Advertisements: Some socially sensitive, many insensitive

Advertisements: Some socially sensitive, many insensitive


KATHMANDU, Jan 28 - Black suit perfectly suits the lady playing the mother's role in a popular television commercial of Dabur Chawanprash.

Complementing her in delivering a social message is the role of the man playing her husband. The exhaustion painted on his face when she returns home one evening from work aptly reflects the workload that housewives shoulder every day.

Unlike many socially insensitive advertisements, this particular Indian commercial dubbed into Nepali has in some ways imparted a social message to stakeholders and viewers.

Another commercial that cuts through gender stereotypes is the television advertisement of 2 pm noodles that was broadcast about a year back. It showed a husband feeding noodles to his pregnant wife.

"The commercial proved that consumers do accept even situations that are not so common in society," writes Deepa Gautam, chief producer of Nepal Television in her book 'Kanch Ko Parda, Women in Nepai Television', published by Martin Chautari. 

"The advertisement garnered a positive response due to changed gender roles," Gautam writes. The book is based on analysis of several advertisements broadcast by Nepali television channels.

The two television commercials, however, are not typical of the Nepalese advertisement scenario. There are too many socially insensitive advertisements appearing on Nepalese television.

The advertisement of a Jewelry Shop, which is seen frequently on our idiot boxes these days, is a case in point.

"Ka baiman ! Sun ta nakkali paryo jasto cha ni?" (Cheat! This looks like fake gold.)

This is what the groom tells his father-in-law while accepting gold jewelry from the bride in a marriage ceremony.

The father-in-law save that the gold cannot be fake as he bought it from a reliable jeweller. The father-in-law adds, "Jwainsab, chori pani sakkali sun pani sakkali (Son-in-law, the gold is original and so is the daughter)."

Sociologists say this particular advertisement has two problems. The first is it encourages the dowry system and the second's it reinforces the value our society puts on purity or chastity of brides.

Sociologist Youba Raj Luintel says that despite lack of clarity on what the advertisement means by "chori pani sakkali", the commercial indirectly endorses the value society places on purity of brides. "However, the advertisement does not question whether the groom is pure," he said.

"Such advertisements are also likely to encourage the dowry system," Luintel adds.

Interestingly, the commercial went through censorship for a different reason after being broadcast a few times.

A part of the commercial which showed the father-in-law pulling the ear of the son-in-law punitively was removed after complaints from the public.

The government's Audio-Visual and Broadcast Division under the Ministry of Information and Communication censors advertisements on the basis of Film Production, Exhibition and Distribution Regulations.

Luintel said that while advertisements are for commercial purposes, they should nonetheless uphold ethics. "A well-functioning mechanism should be established, which should have experts to analyze the commercials and make sure that they are ethical," he says.

According to Prabha Pandey, joint secretary of the Broadcast Division, generally commercials that have harmful impact on a particular caste, class or religion are censored. "But deeper and finer analysis is lacking," she adds.

Pandey said there is no special committee for censorship. The chairperson of the Film Development Board decides what to censor.

In his thesis "Male gaze and ideological formation in NTV commercials", Kamal Raj Sigdel says, "Most of the advertisements, at least Nepali advertisements, are created by male designers. It is obvious that most of the advertisements produced are influenced by the conscious/unconscious desire of the designer."

The thesis that is based on interviews with viewers and analysis of advertisements and advertisement literatures said that though there are a few female designers, they follow what the majority does.

'Almost every Madhesi demand has been fulfilled'

'Almost every Madhesi demand has been fulfilled'
[Interview with Ram Chandra Poudel]
Ram Chandra Poudel, Minister for Peace and Reconstruction in the interim government, is facing a tough time as the flames in the tarai show no signs of abating while the date of the CA poll is fast approaching. And even as the SPA leaders embarked on their nationwide election campaign, some regional parties in the southern plains commenced what seems to be the second phase of their agitation. Former deputy prime minister and senior NC leader Poudel is head of the government talks team. He has just returned from Janakpur after addressing the SPA's joint rally, fully confident that nothing can stop the government from holding the CA poll on April 10. Amid increasing doubts among the general public about the possibility of a free, fair and credible election in the face of rising Madhesi agitation, Poudel spoke with Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post centering on the government's efforts to deal with the problems it is facing now.
Q: How do you assess the situation in Madhes? What is your personal assessment?
Ram Chandra Poudel: There are some forces still agitating in the tarai. My observation is that there is a communication gap, particularly regarding the implementation of the agreement reached between the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) and the government. Most of the demands have been fulfilled, and those that are yet to be fulfilled have to be resolved through the CA toward which we are all working. We don't have any conflict with the people of the tarai. I believe we are capable of solving the problems through peaceful negotiation. Indeed, the people of the tarai want to see the CA poll held, and, speaking as a Nepali Congress (NC) leader, they are with the NC. The situation is not that hostile as it appears from Kathmandu. Our mass meeting organized on Saturday also proves this.
Q: The Madhesi front has declared what seems to be the second phase of its agitation in the tarai despite the government's efforts to resolve the issues raised through a dialogue. Why did the agitating groups not respond to the government's invitation for talks?
Poudel: I had a conversation concerning this with Mahanta Thakur of the newly formed Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party, who is also leading the Madhesi front. We had agreed to meet on January 2 at 4 pm. In the meantime, Mahanta Thakur submitted an 11-point demand to the prime minister. But still we were expecting to hold the talks. I was eager to discuss the 11-point demand and reach an agreement. But Thakur refused to sit down for talks on the scheduled date. He asked the government to first respond to the 11-point demand. That was his prerequisite for a dialogue.
He must understand that a dialogue is necessary for us to discuss and come to a conclusion, whatsoever, on the issues including the 11-point demand. Had he agreed to our invitation for a dialogue, we would have had a chance to negotiate and accept some of the feasible demands while they would have got a chance to express their demands more clearly. Even then, we are making efforts in that direction, and I hope we will soon have a dialogue.
Besides, when Mahanta Thakur presented his party's demands, we also got confused as to how to go ahead with the talks and negotiations. Besides, within the Seven-Party Alliance itself, we became busier in implementing the 23-point agreement. That also delayed the dialogue. Thakur showed no intention of talking to me while he went to meet the prime minister to submit the 11-point demand. He did not approach me after handing over the communication, neither would he come to my contact. That is why it is being delayed. But that is not what we want.
Q: Do you believe that the Madhesi problem can be resolved through a dialogue?  
Poudel: Yes, I do. There is no such demand which cannot be addressed through a dialogue. Regarding those demands with which we have problems, we will seek alternative ways through negotiation. Otherwise, most of the issues have been addressed and solved; what is needed is clarification of the confusion.
So far as the 11-point demand presented by Mahanta Thakur's party is concerned, I don't think that will create any big problem. Regarding some critical points, however, we must move ahead only through consultation.
Q: Of late, the agitating Madhesi Front has been demanding reservation of 50 percent of the seats in the central government. What do you understand by this?
Poudel: First, I too want to ask them what they mean by setting aside 50 percent of the seats for Madhesis. Are they really for proportionate elections? Such unclear things can be sorted out only through a dialogue.
I think they are asking for 50 percent representation as a continuation of their demand for proportional representation. When drawing up the list of candidates for proportional representation for 20 percent of the seats, it is said that there is no compulsion to grant proportional representation to any other group except women. No reservation has been made for Adivasis, Janajatis, people from remote areas, Madhesis, Dalits and other marginalized groups. But Mahanta's demand is to increase that 20 percent reservation to 50 percent, which contradicts that understanding. He should know what that means. I am eager to discuss the results of this decision with Thakur himself.
Q: What would be the results?
Poudel: In fact, the consequence of this would mean the end of proportional representation. If this demand were to be fulfilled, the country will never reach the stage of proportional representation. Even the NC has not won more than 40 percent of the seats in all the elections held so far. Same with the UML. Given that even the biggest parties have less than 40 percent of the seats, the demand seems to go against the norms of proportional representation. If Thakur keeps 50 percent of the seats, then there would be no chance for others to be proportionally represented. Not only that, will the women, Janajatis and others who are also seeking proportional representation agree to this?
Q: Why do you think they raised such a demand?
Poudel: The Madhesi leaders representing the MPRF had first asked for 40 percent reservation. But in the course of our dialogue, when I convinced them logically that their demand was unjustifiable, they withdrew it. We reached that agreement only after they gave up their demand for 40 percent reservation.
Q: It is said that the agitation in the tarai has been instigated by some BJP parliamentarians and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's government. What do you say?
Poudel: I don't want to say anything about this. I am of the opinion that if there is any confusion between us, we must resolve that through a dialogue.
Q: The agitating Madhesi parties complain that they had to initiate the recent phase of their agitation as the government did not implement the agreements reached earlier.
Poudel: That is not true. What all the Adivasis, Janajatis and Madhesis want is proper representation in the CA. The CA will be well represented by all the marginalized groups. They will have fair representation there as the system of election that we have adopted ensures this. The marginalized and under-represented groups are going to make good use of that for the first time. So, first, the demand for proportional representation has been solved through the election system.
Second, the demand of the Madhesi parties that they be granted a federal and autonomous state has been fulfilled. Third, the demand regarding representation and rights of the indigenous groups has been fulfilled with the passage of the ILO convention. The convention fulfills the natural, economic and cultural rights of Dalits, Adivasis, Janajatis and all the deprived people. Similarly, we have declared holidays on major festivals of different religions. The government has also fulfilled the demand of the Madhesi parties to give proper compensation to the families of those who lost their lives during the Madhes movement. We have also provided proper medical care and treatment to those injured during the movement.
There was another demand that Madhesis be appointed proportionately to the civil service since certain elite castes such as Brahmins and Chhetris alone were occupying government posts. To meet this demand, we have amended the Civil Service Act which provides for 45 percent reservation for marginalized groups like Adivasis, Dalits, Madhesis, etc. Almost half of the appointments in the civil service have been reserved for them. The government is now preparing to recruit 2,000 police personnel, and this will be carried out as per the amended Civil Service Act.
In fact, almost every demand has been fulfilled. Let me know what is left to be done. They must speak clearly. The system of federal autonomy has been inscribed in black and white in the Interim Constitution itself. The demand for proportional representation has been fulfilled as we have adopted a proportional electoral system for the election to the Constituent Assembly. Similarly, the demand for distribution of citizenship certificates, which had been central to their demands until recently, has been fulfilled.
Q: Some complain that the SPA is going beyond its mandate given by the people through the April Movement. For instance, you declared the country a federal republic which was nowhere mentioned during the April Movement. What do you say?
Poudel: I, too, am feeling uncomfortable about that. We took that decision amid mounting pressure from Madhesis and Janajatis through their movement in the tarai. The SPA government, being a democratic one, could not suppress the people's demand. I do agree that we compromised [the democratic system] and declared the country a federal republic to fulfill the demand of the people.
However, we decided to fulfill that demand to make the environment conducive for the CA poll. Though we had said that this should be done through the CA, the agitating Madhesis and Janajatis/Adivasis wanted the government to ensure that right away. They feared that with the major political parties winning a majority of the seats in the CA, the voices of the minority would be ignored or rendered powerless. To put it frankly, we did that under pressure because we could not reject their request.
Since we are going to federalize the state sooner or later, we thought it would be okay to do that before the CA poll, believing that the CA would also endorse this. But I actually feel that we acted prematurely.
Q: What demands are left to be fulfilled then?
Poudel: This is exactly what I, too, am asking the agitating Madhesi leaders. Of the 11 demands, some have already been fulfilled; but they need clarification. For instance, one of the 11-point demands has to do with the Khilraj Commission, which they want annulled. They say that the mandate given to the Khilraj Commission is defamatory. Earlier, when the forum had complained to us about this, I immediately asked the cabinet to make changes in the commission. The commission had used words such as "some incidents in the tarai" in its document; we changed that to "Madhes movement". We also increased the area to include all the places where the Madhesi movement took place. We have reformed the commission and amended its document to make it an honorable commission. It has also already submitted its report. So we want to make these things clear through a dialogue.
Q: What are the demands of the armed groups? Does the government have contact with them?
Poudel: At the time we were holding talks with the forum, the armed groups in the tarai were also raising similar demands. We had asked Upendra Yadav to include the armed groups in the negotiation process so that they could also be incorporated in the agreement. But Yadav said that once the government reached an agreement with the MPRF, they would automatically come for talks because recognizing the MPRF would increase their confidence to come forward for a dialogue. But they did not show up. The MPRF leaders should help to bring them to a dialogue. However, I am also contacting the leaders of the new tarai regional party to urge the armed groups to hold talks. We are making efforts. We have also written to them, but they have not stepped forward.
Q: Do you think that a free, fair and credible CA poll is possible? How?
Poudel: All our efforts are directed at holding a free, fair and credible CA poll. If we fail to do that, there will be questions raised over the credibility of the poll. I don't think Mahanta's party has come to disrupt the CA. I admit that there are some armed forces operating in the tarai that may pose a threat to the CA poll, but we must all work together to bring them to a dialogue.
Q: How confident are you in this regard?
Poudel: I cannot say because they have never come to talk. I cannot say with certainty that they will come. But still, if everybody requests them, they may step forward.
Q: Are the legitimate parties working to bring them to a dialogue? Do they want them to come to a dialogue? What are their views?
Poudel: I don't have any information about that.
[The interview was published in The Kathmandu Post, Jan 28, 2008]

Federalism will lead to a bloodbath

Federalism will lead to a bloodbath


Bhimarjan Acharya is a senior constitutional expert with a dozen books to his credit. He has been actively advocating against the SPA's decision that led to the Third Amendment to the Interim Constitution declaring Nepal a federal republic.


Acharya has been in the legal profession for the past decade. He thinks the country will disintegrate with a federal system. Acharya spoke with Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post on why Nepal should not become a federal country.




Q: Federalism has become the buzzword. You are not in favor of it. Why is that?


Bhimarjan Acharya: There are three reasons why Nepal should not have a federal system. Federalism has certain pre-conditions that are not suitable to this country. For example, federalism is derived from the Latin feudus, which means treaty or an agreement between or among states. This certainly indicates a coming together of separate states after reaching an understanding. This is one of the pre-conditions for going federal.


In Nepal's case, it is not a number of states joining to form a country. Secondly, federalism is a concept which is related to colonial states. Most of the states that have adopted a federal system came into being after obtaining independence from their colonial masters. So federalism is directly linked with colonialism. America, for instance, was a British colony; and there were several distinct states before they came together to become what is called the United States of America. Similarly, Switzerland has got its own history of how it became a federal country. Canada is another example. It has a different federal system. India became federal after it became independent in 1947. Argentina and Brazil are other examples.


We are forcefully trying to make Nepal a federal country which has existed for centuries as an independent state. Many of us justify making Nepal a federal country because of its heterogeneity and diversity. Here, we must keep in mind that the approximately 24 federal countries in the world became federal not due to heterogeneity or diversity as such.


I think that heterogeneous or diverse countries are most prone to disintegration. We can see homogeneous countries having a federal structure of governance. There are less chances of disintegration when a federal county is homogenous. Germany is a homogenous country - one language, one culture and one religion. Australia is another example. Americans speak one language. Countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Belgium and even Iraq have been facing serious internal conflicts though they are federal states. What is the reason behind the failure? It is just because of heterogeneity.


So, Nepal cannot survive if it opts for federalism. We cannot federalize it if we look at our ground realities. It is impossible, even though our elite continue to advocate making Nepal a federal country. This is impossible. Federating an independent country is an unnatural task. See how Sudan, Ethiopia and Belgium have been on the verge of disintegration. The survival of these countries has been threatened. Secondly, if we examine our geo-politics and even culture, it is impossible to federalize this country.


Q: How are you going to make this country inclusive which is the new buzzword?

Acharya: Yes, our main concern is to make this country inclusive, and not to federalize it in order to make it inclusive. We just talk about inclusiveness on the basis of federalism. But federalism is just the opposite of inclusiveness. The main thing for inclusiveness is to devolve power in order to empower the people at the grassroots level. We have to have mechanisms which will redistribute the resources.


In a federal structure, you divide the strength of the country rather than the resources. Federalism divides power on the basis of resources. This system will not be inclusive, but it will make certain states exclusive. Demanding a federal state is to be exclusive so that it can break away at any time or provide space for external interference.


Every community will be excluded from the benefits. A few elite in power will continue to play with the division of power. A developed and modern country does not allow the Madhesis to collect tax and spend it for their benefit or the hills to develop hydropower and spend it for the development of the hills only. An inclusive or developed state should redistribute natural resources for the benefit of the masses or share the economic burdens equally.


Dalits consist of 13 percent of the total population of this country. Will this community ever enjoy the benefits of the country's economy when you talk about the income of Madhes for the Madhesis? So, let us not try to think of making Nepal a federal country. It will just lead to a bloodbath.


Q: The SPA has already amended the Interim Constitution declaring the country a federal republic. How will it be possible to reverse that?


Acharya: Yes, we can amend the Interim Constitution. The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) decided to hold the constituent assembly elections within June 2007. Why couldn't the polls be held in June? The SPA again announced that they would be held on November 22, 2007. Why did the SPA fail to hold the CA polls on that day too? The SPA had promised to fulfill several demands of the people. It has signed pacts with the Janajatis and the Madhesi People's Right Forum. Why did it fail to implement the agreements?


The question is not the amendment to the Interim Constitution. What has been decided so far may jeopardize the political course. All political commitments made by the SPA so far have been based on personal interests. No party has actually worked to fulfill the needs of the people. Why did the SPA raise the number of CA seats from 205 to 497 to 601? Did the people give them such a right? You cannot amend constitutional provisions to suit your own interests. You have to respect the political document and fulfill the needs of the people. After all, the people fought for their rights, and not the few political misfits who are reaping the benefits of the April movement.


Secondly, the people of this country have not been demanding a federal Nepal. Can any politician prove that the people fought for a federal country? These politicians have been delivering verdicts instead of debating on the core issue. I was personally involved in the fight against King Gyanendra's autocracy. I have not yet read any news story that says that the people wanted to make this country a federal state. Why did the politicians decide something which was not the people's demand? Every individual talked about democracy and republic, but none uttered the word federalism. So it is easy to amend the Interim Constitution because federalism is not the people's demand.


The politicians should not make wrong decisions. They cannot create a nation-state by making such wrong decisions. You cannot correct the wrong. I know the so-called elite are actively involved in turning this country federal. It was they who influenced the political decisions in this country. They must know that they do not represent the people's aspirations. They crave for power and think that federalizing this country would provide them a greater political stake.


The main concern is to transform the political system of this country. How? The spirit of the April movement was not to make Nepal a federal state. So they should not work for that objective.


Q: Many defend federalism as the way to empower the people at the grassroots level. Is this assessment wrong?


Acharya: This is a wrong concept. There are differences between the unitary and federal systems. A unitary system tries to unite the country, while a federal system divides sovereignty and encourages disintegration. The necessity is not to partition sovereignty, but to devolve power within the unitary system. Why is the number of federal countries not increasing? Can you imagine Nepal remaining an integrated country if you federalize it? A federal state shares judicial, legislative and parliamentary powers. This is to divide power among the states. Such power divisions will encourage separatist movements as we have seen in Sudan, Belgium, Ethiopia and even in India.


Professor Dias says federalism is suitable for homogeneous countries. It will not bring any unity in diversity. If we want to see unity in diversity, the unitary system is the best one. What we are doing is artificially trying to disintegrate the country before bringing it together.


Q: But the Janajatis and Madhesis have been demanding a federal Nepal. How do you assess their demands when you know Nepal will disintegrate once it becomes a federal country?


Acharya: As I said, it is not the demand of the Madhesis and Janajatis. A few elite who have been sidelined for years have come forward with such a demand. Honestly speaking, they want to seize power and become chief ministers of such federal states. They want to become another autocrat. 


Autonomy and the right to self-determination are again linked with colonial powers. No country has colonized Nepal. The 1960 UN Declaration clearly mentions certain provisions on self-determination and federal states. The people of a certain region enjoy the right to self-determination only if the country is under a colonial power. Or the people enjoy the right to self-determination only if the country is ruled by an external power. Where can you find such rights to self-determination applicable to territory when it has not been ruled by any external power?


Madhes wants to be a separate state, which means the right to self-determination applicable to individuals and the state. This means the right to secede at any time.


However, for the sake of simplicity, I said the right of self-determination applicable to individuals and the right to self-determination applicable to the community and not the state. The demand made by the Madhesis and Janajatis are the right to self-determination applicable to the state. This cannot be possible in an independent country like Nepal. If you are talking about the right to self-determination applicable to individuals, then it is possible. Even the UN declaration mentions that. But it is unnatural to break up a unitary state in order to federalize it. Federalism, by its very virtue, is division of power and sovereignty. Do you think the country will survive if you divide its sovereignty?


The demand for the right to self-determination clearly underlines secession. If you want to form an independent country, then you can have the right to self-determination and advocate a federal Nepal. We are not fighting for independence. Are we going to lose our sovereignty?


Again, self-governance and self-determination are totally different entities. You cannot equate the two ideas. We must know that unitary and centralized systems are not identical either. A unitary system can address the needs of the people, empower the local people and redistribute the available resources while the centralized system will not. I know the unitary system is something totally different and we can go for it.


Q: How will the unitary system devolve power to the people at the grassroots level?


Acharya: Certainly, there are several examples. A number of countries have adopted a unitary system of governance. We can decentralize power. If you think that federal countries have a better system of decentralizing power, why is the number of federal countries not increasing from 24 to 25 out of 230 countries? Federalism is an outdated 17th-century model. It is not applicable to Nepal.


Q: Why has federalism become the new buzzword?


Acharya: There are three reasons. There is a conviction among politicians that a federal Nepal will be a better option. Secondly, I wouldn't call them anti-establishment, but some people are raising the issue of federalism just to gain political mileage as they have been ignored or sidelined for a long time. They see this period of political transformation as an opportunity to destabilize the country. This group is very powerful. They move around politicians exerting influence on key political decisions. The prime minister announced at midnight on Magh 10, 2063 that Nepal would be a federal country. Nobody knew until then that the country would have a federal system. Who decided that - you, me or the people? Unfortunately, the Madhesi movement gained currency. The SPA amended the Interim Constitution, and again recently the SPA added a clause to it declaring that Nepal would be a federal republic. Federalism is a highly technical word. People are unaware of it. Yet the politicians under the influence of a few so-called intellectuals decided to make Nepal a federal country. ((TKP, Jan 14, 2008)

India's Enchroachment in Nepal

Photo of Nepal Enchroachment (Source: Buddi N Shrestha)

INTERVIEW with Mahanta Thakur

'We have a right to declare independence'


Former Minister of Science and Technology Mahanta Thakur left the interim government to form a new party. He began his career in politics as a student leader in the early 1970s. He contested the general elections from Siraha. After having been a member of the Nepali Congress for more than 37 years, Thakur left the NC at a time when the party needed him most. Thakur does not believe the government can hold the CA polls in mid-April because of the deteriorating law and order situation in the tarai.

Thakur spoke with Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post on the future political course of his party and his demand for greater autonomy with a provision for self-determination.




Q: You have formed a new party right after the SPA agreed to hold the CA elections by mid-April. Is your new party prepared and in a mood to participate in the polls?

Mahanta Thakur: We are not against the government's plan to hold the CA elections by mid-April. But the people in the tarai want to see their issues settled first. Elections are a constitutional process to express your views in a peaceful manner; but having said that, the current situation in the tarai is not conducive to holding elections. Peace and security are prerequisites for holding the polls.


Q: You have also expressed dissatisfaction with the 23-point agreement struck recently by the SPA. Is this a prelude to your boycotting the CA elections possibly to be held in mid-April?

Thakur: We have not protested against the agreement. There is a burning problem in the tarai right now, but the SPA is ignoring it and going ahead with its own agenda with a one-track mind. This has created enough room for suspicion. All the major political parties are well cognizant of the problems in the tarai and what's going on there. There is state-sponsored terrorism. Incidences of extortion and abduction are daily affairs. Violence has increased. In such a situation, I think the general people of the tarai don't want the election to be held. First, there should be peace, the violence must stop, and the issues settled.


Q: You mean you do not believe the CA polls will be held in mid-April as the SPA is preparing to announce.

Thakur: That's what the people of Madhes have been saying. We are planning to visit the tarai and tour all the districts. And we will decide accordingly. We will collect information about the problem in the tarai by sitting down face-to-face with the local people. If the government and others cooperate with us and peace is restored, we can hold the elections.


Q: You have named your party Tarai-Madhes Loktantrik Party. How do you define tarai and Madhes? Who are the Madhesis according your definition?

Thakur: This is just an illusion. Both terms are being used interchangeably. There is no difference in their meanings. And there is no politics hidden behind that.


Q: When you define Madhes and Madhesis, do you include all the people of different origins and castes presently living in the tarai?

Thakur: We have always talked about the tarai and the hills in a holistic manner. We are talking about the 49 percent of the national population living in the tarai. We have raised overall issues. We have not talked about a certain caste, origin or religion.


Q: You mean you are raising a regional issue as opposed to a racial one.

Thakur: Yes. We have raised the issues of a geographical area, not of a certain caste or a certain party.


Q: Is this reflected in the way your party has been formed, for instance, in its membership?

Thakur: They will be incorporated in the organization in due course.


Q: You have been a devoted Nepali Congress leader since you joined politics. But you resigned abruptly and formed a new party. There are a number of parties with different ideologies already operating in the tarai. Can you, as an ex-NC leader, take them into confidence?

Thakur: All the parties are trying their best and want to solve the problems of Madhes and Madhesis. Since we all have a common goal, we have come together. Now we all agree that this problem should be solved peacefully. This is in the interests of the nation and the people.


Q: There are different parties in Madhes; some armed, some unarmed. How would you characterize them?

Thakur: Our party has stated clearly that all the political groups fighting for the Madhesi cause should come together. We are making efforts towards that end. If we advance together, there will be less problems for the people, they will get relief, also less effort will be required. We have publicly appealed to everybody to unite for the cause. As part of our campaign, we held consultations with the tarai parties before we established our party. We will have formal talks with them now that we have formed a party. Then we will go ahead with some coordinated programs. They have agreed informally that we need to act together.

And as for those who are operating underground, we have not yet talked to them face-to-face. But they have expressed their appreciation and welcomed our initiative through different media in the tarai. They have congratulated us. We have taken it positively. We will meet them and request them to join our peaceful movement.


Q: Judging by the fact that Upendra Yadav of the MPRF and several others did not attend your party's inauguration, it appears that your party will also become just another in the procession of parties that have emerged in the tarai. In such a situation, how will you be able to add new dynamism to the Madhesi movement?

Thakur: We will have formal talks with them to finalize matters.


Q: Do you think that the armed groups operating in the tarai will join open politics if the demands that you and other unarmed political groups have been raising are fulfilled?

Thakur: They are in politics even now. They are different only in their approach. Since they are raising political issues, we must say it is politics. It's only the way they are doing it that is different.


Q: Different parties in the tarai have been raising different demands. You have come up with your own. So what are your party's demands?

Thakur: We want complete autonomy. The local people should be involved in running the local administration. This is not happening at present. Everything is run by the center. The Madhesis do not see their reflection in the faces that are sent there to handle the local administration. For this reason, the people in the tarai do not feel ownership of the administration. They are not in a position which allows them to say, "This is our government, and it serves us." What is lacking is participation and autonomy.


Q: Do you think all these demands should be fulfilled before the CA polls? How practical would it be in that case?

Thakur: The people of the tarai think that it would be better if these issues are settled before the CA polls. But I think the CA is also a valid process to get our demands fulfilled. A part of our problem will be solved if the election reflects our sizeable representation. I take the CA polls as an opportunity too.


Q: The recent 23-point agreement states that the CA will contain 601 members and that the tarai will be well represented. Don't you think that this new development ensures what you are demanding in advance?

Thakur: There have been discrepancies in what is said and written. But I said that the CA was also an opportunity. It is not that we can solve all the problems at once. We can also solve some of the problems by using that legitimate process. We think this is a legitimate process and we must accept it. Why should we avoid it? But there is no such situation in the tarai for holding the elections.


Q: What are the conditions that can bring you to the CA?

Thakur: People have been clamoring that we do not believe the government can hold the elections peacefully and that their demands will be fulfilled. So our demands, such as autonomous government and Madhesi participation in the local administration, should be fulfilled. And there is truth in our demands. Every time tarai issues are raised, they get sidelined. Though the government has made some commitments, nothing has been implemented in practice to this date. The posts of CDO, police chief and various administrative officials are still occupied by a single elite community. So the people are not convinced that the government will ensure equality and bring immediate changes in our administrative and judiciary systems.


Q: Would it be possible to reform overnight the entire system that was established by the Rana oligarchy and cultivated by the Panchayat system? How should the government revamp the whole system before the CA polls?

Thakur: The government should demonstrate its commitment by acts that will convince the people that their demands will ultimately be fulfilled. The people should be assured that there will be no more extortion. For example, the police come to innocent people's houses at night and intimidate them for no reason. They are subjecting the people to extortion. They take away people's guns even if they have a license.


Q: Don't you think that the CA is the right mechanism to solve all the problems?

Thakur: The CA is an issue that is raised time and again strategically. We were not the ones who postponed the CA polls. Neither can we do that. Now all the arrows are directed at Madhes. The seven political parties quarrel among themselves and the blame is placed on us.


Q: It is said that the NC has sent you to the tarai with this new party to undermine other parties such as the Maoists that have taken hold there.

Thakur: There is not a grain of truth in that.


Q: But how could you have left the NC? You have been a NC leader your whole life.

Thakur: I have left the NC. We have formed a new party.


Q: Like all the other armed and unarmed groups in the tarai, your party has also demanded the right to self-determination. What is this "right to self-determination" in plain language?

Thakur: Regardless of whether you write it down or not, it is there. But once stated, it becomes a legitimate right of the people. If the government continues to suppress the tarai, then it is the people's right to warn it that they have a right to self-determination. Till now we have been talking about living together. But if you suppress us any longer, we have a right to declare independence and live separately.


Q: Since everybody has agreed on establishing a federal republic, Madhes too will have its own provincial government. So who will be there to continue "suppressing" you in a federal system? Won't it make your demand for "right to self-determination" redundant?

Thakur: Yes, that is possible. There are examples we can draw from other countries. Suppression can continue even after a state has been granted autonomy. There are examples of states that have separated and declared independence, and also of some that have rejoined the federation.


Q: You mean self-determination similar to the Kashmiri demand?

Thakur: That is a different case.


Q: When you are talking about self-determination, does it indicate that we are heading towards disintegration? 

Thakur: I don't think that guaranteeing a state all its rights can lead to disintegration. A community with such rights becomes stronger, thus there is no chance of it breaking up. When inequality exists, the chances of disintegration are greater. For instance, several independent countries came together to form the European Union. They are working together; they have a common currency and common market and share many things. Though there are instances of disagreement among them, they are working hard to stay together. The suspicion that the country could break up is only a fear.


Q: There are several castes and groups - for instance, Tharus, Limbus, Kirats, Brahmins, Chhetris and others - among whom some have been demanding their own states while others have been demanding their representation in state affairs. How do you address their concerns?

Thakur: We are raising overall issues. We have not raised a particular community's issue. Just like when the British Empire was pulling out of India, they were more worried about the problems of the suppressed community than the Indians themselves. They could not solve the problem of the suppressed community during their reign, and when it was time to leave, they worried how the Indians could solve them.

The colonial forces who were leaving India were more worried about it than the Indians themselves.  That is what is happening in our country too. The government did not show any interest in solving the tarai's problems before, but now they are worrying about how Madhes can solve the problems and issues of other communities. They are focusing more on this. We are talking about the entire tarai. We are not taking about any caste or community. We are talking about 49 percent of the national population.


Q: Have you held talks with other disgruntled groups, such as Janajatis and others who are also legitimate political forces in the tarai?

Thakur: We are in the process of holding discussions with such discontented groups.


Q: Can you include them in your program?

Thakur: No, we are not raising caste specific issues [as the Janajatis have been doing]. We are talking about a geographical region. In this sense, I think all the issues have been brought together.

INTERVIEW with Buddhi Narayan Shrestha

'We could regain Greater Nepal'

Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, a former director general of the Department of Survey, is probably the most distinguished survey research scholar of Nepal's international boundaries. He has been working in the field of surveying and mapping for the last 41 years. Shrestha has authored several books on the Nepal-India border demarcation and management. He was trained and educated in surveying and land-use mapping in India, Canada, Germany and Japan.

Shrestha, who was awarded the coveted Madan Prize 2057 for his book Boundary of Nepal, spoke to Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post on the current Indo-Nepal border dispute. He says India has encroached on almost 60,000 hectares of Nepali territory over the last 72 years.


Q: You have been a vocal critic of Indian encroachment on Nepali territory for a long time. What actually is the Nepal-India border dispute?

Shrestha: There are a number of reasons that trigger rows over the border – no clear demarcation pillars, lack of historical documents, unclear points/articles in the border treaties, frontiers based on changeable river courses, one country considering itself superior to the other and the like.

Nepal has been having arguments over the border with India for a long time. On March 4, 1816, Nepal and the East India Company signed the Treaty of Sugauli. That was expected to resolve the border disputes, but it did not. For instance, right after the signing of the treaty, the East India Company claimed Antu Danda of Ilam and handed it over to Sikkim. However, Nepal managed to get it back in 1838.

The border problems remained after India became independent in 1947. In fact, they intensified as India's population increased rapidly and Indian settlers began clearing Nepal's forests in the tarai and settling down there.

And now in 2007, when loktantra has been established in Nepal, the disputes still exist.

Q: Mainly, which parts of Nepal have been encroached on?

Shrestha: There is a 1,808-kilometer-long border between Nepal and India, and 26 districts of Nepal adjoin Indian territory. In my estimation, there are 54 places in 21 districts involving 60,000 hectares of land where we have border disputes, conflicts, encroachment claims and counterclaims ranging from the smallest one of 2 hectares in Sandakpur to the largest one of 37,000 hectares in Kalapani. Some of the others are Susta (14,000 hectares), Mechi (1,600 hectares) and Parasan (450 hectares).

Q: Does the government recognize the fact that there are 54 border disputes that you just mentioned?

Shrestha: A meeting of the 31st Nepal-India Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee held in Delhi is supposed to have completed 98 percent of the task of strip-mapping the border. So, according to the government, all the disputes, except Susta and Kalapani, have been resolved. But making maps is not everything. The maps may be correct, but when we trace the border in the field, we find instances of encroachment. What is the use of the maps if the Nepalis cannot use their land?

Q: How was Kalapani encroached upon? And what is the dispute about?

Shrestha: In 1962, there was a fierce war between India and China which India lost. After the fighting stopped, the Chinese Army retreated to its original border. The Indian Army looked around and found Kalapani to be a strategically advantageous point. There is a 20,276-foot-high hill which they thought could be useful as a stronghold from where to fend off the Chinese Army.

At a meeting of the technical committee, Nepal had proposed to resolve the Kalapani dispute using the maps of 1850 and 1856 as the basis. But India wanted to use the map of 1879. Since the Indian map was irrelevant to Nepal, it rejected the proposal. What is interesting is that Kalapani is shown to be on Nepali territory on the maps submitted by Nepal and on Indian territory on Indian maps. In the map taken as the base document by Nepal, the Kalee River is shown as the frontier. The facts have been distorted on Indian maps, and the river has been renamed as the Kuti Yangti River. As India has changed the name of the river, the dispute remains unresolved.

Q: What is the Susta border dispute about?

Shrestha: In the Susta area, India has encroached on about 14,000 hectares of land over a period of 72 years. The intrusion happened in stages, the latest being on November 22, 2007.

Q: What do you think are the reasons behind the arguments over the border with India?

Shrestha: The main reason is that 595 kilometers of the 1,808-kilometer-long Nepal-India border is defined by rivers—such as the Mechi in the east, Mahakali in the west, and the Narayani in the Susta area, which demarcates a 24-kilometer stretch of the international frontier. The rivers keep changing course and that gives rise to arguments. 

Q: Are there any special reasons behind the encroachment in Susta? What do the Indians have to say?

Shrestha: There are five major reasons behind the Susta border dispute – natural, technical, social, political and governmental. The natural reason is flooding. The Narayani River changed its course after the floods of 1845, 1954, 1980 and 1989, and the Indians argued that the reclaimed land was theirs. Another natural cause is that Susta is surrounded on three sides—north, south and east—by Indian territory, and on the west you have the Narayani River. So, Susta is cut off from Nepal which makes it easier for the Indians to move in and occupy it. 

The technical reason is that no Junge pillar has been erected along the 24-km riverian border, perhaps because the river was considered to be a natural boundary at that time.

The social reason is that the population gradually increased on the Indian side adjoining Susta, and the Indian Special Services Bureau helped them to encroach on Nepali territory. Besides, when the Gandak Barrage at Bhaisalotan was completed, nearly 250 laborers that came to work on the construction project did not return but settled in the Susta area. They outnumbered the Nepalis and they encroached on more land.

The political cause is that the BJP in Bihar encouraged local Biharis to intrude into Nepali territory under the condition that they vote for the party in return.

They also have the backing of the Indian government as is proven by the fact that the SSB has been supporting the locals in their landgrab. The SSB has been torturing Nepalis frequently. But the presence of the Government of Nepal has not been felt.

Q: Are the government's efforts to resolve the disputes adequate? 

Shrestha: Nepal has not acted as it should have. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had released a statement saying that, except for Kalapani and Susta, all the border issues had been resolved. But there are other places where encroachment has happened.

Of late, however, the government is gradually becoming more aware. Parliament is also taking this issue seriously. Parliamentarian Kunta Sharma returned from a visit to the Susta area and claimed that Nepali lands had been occupied. The parliamentary foreign relations committee is also keeping a close watch. Various MPs have been raising the subject in Parliament.

Even the Prime Minister has expressed his commitment to look into it seriously. So the matter has now reached the highest level. I think that if the PM were to pursue it seriously, it can be resolved. The problem is that our leaders fear raising the border issue with India because they think that it will make their chairs shake.

Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan talked to her Indian counterpart Pranav Mukherjee on December 7. Mukherjee said that the status quo should be maintained. But what does that mean? That is not the solution. Now that the issue has reached the Foreign Minster's level, it should be taken to the PM's level too.

The PM should look into it because the border is a serious national issue. If one square kilometer of our land is lost, the Nepali nationals living on it will be turned into aliens. Those responsible for losing Nepali territory should be punished for being traitors. Our head of state should not be afraid of talking to his Indian counterpart for the integrity of our national boundary. He should work fearlessly.

Q: Some border experts speak of a Greater Nepal that includes the territory Nepal gave up with the Sugauli Treaty. Is it possible?

Shrestha: There is a concept of "Greater Nepal" which extends from Tista in the east to Kangra in the west. If Nepal were to become prosperous and powerful like China, Nepal's future generations could get back the lost territory, which is one-third of the area of Greater Nepal.

As China got back Hong Kong from the British, so can Nepal get back its lost territory that was lost with the Sugauli Treaty.

Such historical facts should be passed on to our future generations. What is important is that we should not forget our history and the historical facts.

The land we lost to the East India Company should not belong to India. It is ours. The 1950 Treaty, too, says that "the Treaty cancels all previous treaties, agreements and engagements entered into on behalf of India between the British Government and the Government of Nepal".

This means that Nepal should regain its lost territory because the 1950 Treaty has nullified the Sugauli Treaty. But the reality is that the 1950 Treaty has not been implemented fully.


Places encroached upon by Indian


1) Kalapani-Limpidhura, 2) Brahmadev Temple-Purnagiri, 3) Tanakpur Barrage area, 4) Banawasa-Gadda Chauki, 5) Sarada Barrage area, 6) Suklaphata Das Gaja, 7) Pasan-Khudda Kankad, 8) Satti, 9) Khairi-Tapara, 10) Murtia, 11) Manpur-Vimmapur, 12) Santalia, 13) Holia-Nainapur, 14) Koilabas, 15) Krishnanagar-Danda River, 16) Danab River area, 17) Sunauli-Belhia pass, 18) Susta area, 19) Balmiki-Ashram area, 20) Dara Nala, Dari Chure, 21) Thori, 22) Laxmanpur- Pipara, 23) Sirsiya-Allau, 24) Gaur-Jamuna, 25) Tribhuvan Nagar, 26) Sangrampur, 27) Madar-Chandragunj, 28) Tandi-Siraha, 29) Subarnapatti, 30) Sakhada-Chinnamasta, 31) Lalpatti-Govindapur, 32) Kunauli, 33) Binpur-Shivangar, 34) Gobar Gada, 35) Kahaia-Vantabari, 36) Harinagaria-Shivagunj, 37) Sahebgunj, 38) Budhanagar-Jogabani, 39) Rangeli-Sopraha, 40) Bakraha (Luna) River, 41) Pathamari, 42) Maheshpur, 43) Bhadrapur, 44) Kakkarbhitta-Mechi Bridge, 45) Nakalbanda, 46) Bahundangi, 47) Pashupatinagar-Hile, 48) Mane Bhanjyang, 49) Sandakpur, 50) Sangthapu-Singalila, 51) Shivabhanjyang-Singalila, 52) Timbapokhari, 53) Maghena Tumling, 54) Kabeli-Kabu.

Most Popular Posts