Monday, October 5, 2009

Federalism - revisited

Ratna Sansar Shrestha

People want to be free from khas domination and protect the NEWAH identity in order to agree with my view
Agreeing with me
No two people agree with each other on the gamut of issues. On certain issues two of us can have similar view (may not necessarily be the same, though) and on certain issues our beliefs can be diametrically opposite of each other. Even at my home there are instances and times when I don’t see eye to eye with my parents as well as my siblings and similarly on certain issues my children’s ideas are very different from that of mine. Therefore, it is neither necessary for all of us to agree completely all the time, nor can it be expected as such, excepting situations and times when people have herd mentatlity which is not that healthy. Therefore, I propose that on this issue we agree to disagree and let’s cherish the diversity in our thinking, thought processes and beliefs.

Moreover, it’s not the case of me being an Ekla Brihaspati. There are many Newars who are in agreement with me, including Khopami, as you yourself have pointed out. What we need to strive for is to reach a consensus that is agreeable to the most and, most importantly, is beneficial for our motherland; might nightmare is Nepal emulating Yugoslavia after creating provinces on ethno-linguistic lines.

Identity as NEWAH
I fully agree with you that we need to protect, preserve and conserve our identity as Newa. Each of us needs to endeavor to do as such. However, we seem to disagree as to how we can achieve it. In my email of 25th September to Naresh Shakya I have made it clear that in the ethno-cultural-linguistic group known as Newa there is diversity in the sense that there are Hindu Newars and Buddhist Newars. Further, even amongst Hindu Newars there exists various Varnas. I am sure that same must be true amongst Buddhist Newars. Therefore, accordingly, there exist diverse cultural practices amongst Newa people (for instance Newars in Khokana neither celebrate Mohani nor Dashain). Meaning we have rich and different cultures.

Ethnically too Newa people are not homogenous. There are descendants from Indo-Aryan lineage and so are from mongoloid. My own ancestors are known to have migrated north into this valley via Simraungarh in 14th century. Basically this valley has been like a melting pot; whoever came here adopted the language and culture of this place, including Lichchabis. Gorkha people too got somewhat assimilated in this valley after Shah kings conquered it, except for language, which they didn’t adopt. Therefore, only commonality amongst Newa people is the language (I am ignoring various dialects of Nepal Bhasa here, although I have difficulty understanding what a Newa from Dolakha is saying even when s/he professes to speak in Nepal Bhasa).

What bothers my conscience is: if we were to ask for an autonomous state on the basis of our language, then we will have to concede to the demand of other linguistic groups too for separate autonomous states on the basis of same criterion. I have read an article written by Noble Kishore Rai, in Kantipur on 2nd October, who advocated restructuring Nepal on the lines of various languages and he also mentioned that there are between 92 to 140 languages in Nepal. That means a small country like Nepal will have to be fragmented into 100 odd autonomous states. This is a lot more than what various parties have proposed (I think Maoists have asked for 13 provinces, UML 15 and congress 16). I know of some Newa people who either don’t want to have to deal with such a thing or opine that other ethno-linguistic groups don’t deserve autonomy. This may amount to behaving like an ostrich. Therefore, I think we, the Newa people, need to decide whether the restructuring should happen on linguistic lines or not. If we go for the former, then we have to be prepared to have 100 odd autonomous states with right to self determination. I think Newa people need to do a soul searching on this issue with regard to whether some thing as such will be good for such a tiny country. I propose that we deal with the issue realistically.

If we were to demand an ethnic federal state for ourselves then we will need to be prepared to have about 75 states on ethnic lines. We could even ask for Newa autonomous state (on ethnic lines) and also selfishly take the stand that other ethnic communities be not granted statehood on ethnic lines. But this will hardly be possible. In other words, I may be willing to join you all in asking for Newa autonomous state if it could be guaranteed that we will not fragment this tiny country into over 75 ethnic states. However, this approach too is not tenable.

At the risk of sounding paradoxical, I believe that we need to ensure that Nepal doesn’t disintegrate while trying to preserve our Newa identity. If people from other communities were to read these lines it is certain that they will call me selfish, self-centered and self-serving. I am prepared to accept being called as such because I know enough to understand that my Newa identity has very little chance of survival if Nepal doesn’t survive. One doesn’t need to go far to see it. A look at things in Darjeeling should suffice.

Khas domination
I will begin by agreeing generally with you that I am unable to stand domination of no one, whether Khas or even Newa. I have been reading a lot of correspondence on this subject including on Bahunbad. It’s time we conduct an introspection on this subject too when we talk about this. I have already mentioned that amongst Hindu Newa there are various Varnas including Bahuns, Rajopadhyas being a good example. Similarly, in the past there have been inter-marriages (arranged ones, not “love marriages”) between Newars in Kathmandu valley with Thakuris and Sens from Palpa, Makawanpur etc. (even with people from Coochbihar in Northeast India). I am sure that people will not deny this historical fact. All this was deemed natural in the past because denizens of this valley, as I have mentioned above, actually migrated from outside and got assimilated here but their cultural and family ties with people outside the valley got continuity. Therefore, I have trouble identifying who actually is a Khas.

Moreover, I am not trying to defend Khas people, though. Given an opportunity to be part of the governance, Newars too haven’t been different. Newars in the governance have unfailingly been responsible for bad governance, exploiting general public, resorting to corrupt practices and nepotism. Same is true of people in governance, irrespective of their ethnicity. Therefore, it’s not the case of a particular ethnic group dominating others. Rather, the governance system was and is at fault. The problem that you have correctly identified can be solved by improving governance system; from the perspective of policy and practice, devolution of right to the grassroots and by ensuring that every rupee intended for the grassroots actually gets spent there, not eaten up by the medium. Once we have federal structure we will be adding one level of provincial governance which too will eat up what is intended for the grassroots.

India has a federal structure sort of on ethnic or linguistic lines. But domination of a particular group still exists there. Meaning the problem that we are trying to address by restructuring Nepal on ethno-linguistic lines exists in various provinces in India due to, basically, bad governance.

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