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  Exclusion illusions  


"Exclusion” of non-Khas communities has been among the most talked topics of late, albeit in a one-sided manner. In the discourse, historical and sociological perspectives had been ignored and facts and figures suppressed; instead, conjectures and rhetorical phrases like ‘Khas-chauvinism’ and ‘Brahmanbad’ have dominated discussions. Claims of exclusion are now being articulated to create ethnic states where agradhikar (special rights) that includes right to rule over others will be reserved for select group of Madhesis and people of Mangolian origin, including Newars, who are defined as ‘janajatis’. A balanced deliberation based on objectivity and nuanced understanding of the situation is long overdue.

First, let us begin with the ‘Khas upper-caste [Bahun, Chhetri, Thakuri and Dasnami of hill origin] domination’ in public services and especially politics. As even the top three leaders of UCPN (Maoist)—the party that claims to have championed the cause of the ‘excluded’—are Bahuns, the implied ‘exclusion’ in politics is unintentional. If a ‘revolutionary party’ cannot find or groom its leaders from among the marginalized communities, the larger society—a less dynamic institution in comparison—can hardly do so overnight; it takes time. As regards civil service, there has never been any discrimination against any community whether in selection or promotion or placement; nobody was ever denied any opportunity on grounds of his/her race, culture or faith. Any specific claim to the contrary is most welcome.

That is why the anti-Khas lobby has never demanded an autonomous body like the Equal Opportunities Commission that could discourage/punish exclusion; they know that, if created, the powerful constitutional body will run out of business. And, by the way, despite their dominance in civil service, the Khas upper-castes are as poor as many of the so-called excluded communities. They are over-achievers in civil service because they are interested in it and work hard to succeed in its rigorous and competitive selection process. Janajatis are under-represented in civil service because they prefer jobs in uniform.

The British Army is their number one choice, followed by armed forces of India, Brunei and Singapore; the security bodies of the home country come last; Nepali civil service is not even seriously considered.
Nepali state is not as exclusionist as some would have us believe. Lack of representation is largely the result of individual choice.

Besides civil service and politics, armed services are public services too. Janajatis are fairly well represented in the Army and the Police; they outnumber others in the Armed Police Force (APF). That would not be the case had there been any policy of exclusion. Jobs in uniform are in no way inferior to their civilian equivalents. To the contrary, the state invests far more to produce a junior cadet in the security services than it does to prepare a senior officer in civil services or a professor in a state university. The cadets have to be provided with expensive training, arms and ammunitions, ration, uniform, etc. The state, as a matter of principle, also trusts security personnel more than civil employees. That is why even the most inclusive democracies in the world that allow foreign passport holders to take part in their civil services do not recruit naturalized or first generation citizens into armed forces.

The unifier and founder of the nation, Prithvi Narayan Shah, who profoundly trusted and relied on Magar and Gurungs, formed separate battalions namely Purano Gorakh Gan and Kali Bahadur Gan, for them. Later, Barakh Gan and Bhairabnath Gan were also created to recruit (more) Magars and Rais respectively. With some adjustments, the arrangement continues till date. The incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS), a Gurung, was successively promoted to number two position during the so-called exclusion period.

No Bahun has ever reached those positions. Similarly, ever since Nepal Police was formed in 1951, most of its Chiefs (IGPs) have come from Janajati communities, especially from the Magar castes (Khadga Jit Baral, Rom Bahadur Thapa, Durlabh Kumar Thapa to name a few). Of the six IGPs who have led the Armed Police Force since its formation ten years ago, two are Newar (late Krishna Mohan Shrestha who was assassinated by the Maoists and the incumbent Shailendra Shrestha), one is Magar (Sahabir Thapa), one Tamang (Kishore Lama) and one each are Chhetri (Sanat Kumar Basnet) and Bahun (Basudev Oli).

Newar, a small but wealthy community, is more than proportionately (to their population) represented in the civil service, especially in technical jobs. Till a few years ago they held almost all high ranking jobs in the then powerful Royal Palace Service. This highly urbanized and educated business community that ranks quite high (higher than Khas) in the Human Development Index every year has paradoxically been labeled as oppressed and excluded. So are Madhesis who are fairly well represented in technical fields such as agriculture, forestry, healthcare, engineering et al besides police force and other organs of the state.

They are well represented in judiciary as well; many of the Chief Justices and Justices of the Supreme Court have been Madhesis. Today, the majority of public enterprises have Madhesis CEOs and board directors. Yes, undoubtedly, they are under-represented in the Army, but of choice. The Army’s endeavor to recruit maximum number of Madhesis through a separate battalion “Naya Sabuj Gan” didn’t succeed as applications fell short of vacancies and because many of the selected ones either did not successfully complete the training and/or quit.

This is a universal phenomenon; even in India, Bengali and Biharis whose population is larger than that of Gorkhas, Sikhs, Jats and Dogras are less interested, less successful and thus less represented in the army than the latter four. However, in Nepali politics, Madhesis have been both the king and the kingmaker for last so many years! The First President and Vice-President and most of the ministers of the Republic of Nepal are from Madhesi community.

There is no denying that Tharus, Dalits and women are oppressed groups. However, exclusion of Dalits and women are by-products of Hindu caste system and a patriarchal family structure respectively. Social exclusion need not be politicized; they need to be overcome through education and social mobilization. Creation of ethnic states will not help the inclusion of women. Ethnic agradhikar will not uplift Dalits either, who, like the Khas upper-castes, won’t have a state of their own, in the first place.

Individuals and communities choose professions in which they feel comfortable; their interests and aptitudes are shaped by their historical, ancestral, occupational and educational backgrounds. That is why Newars, Marwaris and Thakalis prefer business or self-employment to government jobs while it is the other way around for Bahun and Chhetris; psychology and sociology, not politics, determine their choice. However, the pattern is changing with times, which is a welcome development from the standpoint of social and national integration. There are countries like Bhutan that practice ethno-lingual-cultural exclusion. Certain theocratic states officially approve exclusion of women on religious grounds. Before 1950, untouchability of Dalits was statutory. Today we live not only in a different time but also a different Nepal.

However, a democratic state like ours cannot be content with a ‘no-exclusion’ policy alone. To correct the imbalance—whatever its reason or form—affirmative action for deprived, under-represented, under-privileged and marginalized groups/communities should be effectively implemented for the time being. But for permanent uplift of those communities, there is no alternative to long-term capacity-building measures such as education. All said and done, blowing the issue out of proportion is unwarranted and reverse exclusion of one community in the name of ‘compensation of the historical injustice’ of other communities is unacceptable.

Published on 2012-01-19 01:15:34
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Exclusion Illusions
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The author has given a sensible answer to the likes of CK Lal and others crying out against the supposed oppression of minorities and madhesis. Sure, there are imbalances, but most communities have their areas of specialization. Therefore the new Nepal must move towards meritocracy. [more]
  - Shirshak Ghimire
What the writer has depicted that is all our past. What is required to be done is to forge a so-called ´new Nepal´ where when you enter an office you do not see only BCNs in the government offices but also a Rai, a Gurung, a Tamang, a Limbu et al. That´s what makes Nepal as a whole, otherwise nobody shall wolf down your explanation. Every Nepalese wants to be considered as an important person in his own land and when he gets into his getup every morning he should feel proud to [more]
  - B2B
Very good article and well supported by facts and figures. I totally agree with Mr. Jeevan. I think the politicians are just trying to use the issue of exclusion for their own interests. [more]
  - Prashant
The article sounds absolutely research based. Truh after all is truth that every conscious citizen has to accept, but are the flag bearers of such agenda of exclusion cognizant of the background laid out in the article? Its high time they did. Kudos to Jeevn\ [more]
  - Nawin Chandra gurung
You are a great sociology research oriented unbiased writer. I always liked your idea. It is so balanced and fact based. When I was teenager, I lined up for British Army when a "GALLA--non-khas-pahadi Nepali" visited the place around my residence, and all the candidates where non-KHAS Pahadis except me, and they all laughed at my presence, "How dare you Khas compete on this job that is so sacred to us. Don´t even stare at this job." Such culture pushed all my non-Khas friend to British Gur [more]
  - GyaRel
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