The first day of the three-day banda called by indigenous and Madhesi groups saw Newars picketing throughout the core city area, Sherpas taking charge at Chabahil and Tamangs showing their strength at Koteshwor. This happened just a few days after Brahmins and Chhetris threw the city life out of gear pressing their own demands. This shows how sensitive the Nepali society has become in the past few years over the question of identity. But the issue has not come to the fore overnight. For ages, Nepal has been a feudalistic society. With the traditional Hindu caste system, Nepal is among a very few countries in the world where a person is recognized by his/her caste at birth and is divided on the basis of his expected role in the society. But this gradually became a tool to divide the society, with a few castes at the helm of power, a situation which continues to this day. Many of those belonging to the minority communities remained discriminated in all aspects of governance and have been deprived of vital opportunities. With the changing society, however, people from the minority communities began to assert their rights, demanding equal opportunities at all levels.
Since the advent of democracy in 1990, things have changed. And with the downfall of monarchy, the issues of minority rights have come up more strongly. One thing is for sure: the youth is looking for change. A change that would ensure their rights, provide them job opportunities and secure their representation in all state bodies.
One would not disagree that democracy would flourish only if there is equal participation of all sections of the society in nation-building as we are on the verge of building a new Nepal. A Nepal that respects all its citizens, maintains democratic values and adheres to all fundamental human rights. But this would not be possible if the current situation prevails. The current politics based on ethnicity could spiral out of control if the political parties do not take up the issues seriously. On one hand, the parties do agree that federalism would take Nepal into a new era of inclusive society, but they also fear their stranglehold would loosen once the devolution of power takes place.
Be it Janajatis, Madhesis, Dalits, Brahmins or Chhetris, the issue here is not about dividing the federal states on the basis of ethnic identity but ensuring that all ethnic communities have their say in the state affairs and power is decentralized at the lowest level so that all people can benefit from federalism equally. Names of the states hardly matter as long as the new constitution ensures equal participation of all and helps building of a new democratic and inclusive society. The need of the hour is dialogue. Taking to the street for protests that are not within the control of any particular person or leader would only jeopardize the age-hold harmony between different castes and communities. New Nepal should no doubt address grievances of all ethnic communities and recognize their identities, but it should not come at the cost of ethnic discord