Poverty, illiteracy, injustice and discrimination are so prevalent and entrenched in Nepal that a fight against them is more difficult than achieving economic progress solely measured in GDP. Even though people of dominant social orders and marginalized Dalits are of same ethnicity and race, their overall socio-economic standings are vastly different. The plights of women, Madhesi, Jumli, Dalit, Janajati, Sukumbasi or any marginalized people are deeply troubling. Over time, these disturbances have awakened those few and far between intellectuals that emerge out of those marginalized communities. These esteemed people are restless to find effective solutions to these problems of the society. However, so much energy is drained in the debates on the semantics of the slogans that there is hardly any energy left to go to the bottom of the problem. And this problem of getting stuck on slogans was prevalent then when I had just stepped foot in the Kathmandu Valley a quarter century ago in search of education, and it is still as strong now.
I remember those days when we spent most of our energy in sorting out the semantics of words such as “prajatantra vs. ganatantra,” and “janabad vs janatantra.” But the passage of time has not healed anything either, and the same disease plagues the movements of social change in Nepal today. Take an example of the Dalit movement. The “to identify or not to identify as Dalit” debate drains so much time on a perpetual basis that there is less time for tackling other burning-issues. The young and educated say “how we describe ourselves will have a long term repercussions” and, therefore, words like “dalit”, “oppressed”, “backward class”, “untouchables” should not be used; such words are just new labels and would create another form of discrimination. They point that re-branding as “harijan” did not change the status of untouchables in India. On the other hand, those who have been in the Dalit movement for long say that the successful and educated Dalits should identify themselves as Dalits to lead those who are left behind, and be inspiration and role models to the young people. They say that the word Dalit is not a caste but a condition carrying an important meaning and identification necessary to build a weight to deal with the society, state and what not. Some are even willing to bring all marginalized people of the society under their fold irrespective of their placement in the old cast system. They say that a movement for socio-economic transformation is required and for that to happen there needs to be a common thread binding all the oppressed people; and the Dalit and Janajati movements do just that. And a whole lot of others are at loss to find whose view may be right, although everyone wants the new generation to live in an egalitarian society where they are not differentiated from everyone else in any respect. But this issue of “to be or not to be Dalit,” and other political wranglings over semantics would have faded away, if the energy of all well meaning movements was poured to clear the fundamental obstacles in key fronts such as improving livelihood, access to knowledge, development of skills, culture of innovation, and endeavors of prosperity.
Although the media, advocacy, and awareness campaigns are important tools to raise awareness of social and political rights, the problems faced by marginalized communities cannot begin to shrink until the society develops a momentum towards political, social, philosophical, and economic transformations. Only then the disparities, which lead to subjugation of one population under another, rebellion and counter-rebellion, will stop stagnating the progressive potential of the society. And, durable solutions start emerging only when the problems become addressed from every major angle such as delivering fairness and justice, creating economic opportunities, espousing and discovering new dreams, and building durable systems.
When seen from only one angle or limited angles, a problem always remains uncontained. People become mesmerized by little things and lose sight of the big picture. Look at present day Nepal; there are success stories in economic, social and political level by a few from almost every casts and ethno-cultural groups. But the uplifting of few and far between has not led to the upliftment of the society as a whole and not specifically that of the underprivileged. A solution to the problem of discrimination, therefore, needs to be sought in an integrated context of all forms of injustices and inequalities and not just from the angle of ethnic autonomy and empowerment. If the problem is approached from limited angles neglecting others, the divides may actually shift rather than shrinking and exploitations may simply change hands rather than getting eliminated.
The best service to today’s marginalized people could be delivered by grassroots level leaderships that can understand higher philosophies and policies and formulate programs and actions that can engage them in learning new knowledge and skills. And it is my view that there exist at least a few trainable leaders in every community. Through these endeavors people must constantly be able to experience that what they are doing today will make their lives better than those lived by their predecessors; the tools and techniques they are using are better than those used in the past; and, they are now part of a system that has built-in feature for continuous monitoring and improvement, which is an indicator of progress, prosperity and optimism. This is like unconsciously training people on leadership, planning, management, innovation and industry, and doing that through simple endeavors in which people are fully comfortable and are not required to know those complicated buzzwords and theory. Please note that the most profound learning happens in the process of doing.
The issue of being lost at the semantics of slogan is overwhelmingly urgent issue but no leader of a political or social movement is here to listen until I give some examples. How many years Hem Bahadur Malla became a “true representative” of the oppressed Madhesis of Dhanusha and Pashupati SJB Rana has become the “true representative” of the Tamangs of Sindhupalchok? As long as I can remember! Did they ever uplift those Madhasis and Tamangs? Never! But still, they knew the fact that the leaders of the opposition had no clue about the concept of “community empowerment.” The opposition never worked on building the empowered and united communities but tried to impress the people with their own better slogans than that of the Pashupati and Hem Bahadur. And, when you play a game in which your opponent has the strategic advantage, you will surely be doomed. Although many people try to credit the success of the Maoist movement in Nepal on their military muscle, I would tend to disagree on that. Till the day Maoists were knowingly or unknowingly working hard in empowering the local communities, their strength grew leaps and bound; and that happened through poorly trained cadres who in many cases made blunders and were responsible for many horrible miscarriages of justice. But since the last year – knowingly or unknowingly – the Maoists have diverted their energy into a centralized politics and have agreed to so many demands of elitist parties that they are going to dismantle the communities who had already feeling a sense of empowerment. Because of this shift of focus on center and the corporate world, the Maoists either already have incurred a loss, or will do so in the future, on their popular support base. They tried to outfox others in the centralized power politics but, of course, operatives of CIA would know how to play this game better than the Maoists. Has anyone heard: “Maoists could be included in the government only if they ‘correct themselves’”? But if the Maoists were to keep on sticking to the game of community empowerment, Nepal’s people will be empowered enough to survive on their own. And, if Maoists are true to their principle, it should not matter whether they come into power or not, as their objective of empowering the poor and marginalized of Nepal would have been accomplished. But if they also eye more on power and less on empowering the people like everyone else, Nepal will continue suffering for a long time to come.