NEPAL: Trends in Nepal

An editorial from The Statesman forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The road to a new Constitution in democratic Nepal has been paved with good intentions, but the ride may yet be bumpy. This week’s curtain raiser doesn’t readily inspire optimism, if Monday’s firing at Surkhet is any indication. The political consensus to divide the Himalayan country into six provinces, though generally welcomed by the parties – including Maoists – and a large section of the populace, remains a contentious issue that could hobble the passage of a new Constitution, scheduled on 20 August. As federalism and state reorganization are set to supplant unitary governance, the police firing at a protest demonstration in Surkhet, killing two persons, would suggest that there is still considerable opposition to the initiative of the political class.

Is it possible that ethnic sensitivities have not sufficiently been taken care of, as promised by the government? Or is there a degree of resentment to the boundaries of the six provinces, with each of them sharing the border with India? Profoundly critical must be the timing of the agreement… three months after an estimated 8,000 people had perished in two earthquakes. The paradigm shift in terms of governance has without question been dramatic, but the change will doubtless denude the importance of Kathmandu, till a few years ago the seat of royalty and centralized governance. Most particularly, the protestors are opposed to the division of the country’s midwest into separate provinces, even though lawmakers from the region have agreed to the proposal. Indeed, the merger of regions has turned out to be a prickly issue.

Leaders of the restive Madhesi community in the southern plains and the indigenous Tharu community in the far-western plains have objected to their regions being joined with districts that, in their reckoning, belong to the political elite. The overriding fear is erosion of their rights. The administrative division of Nepal, which has been centrally governed for more than two centuries, has been a major barrier to the drafting and passage of a new Constitution. And that alone explains why progress has been sluggish over the past seven years. While the emotive issues remain to be sorted out, Nepal’s essay towards a redefinition of constitutional governance has doubtless been a watershed development.

Pronounced ethnicity is a pregnant issue in the overall construct. Apart from a variety of castes, there are more than 100 ethnic groups and distinct geographical regions. Small wonder that persistent reservations were reflected on Monday with the attacks on government offices, the offices of political parties, the houses of legislators, and eventually the defiance of curfew orders that appears to have provoked the police to fire. The fact that curfew had to be imposed ahead of the passage of the Constitution is ominous in itself. Dissent ought not to be greeted with bullets.

Document Type : Forwarded Article
Document ID : AHRC-FAT-022-2015
Countries : Nepal,
Issues : Administration of justice, Impunity, Institutional reform, Judicial system, Minorities,