Last monsoon a veteran Dalit leader and Member of Provincial Assembly 7, Honorable Tek Bahadur Raika in conversation with me said , If men could experience the labor pain and dominant caste could feel the humiliation of being treated as untouchable , then there would be justice. This may seem as a simplistic definition of Justice. But for me it was profound.
Monsoon has meaning. It has different meaning for different people. Farmers long for the timely rain, but they are at the mercy of rain god. For government officials and professionals, it is the time for closing the books of accounts. It is holidays for students in the Terai. For lovers it is longing and romance. In short it is love, desolation and hope mixed into one.
Khuswant Singh in “I shall not hear the Nightingle” wrote, “To know India and her peoples, one has to know the monsoon. One has to know the monsoon. It is not enough to read about it in books, or see it on the cinema screen, or hear someone talk about it. It has to be a personal experience because nothing short of living through it can fully convey all it means to a people for whom it is not only the source of life, but also their most exciting impact with nature.”
Sometime around 2014/15, the “Justice 2015 ” campaign was started by NAMATI a non- profit based in Washington. The Campaign was aimed at advocating and requesting governments, experts, policy makers in particular UN for inclusion of Justice in the Sustainable Development Goals. As days passed by many individuals , organizations joined the campaign. I became a part of the campaign voluntarily. Know, use and shape law a slogan given by visionary lawyer Vivek Maru has the power to alter the course of justice movement. This idea of Justice and development was not only appealing but had roots in Gandhian philosophy and Ambedkarite ideals, though both individuals were contemporary rivals.
Gandhi’s in loin cloth and spinning wheel, represented with India’s poor. Gandhi ‘s way of non -violence embraced it as a supreme human conduct. In a time when world is puzzled with terror and intolerance Gandhi’s divine nature of human spirit guided Peace and Justice as a goal for development.
On the other hand, Amedkar represents rising of the marginalized and exploited and heralded a new age of equality of and rationalism. For him Justice was a theology- ” Nyaya is Dharma” This can be reflected in his famous saying ” My final advice to you are educate, agitate and organize”. By this what Ambedkar meant was human become rational when they are educated. By agitation he meant mental revolution not physical agitation. Educated / enlightened and agitated minds organize for Justice.
Justice 2015 campaign imbibed values of both these great men which created a foundation for inclusion of access to justice in the Sustainable Development Goals which were agreed at the UNGA in September 2015. Nepal as a member state has also committed to this global initiative and done significant work towards designing country specific targets and indicators.
However, the recent discourse on development going on, in Kathmandu and across the country seems to frustrate and create feeling of despondency among grassroots Justice campaigners like me. Slogans like ” gari khana pau” sambrdidhi hamrai pala maa “(Prosperity in our lifetime) ignores the element of social justice and dignity. They see nothing wrong in our culture and traditions that are used to justify age old discriminatory practices. It is these self satiated ivory tower intellectuals who advocate for this kind development model.
This is nothing but mockery of social justice and human values. These discourses are polluted like the air in Kathmandu , you have no choice but to inhale it. It prefers to turn blind eye to the plight of people at the margins. They do not see development from holistic perspective but from the perspective of their profession and background they come from. In such a case development cannot encompass a broader and humanitarian dimension.
This kind of opinion further calls for each one of us to embark on a journey irrespective of our background to experience life at the margins. I thus, set on a journey ” Chasing the SDG -16 in Monsoon”. It commenced from Kathmandu . It is a personal journey. During the course, I observed, saw, felt and experienced being one among those who are attached to the soil, dust and difficulties. I realized it is where I really belong.
Heartlessness of Kathmandu
A so called upper caste man from Jumla selling blankets and carpets in the nooks and corners of Kathmandu is a scene that everyone is accustomed too. A rikshaw puller from Ramechhap in Jamal struggling to survive in Kathmandu and provide two square meals a day for his family back home is hardly noticed by any development expert or those advocating for alternative politics .
Frustration of Chainpur
I met a blacksmith a Dalit man in Bajhang ( Chainpur) who wanted to start a business. He set up a small restaurant. No one came to his restaurant except a few from his own caste. He then tried his hand on a meat shop. The number of customer he gets is abysmally low.
Poverty In Dhangadhi ( Dhan- meaning wealth gadhi-land/place- the land of richness) A tailor by the roadside, a Dalit again, struggles day and night but remains poor. What he earns is hardly sufficient to feed his family of six. He plays music during festivities and makes some extra bucks. This comes with loads of insult and physical abuse. There is no dignity in the work he does. People have no problem wearing clothes stitched by him. But he is considered an untouchable. He is a sub- human for many. He hates the profession he does. He questions, you ask me to take pride in my caste and profession, how can that be ? when you treat me and my profession with contempt.
Plight of those who own half the sky but not the earth A woman is estranged from her husband and family. She has no legal documents to prove she is the citizen of this country. She is rendered stateless and deprived of all the opportunities. A woman’s citizenship is made dependent on her husband on her father/mother which makes her a second class citizen. It may not appear to the naked eyes, but if you see beyond, there is a tacit understanding not to recognize woman as a sovereign individual.
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In Bajjhang a pregnant woman develops complications and is being carried on a stretcher by the villagers. By the time they reach the hospital, she may not even see her newborn. Is she not denied right to life by your idea of development?
All these heart rending personal experiences reaffirmed my belief that people are poor because they are deprived of opportunities at every level. What would a flyover or a skyscraper mean to a person if she/ he is treated as a untouchable, if a woman has to sleep in cowshed during her periods, if a pregnant woman cannot even receive primary care in Twenty Eighteen.
These aforementioned scenarios reminded me of the ” Justice 2015″ campaign that was successful in including access to Justice as a development goal. But hearing the intellectuals and experts speak and advocate for “middle east” version of development brings tears in the eyes of those who have fought for an egalitarian society. But at the same time it has sounded alarm bell that unless SDG -16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions)) is streamlined in the development plans and codified in each and every program of National Provincials and Local Governments , the development and prosperity that you are talking about is going to be nothing but farce.
As a justice campaigner I set on journey, a journey of thought in the monsoon of 2018. Some agreed with me, some did not . But many followed me. I moved on with the rains on the earth, which had become swamp and muddy. Lakes and ponds wee filled with water. Life like monsoon seemed beyond ordinary. It reminded me of the words of poet Majrhu Sultanpuri ;
I started all alone towards the goal, But
people kept joining and it began to turn into a caravan
The journey continues…….