I have the experience of having to sit at the farthest bench in the classroom during my first days in school. The reason – I didn’t know how to speak in Nepali. I would sit quietly through the day, not speaking with the teachers, because I didn’t know how to speak in Nepali. I was little – I didn’t yet know what discrimination meant. I had no notion about exclusion. But I still remember clearly the discrimination which I experienced then.
Later, when I learned to speak in Nepali, I could no longer speak in Tharu anywhere else but at home. Nepali was made into such a habit that I became incapable of expressing my ideas or emotions in written or spoken Tharu.
I have also experienced indignity because of the food I ate. I was born into a family that eats ghongi (snails), pork, and chutney made of rat meat. Therefore, in school, I was insulted as the snail-eating Tharu, or the pig-eating Tharu, or the rat-eating Tharu. And therefore I stopped eating those foods, just so that I could fit among the Nepalis (the Pahadiyas).
When I was a child, there was no circumstance when I could have taken pride in the lehenga–choliya attire of my people. Instead, it would create a sense of inferiority. When I saw old grandmothers walking the streets of Dhangadhi in their lehenga-choliya, I would be filled with shame. When I started school, I learned that the proper Nepali dress was gunyu-choli, daura-suruwal, the Dhaka-topee.
My language, my cuisine and my attire were all being discriminated again. Or, they had been pushed into exclusion. My identity and originality did not attest to my Nepaliness – rather, at every step, they made me non-Nepali, a stranger in my own land. There is an unfathomably long list of how, where, and for what reasons I was pushed into exclusion – because exclusion came in many different forms. And so I had to constantly perform different exercises to become Nepali, all the while putting my own identity and originality in peril.
I was excluded from every angle simply because I possessed a language and a culture which was different from that which claimed to be the Nepali identity. Additionally, it took a very long time for me to realize what precisely had turned me away from my originality. I only came to realize about my own exclusion during the years of the People’s War.
I participated in the 2005-2006 People’s Movement, which stood for republicanism, federalism, secularism and proportional representation. The various identity-oriented movements that arose during the constitution-drafting process with the aim of being included in the constitution mostly raised the agendas of federalism and proportional representation. All of these movements taught me about why anybody is pushed into exclusion, and who benefits from the sweat and blood spent by the excluded and marginalized.
A plurality of communities within Nepal – which had been kept in exclusion hitherto – agitated to achieve proportional representation. But their concerns were brushed aside, and the compromise of ‘inclusion’ was handed to them instead. The communities at whom the word ‘inclusion’ was aimed were not at all in need of inclusivity – their demand had always been about proportional representation. As in – equitable representation in every state institution based upon the share in national population. But those who had always been excluded were once more duped, this time legislatively. Inclusivity ended up being fatal for the excluded.
The principle of inclusivity limited women’s participation to 33 percent. Indigenous ethnicities, Dalits, Madhesis, Muslims, groups living in remote areas, the various minorities – all were denied proportional representation, through the legislative process.
Proportional representation across every state institution is impossible without political representation. The concept of inclusion prevalent at present has shrunk the political representation of excluded groups. The electoral process has played a leading role in creating this reality. The present electoral process doesn’t even mention ‘inclusion’ for the first-past-the-post elections, and even under the proportional representation system, the so-called high-caste individuals continue to enjoy priority. The concept of inclusion that is prevalent benefits the ruling class more than those who have been excluded. It does no justice to the excluded communities.
It is true that inclusion has resulted in a few new faces entering public life, especially in the parliament. It has brought forth voices that had never been heard before. But are those faces, who have reached the parliament through the proportional representation system, faithful to the communities they represent or to the rulers? Do they speak the language of the communities they represent, or that of the rulers? The prevailing system of inclusion cannot ignore such questions anymore.
The terms inclusive and marginalization were falsely conflated, denigrated. The educated among the marginalized groups had to bear most of the brunt of this insult – they were often teased with the refrain, ‘You can still get in through the inclusion quota.’ The reality is that Bahuns and Chhetris occupy the topmost places in the inclusion quotas. The state merely pretended to provide inclusivity – but in reality, it didn’t.
Inclusion has failed at its task of creating representation by bringing marginalized communities into the mainstream. The most-marginalized communities like Chepangs, Boteys, Rauteys, Mushahars, and gender minorities continue to remain at the very bottom. The prevailing notion of inclusion lacks any plans to bring them into the mainstream. Similarly, it was declared that women would be included through a 33 percent quota – but there is no discussion around how to address instersectionality among women. The concept of inclusion has ignored those very groups which it should have afforded the utmost priority.
I was born into a Tharu family. I have forever been disturbed by the isolation, pain and cruelty I have experienced because of the discriminatory attitude instituted by the state. This is not just my story, or the story of an individual. The state has forged exclusion into a devastating weapon on its quest to oppress entire communities.
Because those who have been pushed into exclusion continue to have to undertake enormous struggles just to fit into the state structure of a nation that calls itself an inclusive democracy.
Indu Tharu is a writer and researcher working on the issue of marginalized people’s activism and social movements. Indu’s writings- prose, poetry and critique- reflect her dedication to exploring identity politics through a feminist lens.
This blog was initially written in Nepali and has been translated to English.