Eight years after the promulgation of the constitution, it is understandable that the people find the impression of governance deficit at the federal, provincial and local levels. What might surprise some is the fact that even independent watchers of the country concede that the situation on the ground is actually different than that of general perception.
In the stream of research, there is a concept of barefoot research, which aims to debunk local realities or the truth and realities on the ground. In this context, Dr Sohan Prasad Sah and Devraj Humagain’s edited work “Madhesh Pradeshma Paidal Anusandhan” [Barefoot Research in Madhesh Province] published by Martin Chautari, Kathmandu this year, provides a concise introduction to barefoot research, dimensions of social and cultural discrimination, discourses on the governance of central and provincial governments, issues of landlessness, struggles of statelessness, trials and tribulations of women leaderships at local bodies, pain and sufferings of rape victims and comment on Chure Bhavar politics.
The book brings together a collection of twelve chapters which provide a critical investigation into the key issues, principles and themes on ground realities of Madhesh, Nepal’s journey with federal democracy and the failure of governments to upkeep governance and rule of law.
The book begins with an introductory where Dr Sohan Prasad Sah discusses the barefoot research and its scope in Madhesh province. He opines that barefoot research promotes the ground realities. This mechanism of research enables people to enrich their capacity building and ensures that the local issues are fairly disseminated at provincial and national level, believes Dr Sah.
Dimensions of discrimination
In the first chapter, Dr Gopal Thakur, who is nationally known for academic research and writings, shades light on linguistic, cultural and politico-economic differences and discriminations between Soit, the so-called Terai upper castes, and Solkan, the so-called Terai-Madhesh lower caste community members. He argues that the opportunities provided by the state should be justly distributed between Soit and Solkan.
BP Sah, an eminent media person, discusses the production of discriminatory media contents, which are more in the nature of hate speech targeting Madheshi and marginalized communities in Nepal. His research discusses how the discriminatory contents are being uploaded and disseminated through online platforms like Youtube, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter.
Sah believes that the persons involved in dissemination of hate speech through new media, often, get spared by the state. He argues, the new media platforms are being misused in such a way that they are appearing like a “new virtual village” enticing hatred and hate speech. His chapter is a good read to understand the dimensions of sociological and cultural discrimination being spread through online media platforms.
There appear three chapters on governance discourse. The authors—Manju Yadav, Surendra Kumar Kamati and Kusumlata Tiwari—delve deep to discuss discourses relating to provincial governmental apparatuses and their policies and programs and their governance for strengthening democratic credentials.
Manju Yadav, a former lawmaker of Madhesh Province, examines the effectiveness of the seven thematic committees formed at the provincial assembly of Madhesh Province. She argues that the Madheshi parties, who claim to be champions of inclusivity and federalism, have grossly failed to ensure the fair representation of women at different thematic committees of provincial assembly. She reveals that the committees are yet to come up with their annual reports.
Surendra Kamati, a journalist-based in Siraha district, discusses the Constituency Infrastructure Development Programme, commonly known as the Constituency Development Fund. He argues that there is a dire need of holding a debate as to the relevance of this fund at provincial level. As the Fund has been extensively misused by lawmakers, it should be discontinued.
Kusumlata Tiwari, a Research Scholar of MPhil (Anthropology) at Tribhuvan University, writes on the “Save Daughter; Educate Daughter” plan of Madhesh. She believes the plan floated by the Madhesh Province government has certainly played a crucial role in increasing the access of girls and adolescents to education in southern plains.
She writes, “The initiative to distribute bicycles to schoolgirls under the campaign of “Save Daughters, Educate Daughter” has encouraged girls to continue their education.” We could easily find the level of confidence and energy among schoolgirls riding bicycles to reach their schools, she mentions. She is of the opinion that these types of initiatives should be promoted as they would play a significant role in limiting school dropout ratio.
Concerns of Dalits
John Locke said that life, liberty and property are inalienable rights. If right to property is inalienable, then how could Dalits be deprived of the right to own land. After all, land is not just about livelihood but also dignity.
In this respect, Om Prakash Ram, a human rights activist, investigates reasons that led to landless life of Dalit community members. He argues that the politico-legal transformations are yet to resolve the issues of landlessness of Dalits. “A large section of Dalit community members in Terai have received the status of Sukumbasi (squatters) but they are yet to receive land.” He writes: “The governmental initiatives aimed at removal of landlessness among Dalits are yet to yield a desired result.”
Ranjit Kanaujiya, a researcher who has had the privilege to work with UN agencies, also contributes a chapter on the issue of landlessness among Dalits. He argues that the dispute on property ownership is not a new recipe in Madhesh. In Gaushala Municipality of Mahottary district, a section of Dalit community members have been facing land disputes since the last five decades,” argues he. He then goes on to claim that the state apparatuses have been apathetic towards the landless Dalits. “The government agencies are reluctant to bring robust schemes for removal of Dalit landlessness.”
The democratic countries have struggled to ensure proportional representation of women in the political landscape. Salma Khatun, a social activist in her chapter, argues that the optimism, however, proved to be misused. Equality of women in politics is not on any parties’ agenda because of their patriotic mindset, she argues adding “of late, the ordinary people’s (esp. women’s) access to local bodies has become easier with the entry (and success) of women in active politics of local bodies.”
However, she believes that the political parties are complicit in the systematic exclusion of women. Khatun argues that women leaders have skills to strike a balance between social and developmental issues. “We give priority to social issues too.”
Deb Narayan Mandal, founder of Mithila Wildlife Trust, discusses the initiatives taken to protect and preserve the forest cover of Dhanushadham.
Jitendra Kumar Kushwaha, a researcher at Barefoot Lawyers, writes on the pain and struggle of being stateless. He argues that a large chunk of people are deprived of citizenship because of the derogatory procedures associated with the constitution, laws and administrative agencies. Even though the constitution guarantees equality before law, equal protection of laws and right to live with dignity to every person, the constitutional guarantees are not available to a section of citizens who don’t have citizenship certificates,” writes Kushwaha.
Social and political violence
Gunjan Ray, a human rights activist, discusses the challenges faced by rape victims and the complexities brought about by the legal procedures. She believes that the rape victims, often, become hostile not because of their wish but because of state’s failure in ensuring them a safe atmosphere to live.
Moreover, “even the judicial procedures and court are not victim-friendly. The recording of statements of rape victim should be done in closed session (so as to protect the privacy of victims) but its strict adherence is yet to be seen in trial courts.”
“As male advocates are, often, engaged in recording the statements of rape victims, they hesitate to express freely,” writes Ray.
Sabin Khanal, a lecturer of English literature, assesses the rise and fall of Chure Bhavar politics. He argues that the leaders’ involvement in criminal activities badly affected the Chure Bhavar politics.
If there is one reason to read Dr Sohan Prasad Sah and Devraj Humagain’s edited work it is their endeavor to give conceptual clarity on the barefoot research, and its application to understand the ground realities of Madhesh. The book does not only discuss the dimensions of inclusion but also devotes a good deal of sections for programs and policies of the state. Their edited book should be a mandatory reading for the sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, teachers and students of various streams, including that of social sciences and law.