Friday, September 22, 2006

Peace Roadmap: An Appeal to the Leadership of the Eight Parties

Peace Roadmap: An Appeal to the Leadership of the Eight Parties
(Published originally in Nepali, Kantipur daily, 21 Sept 2006)

Sri Girija Prasad Koirala, Sri Madhav Kumar Nepal, Sri Sher Bahadur Deuba, Sri Amik Sherchan, Sri Narayan Man Bijukchhe (‘Rohit’), Sri Bharat Bimal Yadav, Sri Prabhu Narayan Chowdhary and Sri Pushpa Kamal Dahal (‘Prachanda’)

Before peace and democracy, fought for during the 2006 People’s Movement, have been attained, the country is entering a vortex of human insecurity. The forces that defeated royal authoritarianism by means of the 12-Point Agreement are growing apart, and this provides opportunities for reactionary elements to become active. Steps must be taken immediately to reduce the confusion and mistrust between the seven parliamentary parties and the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) during the interim period before the elections to the Constituent Assembly. We appeal to the leadership of the eight parties to reach a wide-ranging agreement with regard to a peace settlement before the upcoming Dasain season. In our opinion, once the roadmap for peace is decided upon, the very maturity of the people will lead us through to the Constituent Assembly elections and the new Constitution. We urge the eight parties to put behind them questions of who has or has not conformed to their stated responsibilities thus far, and to move ahead with a new mutual understanding.

In our view, the central focus of the eight parties must be the people of the villages and districts, who are in the process of losing hope and trust. The eight parties must work together in order to create a comprehensive roadmap that will pave the way to both the Constituent Assembly elections and to lasting peace. In our opinion, such an agreement between the parties should include understanding on the following points:

1. The Interim Constitution
Neither the peace process nor the preparation for a Constituent Assembly will move ahead without the incorporation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – one of the forces that participated in the April People’s Movement – into the government. The Interim Constitution is required in order to achieve this inclusion, but the recently submitted draft Interim Constitution is incomplete because the parliamentary parties and the CPN (Maoist) were not able to agree on the key issues. Since it has already been agreed that the Constitution for a new Nepal will be created through the Constituent Assembly, an interim constitution should be made through general consensus and in a manner that it does not contradict the proclamations of Parliament.

2. The Interim Parliamentary Order
Since it is the reinstated Parliament that has been able to guarantee the gains of the People’s Movement through its national legitimacy and international acceptability, for now one does not see an alternative to this institution. At the same time, as a group without representation in Parliament, it is not possible for the CPN (Maoist) to be accountable to the House when it is in government. To get around this problem in a practical manner, we suggest that a People’s Consultative Committee be established by agreement between the eight parties. All political decisions would be taken by the Committee, which would be given the stamp of approval by the government and Parliament. The committee must function under the directives of the leaders of all eight parties.

3. Management of Arms
In our understand, the ‘management of arms’ involves, on the one hand, the bringing of the Nepal Army under full control of the government and Parliament and to make it committed to the democratic and pluralistic system of government. On the other hand, ‘management of arms’ refers to, from start to finish, the process of Maoists setting down their arms. It is important to make the officers of the Nepal Army who are implicated in atrocities during the conflict and who were part of the royal takeover to be held accountable for their actions. Meanwhile, at a time when the police and army are confined to their posts and barracks, it is a fact that the people at large in the villages and districts are having to live under the threat of armed Maoist groups, in an environment of fear. Even though guns are not being fired under the ceasefire, the citizens are yet to be freed from the fear of weapons. It is our conviction that the Maoists cannot backtrack from their commitment to management of arms, under the letter and spirit of the 12-point agreement and the 5-point letter to the United Nations. Therefore, in order to afford the people psychological relief, it is necessary that the CPN (Maoist) place all of its armed personnel in specified camps under the supervision of the United Nations. Meanwhile, nationally and internationally, we will have to guard against the possibility of atrocities against Maoist supporters who have been separated from their arms. In our view, it will be timely to implement the suggestion contained in the 5-point letter, to put all armed personnel in cantonments, while putting aside for the time being the question of when the full disarmament of the Maoist fighters and militia is to take place.

4. Ceasefire Agreement
Even though the Maoist’s ceasefire declaration is of the phased kind, it has brought relief to the people. The roadmap to permanent peace, however, requires the Government of Nepal and the CPN (Maoist) to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement. Such an agreement must contain adequate mechanisms for supervision and mutual communication.

5. Agreement on Human Rights
Given that disregard for human rights lies at the root of the violence and bloodshed that the Nepali people have suffered, it is important that the government and the CPN (Maoist) show commitment to respect the basic principles of human rights and humanitarian law, to sign an agreement on human rights and humanitarian law, and ensure its implementation and enforcement.

6. Public Security
The Nepali people are experiencing insecurity and lack of peace, and the absence of government throughout the country is a matter of utmost concern. The Government of Nepal has failed in its responsibility of delivering human security, and this can be considered disrespect of the mandate of the People’s Movement of 2006. In this context, it is important for the government and the CPN (Maoist) to cooperate in giving the citizens a sense of law and order. Logistical support to the Nepal Police should be enhanced immediately, and there should be a move towards re-establishing police posts all over the country. This is important in providing a sense of rule of law nationwide. Simultaneously, in order to provide a sense of security in the interim period, the government has to proceed with providing the basic elements of human security through the provision of public health, education, essential items, and so on. Both the government and the CPN (Maoist) have to agree that in order to provide security to the people, the police force, administration and the court system have to be activated and made visible throughout the country.

In conclusion,
The Nepali people are today involved in making space so that a group that has been engaged in revolt for more than a decade is able to enter open competitive politics with respect and self-esteem intact. We believe that the character of Nepali society as well as the goodwill and understanding between the CPN (Maoist) and the government provide ample reason for this campaign to succeed. The successful implemenation of the peace roadmap following extensive homework between the parties, we believe, can make Nepal a ‘model country’ in front of the world community. Further, the process that begun with the People’s Movement of 2006 to promote pluralism, democracy and lasting peace will ultimately lead the country at long last towards progress. Through the Constitution that will be drafted by the Constituent Assembly, a people that has been cheated throughout history will at last enjoy respect and prosperity within an inclusive structure of governance. Under this process, the CPN (Maoist) too will convert from a ‘rebel group’ to a responsible national party, gaining the opportunity to serve the people and be part of the exercise to create a New Nepal.

If lasting peace were to be achieved through the points made in this appeal, we believe that Nepal is capable of moving ahead with the constituent assembly process. In doing so, through reasoned discussion, the citizenry will successfully address the many sensitive pending issues in order to introduce a new state structure befitting our soil. We ask the eight parties that have been working together from the 12-point agreement to the 5-point agreement not to underestimate the people’s good sense, and to sign a Understanding for Peace and Democracy, before the upcoming Dasain season. As you thus draft the roadmap that will take us to the Constituent Assembly, we also request you to please keep the interests of the people in the villages and districts foremost in your thoughts.

Signatories to the Appeal:
1. Amrit Gurung
2. Bhimarjun Acharya
3. Binaya Kasaju
4. Bipana Thapa
5. Bishnu Nisthuri
6. Dhurba Basnet
7. Durga Baral ’Vatsayan’
8. Dr. Gauri Shankar Lal Das
9. Dr. Gopal Krishna Shiwakoti
10. Hari Bangsha Acharya
11. Kanak Mani Dixit
12. Kapil Shrestha
13. Kedar Bhakta Mathema
14. Kedar Sharma
15. Kiran Krishna Shrestha
16. Kundan Aryal
17. Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa
18. Madan Krishna Shrestha
19. Mandira Sharma
20. Manoj Gajurel
21. Nilamber Acharya
22. Nisha Sharma
23. Prateek Pradhan
24. Rajesh KC
25. Renu Rajbhandary
26. Sapana Pradhan Malla
27. Dr. Saroj Dhital
28. Shambhu Lama
29. Shanta Basnet Dixit
30. Shanta Lal Mulmi
31. Shobhakar Budhathoki
32. Subodh Pyakurel
33. Sulochana Manandher
34. Sunil Pokhrel
35. Sushil Pyakurel
36. Tashi Zangbu Sherpa
37. Tika Ram Bhattarai
38. Dr. Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha
39. Yubaraj Ghimire

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Interview with Martin Macwan, founder of Navsarjan.

`System has become more pervasive'

Interview with Martin Macwan, founder of Navsarjan.

Martin Macwan, one of 11 children born into a Dalit family, has worked ceaselessly for the cause of Dalit and tribal rights in Gujarat. As a young lawyer and an activist, he founded Navsarjan in 1988, a charitable trust working for the elimination of caste-based discrimination. Since then he has served as the national convener of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, has helped found the National Centre for Advocacy Studies, and was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2000. The public campaign against manual scavenging began in 1996 in Ranpur, where Macwan stumbled upon safai karamcharis who were still carrying human excreta. Within a year, Navsarjan filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court. Since then, the struggle for ridding the State of the practice has been an exhausting, endless one.

Excerpts from an email interview with him:

What are the major obstacles to the elimination of manual scavenging in Gujarat?

Navsarjan raised the issue of persistence of manual scavenging in Gujarat in 1997. Although its campaign has generated national and international debate, elimination seems to be a distant dream.

1. For the State as well as civil society at large manual scavengers are not equal citizens. The State denies the existence of the problem, but continues to receive special assistance from the Central government for rehabilitating manual scavengers. The State, and all its panchayati raj institutions, is one of the major employers of manual scavengers.

2. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, is conditional legislation. It denies an individual the right to file a complaint directly. Only appointed authorities can file complaints, within a stipulated time frame. Hence, to my knowledge, there has not been a single complaint filed under this law.

3. Scavenging is done primarily by Balmikis, who are the lowest in the caste hierarchy; [they are] treated as untouchable even by other Scheduled Castes. Their isolation and exclusion is historical, bringing about an internalisation of despair, hopelessness and cynicism. This degradation of [their] humanity has confirmed the belief that they could be secure only with their present status. Hence, there is very little willingness on their part to free themselves.

4. Most scavengers are women, who do the filthiest work, whereas the supervisors are men. The men of [scavenger] families do not mind women doing this work as long as they continue receiving money and leftover food.

5. Discrimination is rampant in public schools, resulting in a higher dropout rate. In many schools, even today, children from scavenger families are forced to clean urinals and toilets. The only option left for these children is to join the same occupation.

6. The State has left the implementation of rehabilitation schemes to commercial banks, who are not interested. Gujarat Safai Kamdar Vikas Board, founded after Navsarjan petitioned the High Court, has been doing little towards rehabilitation, apart from ensuring that the Chairperson and the Managing Directors are, by and large, from the Scheduled Castes.

What is the current status of the petition Navsarjan had filed?

Navsarjan filed a PIL [public interest litigation] in the Gujarat High Court in 1997, which directed the State to abolish the system and work out a concrete plan of action towards the elimination of the practice and the rehabilitation of scavengers. But the practice continues. Navsarjan has joined some others in a petition before the Supreme Court, which is pending disposal. However, my experience says that whatever the verdict, the practice shall continue, because the nation does not have the political will to eliminate the practice.

What has the response of the Gujarat government and State administration been like over the last decade to Navsarjan's efforts?

What can one expect from a State that, even after being reprimanded by the High Court for filing a false affidavit, continues to do so even today?

During a hearing in the High Court, one of the defences that the Gujarat government offered was that Navsarjan was into conversion activities! While there are some sensitive bureaucrats, by and large political parties do not think they have anything to do with the issue, except when using it to embarrass their opponents.

Gujarat has 13 Scheduled Caste MLAs and Parliament has 79 MPs from the Scheduled Castes, but manual scavenging is no concern of theirs.

How strong a role do caste and gender play in the continuation of the practice?

In Gujarat and in the rest of the country, too, scavenging is a caste-based occupation and the state, the panchayat bodies and the private sector make sure that they only employ a particular sub-caste, the Balmikis, for sanitation jobs, even when Balmiki youth are better qualified and have applied for other jobs. There is a lawyer just 25 km away from Ahmedabad practising law in a Sanand court but his identity as a Balmiki does not get him cases, except from his own sub-caste. When he does not get work, he does scavenging work.

Women, being unequal partners, and further down on the ladder of castes and sub-castes, do the filthiest work. Yet, no women's commission in the country has taken up the issue from a gender perspective. Most NGOs [non-governmental organisations] also shy away from addressing it because their leadership structure is parallel to the caste system.

How do you intend to carry forward the struggle?

We are doing the following:

Continue raising the issue in the court and in the media.

We set up the Dalit Shakti Kendra, which provides vocational education to Dalit youth, including those from scavenging families.

Navsarjan has started three primary schools that give priority to children from scavenging families.

We did a major padayatra for 100 days, covering 475 villages and 44 taluks, against untouchability practised by sub-castes within the Scheduled Castes. For the first time, 200,000 people had water and tea from common cups.

Navsarjan has formed a union of sanitation workers, which raises demands for more wages, better technology, prohibition on lowering human beings into manholes, better education for children, implementation of the law, and filing of cases when there is violation of minimum wage rules. All union members have been insured under a special Central scheme, although insurance companies are not willing to continue such schemes since they are loss-making ventures.

Could you give us a historical perspective on the origins of manual scavenging in India?

As human settlements grew larger and cities came to exist, the necessity for a sanitation system grew. One finds evidence that during the Harappan civilisation, people had created a system of disposal of human waste and grey water. As the caste system grew stronger, people who were considered impure were forced to do this work. One finds mention of the sweeping of public places as a caste-based occupation in Buddhist literature. During British rule, there were numerous mentions of conflict between scavengers and those who were not in the profession. Gandhi was the first national leader who raised the issue and linked it with independence. He himself took up the job of cleaning toilets.

On October 15, 1947, a private members' Bill was moved in Greater Bombay to abolish the practice. This was followed by the setting up of several commissions and debates in Parliament. The U.S. Congress also passed a House Bill saying that the U.S. would vote against any water and sanitation projects (of the World Bank) in India if it did not prohibit scavenger labour. It became a major subject of focus for Five-Year Plans. Navsarjan's campaign has once again drawn national attention to the issue but the system has become more pervasive.

"Ours is a battle not for wealth or for power.
It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of human personality."
- Dr BR Ambedkar