There is no alternative to a fresh indigenous movement

Indigenous Voice
Indigenous Voice28 Jul 2015, Tuesday
There is no alternative to a fresh indigenous movement

Suresh Ale Magar

Former General Secretary
Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities

What do you think of the draft constitution?

If you want me to reply in one sentence, I would say: it promotes Brahmanism. This draft constitution needs to be scraped. It has ignored the 10-year-long war, Madhes uprising and various movements of Tharuhat, Janjati, women and Limbuwan. It has ignored the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and many other agreements signed with indigenous people. So, it is unacceptable to us indigenous people, Madhesi, Dalit and revolutionary communists.

How do you see the draft in relation to indigenous people's prior rights over natural resources?

The draft does not ensure indigenous people's prior rights over natural resources. It has rejected principles of right to self determination and proportional representation. The interim constitution-2007 had reserved 58 per cent of seats under the Proportional Representation (PR) quota. That percentage has now been reduced to just 40. So, the draft is utterly regressive.

But the draft constitution says the local communities shall have rights over local natural resources. Is that not sufficient? 

It is good that the draft constitution recognizes the rights of the local communities over natural resources. But it is not sufficient. Why do the political parties not want to mention indigenous people other than local communities when the International Labour Organization (ILO)-169 says indigenous communities will have preemptive rights over natural resources. The Brahmins of this country are averse to recognizing indigenous people as a community that needs special rights.

The Brahmins of this country are averse to recognizing indigenous people as a community that needs special rights.

The political parties are preparing to pass the new constitution by mid August. If the constitution is passed without revising its draft, what rights will indigenous people lose?

Indigenous people will lose even what has been guaranteed by the interim constitution. We wanted ethnic identity-based federalism. But that has been trashed. The draft constitution is nothing but a slightly revised version of the 1990 constitution.

Is a new struggle against the draft constitution possible?

We have to fight if we want our rights. No one has ever got their rights without struggle. Indigenous people have also been spearheading political movements at different points of time. Establishment of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (Nefin) was an outcome of our struggle. But we need a much more intense struggle to reassert our rights. As we are still struggling to overcome the devastating earthquake, launching a new movement is not possible right away. But it does not mean that indigenous people will accept the draft constitution meekly. There will be a new movement. And we will have to do it. 

Madhesi, indigenous people, women and Dalit are not organized. So, how could a new strong movement be launched?

Yes, they are scattered. Even indigenous people are not in the same party or organization. But their issues are same. Sooner than later, they have to come together for a decisive battle. And efforts are also underway to this regard. 

But the draft constitution has embraced federalism, hasn't it?

Yes, it has. It has also embraced secularism, which is good. But we indigenous people want the constitution is to recognize our identity. This is possible only when the constitution guarantees ethnic identity based federalism.

-Jagat Dong