In 2008, I voted in the elections for the first Constituent Assembly. In 2013, I didn’t vote in the elections for the second CA – I was away, in Marpha. In 2015, when the constitution was finally promulgated, I didn’t celebrate it. I have always stood on the margins: I abhor the mob; I will not carry the flags and slogans of another person; I refuse to admit loyalty to any group other than humanity as a whole. I refute nation. Traditional patriotism, in my opinion, is designed to keep the majority of a people in stupor, so that they look another way when those in power abuse the trust invested in them.
I understand why some of my fellow citizens want to celebrate this document. But when I weigh that against why some other fellow citizens of mine find no reason for cheer, I find betrayal in the celebrations. I find betrayal in the document.
In 2010, I helped Suvash Darnal translate his book of interviews with Dalit members of the first Constituent Assembly. Through that acquaintance, and through other work I did for Suvash dai and for Jagaran Media, I came to a better understanding of the issues around Dalit existence and history in Nepal. Similarly, I came to an understanding of where I stand in Nepali history, in relation to all other groups.
And it is important to acknowledge that there are many other groups in the Nepali polity that – to a large degree – define themselves in relation to what is my apparent identity and heritage. Born in Abu Khaireni in Tanahun, son to landowning Adhikaris who, to this date, grow enough rice for the family even while practicing the adhiyā system of share-cropping, I am not: a woman; from a religious minority; a Dalit; someone whose mother tongue isn’t Nepali; a Madhesi; someone from a remote corner of the country; a janajāti. I carry no burden of the sort Jemima Diki Sherpa enumerates in The Invisible Doko. Practically all the dissent and discontent present now among Nepalis is directed against the usurpation of the common good by a particular group: the Pahadi, upper-caste, landowning, Hindu male who speaks Nepali as his mother tongue.
My apparent self is the origin in the Cartesian graph of identities. All else is relative to this position. It is the navel; there is only deviation from this point: as a woman; as a Madhesi; as a Madhesi Dalit woman; as a Madhesi Dalit single mother; as a Madhesi Dalit single mother who owns no land and possesses no identification papers. Come, play at this game – stretch it to the extreme. Find where you are on the graph. But, know this without doubt – my apparent self is the original point of reference.
I must attempt specificity in this act of naming the many other groups that are different from my apparent self, because I must acknowledge both my inherited privileges, and the inherited disadvantages of other groups. A couple of years ago, in a conversation about what is wrong here, Prashant Jha asked me to choose the most important issues. I said – landlessness among the agricultural poor, and the reality of Dalits in the hills and Tarai. Then, the issue of the Madhes wasn’t as primal to me, just like the issue of Nepali womanhood wasn’t on my mind.
Now we see clearly that the issues of the Madhes and #CitizenshipThroughMother are but two sides of the same coin. It became a lot more convenient for the Pahadi, male politicians to outright deny their mothers, sisters and daughters any notion of equality than to point to the people of the Madhes and say – You are our inferiors! In order to maintain an attitude of racial supremacy over the people of the Tarai and Madhes, they reduced the women in their families to less than men, and therefore, less than human. It was always the same instinct to treat others as lesser than oneself that manifested itself as misogyny, racism and a fervent need to identify the state with one particular religion.
Further, the issue of landlessness among rural farm labourers remains unaddressed. One out of every 8 Nepalis is a Dalit. Where is their federal state? Was there ever a debate on whether such a federal state would even be possible? A land of our own suggested the creation of a virtual federal state that would span the entire country, comprising individuals who identified as Dalits, who would elect Dalit representatives to federal and national legislatures. Why did we never make that idea part of the larger conversation? Sure, the cultures, languages and ethnicities of the hill Dalits and the plains Dalits differ greatly. But that is not what places them on the Cartesian graph of Nepali identities, vis-à-vis my apparent identity. It is the condition of Dalitness that defines their economic and social realities. The average rural Dalit person is overwhelmingly a landless farm labourer, without equitable access to dignified labour. This constitution doesn’t do anything meaningful to address their specific reality. How can I celebrate such a document?
And how can I not feel shame at what has been done to the women of Nepal? My Janakpuria friend Bikram has two daughters: Khushi and Roshani. Their nanihāl is in India; if their family chooses to maintain cultural and familial ties within its community, it is quite likely that they will marry into families that follow similar traditions and speak the same language. Quite likely, they will marry into India. The manner in which the language in the constitution has been framed around the issue of passing on citizenship through the mother puts in jeopardy the identities of Khushi and Roshani.
Actually, this is the easiest coordinate on the graph to debate. What about children born into polyandrous families in the Himalayas? And those born in circumstances beyond the control of the mothers? And – fuck it – to strong, proud women who want the simple dignity of being identified as the mother to their children, without having to lean on any penial being? What if a woman just wants to be a mother, and not a wife?
To insist that women must choose between being a wife and being a whore is to reduce a woman to an object of possession; it is to deny her autonomy. To deny autonomy to an individual and insist that her identity derives from the position and privilege of another individual is to institute a form of slavery. This constitution does exactly that for the women in our families, in our society. I cannot accept that. Therefore, I reject this constitution.
Patriarchy is preoccupied with the vaginas of the women it possesses, or has enslaved. That is its primary characteristic. Then it worries about their wombs. That is the reason women have been denied equality in this constitution – and that is one of the many things you celebrate when you celebrate this constitution. I have come across a few men who proudly say – “We must guard our women.” They are assholes. I don’t want to gate-keep any vagina or womb, because I want to limit the damage my apparent self does. And for all these reasons, I reject this constitution, and I won’t celebrate it.
Finally, the question of the Madhes: of those who are darker and speak languages different from the ones we know, those who eat different, sing different, and are, always, as outsiders, as aliens, suspect, dangerous, malignant, cunning and beguiling, but simultaneously also incapable. What the Pahadi man means when he calls the Madhesi man a “dhoti” is that he mistrusts all other groups, all other aberrations of the original self at the centre of the nation. They do not love us like they love their blood kin, with whom they share the darkest, dimmest notion of a history, a common prehistory, an origin myth. Towards women and Madhes is the contempt felt towards an upstart: How dare they! How dare they imagine themselves an equal! How dare they demand when they ought to supplicate and accept what we throw their way!
This insistence that giving the Madhes the dignity and voice that is its due would result in catastrophic betrayal by the Madhesis – Sikkim-isation! Fiji-isation! – comes because the Pahadi man refuses to see the Madhesi man as an equal. He cannot imagine friendship or love or camaraderie between himself and his Madhesi counterpart: he fails to imagine the possibility of any common bond. Because, if he did, for one moment, see how he is the equal of all men and women, here and around the world, he wouldn’t stand by the errors in this constitution.
I reject my apparent self – the self that is apparent to you, when you look at me, without my acquaintance. And I reject this constitution. I reject the placatory proposition that the constitution can always be amended and perfected. I reject the barely disguised malice it bears: its attempt to legislate morality; its clever undermining of articles that would otherwise empower the disenfranchised; its blatant misogyny; its Fascist redefinition of what secularism means. I reject it because it has rejected my worldview, where the recognition of every individual as an equal is the precondition, not a derivative; where the laws arise out of the aspirations of the citizenry to better exercise the best aspects of themselves, and not a set of rules designed to keep the bureaucracy afloat, fatten the rich, and inflate the ambitions of career politicians.
I reject this constitution because it affords me no dignity when I look my friends in the eye.