is more suitable to adopt or develop. In ethnically and geographically diverse Nepal – with 70 spoken languages as per UN – majority rule is not a solution; it is a problem, because it permits domination, apparently in perpetuity. Ethnic minority groups are legitimately ruled with the “tyranny of the majority” whereas majorities constantly resent a minority rule as seen in several countries including Iraq.

Unfortunately, the experience of the 1990 era of Nepal has not encouraged much confidence in the pluralist multi-party political system. Too much premium has been placed on multi-party elections and questions have not been raised about the character of the system with regards to the ethnic justice in the country. The electorate
has practically little to choose from since the competing groups have no substantial policy alternatives on the offer. Thus, the holding of multi-party elections only gave voters voting without choosing. The rule of `winner takes all’ politics and the politics of exclusion only enhanced confrontation between competing forces.

The ‘Royal’ Nepalese Army (Nepal Army now), the point of friction between political forces at present, has never been able to integrate the country’s ethnic communities. A single community continues to dominate the highranking positions till today. The ruling community relegates other ethnic groups to low level positions. It could be one of the reasons why the Maoists have advocated People’s Army letting all ethnic groups to be its part. However, it has also yet to be tested.

There is no doubt that Nepal needs to discover the starting point of the journey to democratic consolidation with people’s empowerment that cannot be dismantled time and again. In the absence of democratic empowerment and justices for all, voting without choosing will remain the only option. The consolidation of all ethnic minorities against the “once agreed constitution” by the Maoists has now forced Nepal to think of a radical change not of a revision and updating.

Conclusion

A medieval polity cannot coexist with modern economy and social structure or vice versa. Today, Nepalese politics is witnessing entry barriers for a vast populace. Nepalese are
demanding a better system of representation of the whole ethnic groups and communities. Monarchy of Nepal is neither the part of modern constitutional authority nor a credible option against the chaos of a “democracy”. Moreover, all citizens of Nepal must have the ‘right’ to decide about their faith on a monarchy, characterized by myths of grandeur, alcoholism, carnal depravity, bravado, extermination of kith and kin in drunken haze of poeticized passions.

A democracy in name alone is little to celebrate if it does not improve the quality of life of its citizens. In the past, Nepal failed to create a framework for managing Nepalese needs. In this context, a break through for total freedom to Nepalese citizens in near future is desired. Finally, there is not much option other than a republican nation based on federal principles to end the ‘rule of force’ for equity, justice, peace, sustainable development and prosperity.

(Shakespeare Vaidya is a socio-economist, he can be reached at svaidya_58@yahoo.ca).

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