Interview of Dr. C. K. Raut, by New York Based Story South Asia
An Indepth Interview With Dr. CK Raut
June 7, 2015
For some, he is a messiah- a liberator and a defender, but for others, he is a traitor and a betrayer. Dr. CK Raut is an activist demanding the region of Madhesh be declared an independent state, and is one of the most controversial figure in contemporary Nepali politics. Raut, also the coordinator of the Alliance for Independent Madhesh (AIM), was recently arrested in Itahari, Nepal for advocating a secessionist campaign and for running anti national activities. This exclusive interview with CK Raut was conducted a week before his recent arrest, where he talks about his upbringing in Terai, discrimination a "Madhesi" faces in Nepal and a need for an independent Madhesh.
Your story begins as a lad from an unknown village in Saptari, Nepal, toKathmandu, from where you went to Cambridge University, UK, then toUnited States and back to the plains of Nepal for a separate Madhesh nation. Is your activism a result of discrimination a "Madhesi" faces inNepal and abroad?
Indeed. While I was growing up in my village in Saptari, I constantly felt a controlling structure that was not ours, not us: the government officers not from among us, school books not in our language, radio not singing our songs, holidays not on our festivals, policemen not our men, marching armies not like us. They looked very foreigners to us, not connected to us in anyway. Rather than feeling any sense of affinity and security from the state, people felt so distant, alienated and insecure from the state that when a policeman would enter our village, for no matter whatever reasons, all male adults would just hide in fear. Then after my high school, when I went to Kathmandu, I felt racial profiling and segregation very badly. I felt it everywhere, at every moment–from buses to classrooms, from markets to rented rooms. Many times they, the Pahadis, forced me to leave a reserved seat and threw my stuffs outside, on the buses en route to Kathmandu. Even on local minibuses in Kathmandu, I faced that many, many times. Wherever and whenever I came in contact with others, racial abuse was bound to happen–sometimes just due to our black skin, sometimes due to our characteristic accent while speaking Nepali. It looked damn predestined. And never ever was I made to feel that I am also a citizen of this country; every time I claimed to be one, even showing my citizenship certificate, they'd just ridicule. This hurt me more for I was very nationalistic, writing poems about brave Gorkhalis, martyrs and country, and I preferred to speak Nepali even with a fellow Madheshi. Once I completed my engineering degree, and went to seek a job, it became further evident. The way the whole structure would reject us at every level and sideline us in every decision making, not allowing us to exercise even given authority, hurt me more, for I was a university topper with lots of expectations, and found no other reason than being a Madheshi for all discriminations.
Can you tell us more about your upbringing? Any particular instances that led to form a radical approach where you advocate for anindependent Madhesh?
It was the Hrithik Roshan scandal in 2001, the Pahadis-Madheshis riot triggered by an alleged comment from him for disliking Nepal, which happened to be untrue later. I regard that as a turning point in my life for that transformed me from a nationalist Nepali to a Madheshi. Prior to that, I was infamous in my college for denying the identity of Madheshis; I'd even reprimand Madheshi student activists on many occasions that we are all just plain Nepalis. This is the reason, my autobiography 'Denial to Defense'starts from this incidence and then proceeds to look at my earlier life retrospectively. At that time, I was a final year engineering student at Pulchowk Campus, and despite the winter vacation, I had stayed in Kathmandu and had the chance to observe and experience the riot first hand: the beating of Madheshis by Pahadis, burning of houses and shops, snatching citizenship certificates from Madheshi labourers and burning them, all. The idea of independence sprouted in my mind exactly after that incidence; I'd scribble the map and flag of independent Madhesh, and envision roads, railways, power-grids, waterways, channels, residential house grids as well as its political and administrative systems. But I'd not open up even at that time. I was in dilemma whether I should pursue the political or the spiritual path, for I had an astute spiritual inclination. Then it was a pilgrimage throughout India in 2004, returning from Japan, in a bid to perhaps turn into a monk after finding the heights of materialistic development not gratifying human souls and not necessarily serving humanity. In that tour travelling up to the southernmost parts of India including Rameshwaran, Madhurai, Kanyakumari and the Satya Sai Ashram, and brushing shoulders with people from the all walks of life, I came to realise that regardless of oneself considering to be spiritual transcending nation, society or geographical boundaries, there is no way to escape one's identity for it is the very part of one's own existence. I equated that to finding the zen of the identity. I realised that even if one becomes a monk and goes for meditation in a cave in Himalayas, when he is finally found perhaps by some armies, the first question he is asked concerns his nationality and the first thing he is asked to produce is some sort of national identity cards. Realising this from my very heart, I returned to defend my own identity and nation, rather than becoming a monk in a vain attempt to escape identity. And then after few years, when a riot broke out in Nepalgunj in December of 2006, it made me really furious. The immigrant Pahadis beat local Madheshis up, burned their houses and shops, and all that materialised under the protection of the Nepal Police and local administration. The policemen themselves inflamed riots, vandalised residences of Madheshis, and set shops of Madheshis on fire. The police transported rioters on their vans from place to place and dropped them to spread violence. That smashed all hope from the current state, forced me to reach to final conclusion and made me very vocal about independent Madhesh. That also led us to form a group, called the Alliance for the Rights and Independence of Madhesh (ARIM), the precursor of our current organisation. We became very clear that there is no alternative to independence, and we also published pamphlets explaining why independence of Madhesh is mandatory than going for just state restructuring. At that time, I was still a PhD student at the Cambridge University, so my activities were confined mostly to writing articles, running websites and online groups, sending emails and so on. We also played some role in the Madhesh Movement of 2007-8.
What kind of racial segregation and profiling does a "Madhesi" have to go through everyday in Nepal? What kind of social and political discriminations did you face while growing up?
I think it is mostly a clash of two different nations, encompassing different ethnicities, territories, languages, cultures, values and aspirations to each-other. The racial dimension of discrimination is unfortunately as dominant as the Black and the White people once had, even fiercer as many Nepali people take it as their granted right to abuse Madheshis, and doing so is approved as being nationalistic, prideful and rejoicing, by a great portion of the Nepali society, including media, intellectuals and civil societies. Belonging to a general Madheshi family from a poor unknown village, I had to go through the very familiar patterns of discrimination and abuses; I had no escape at any stage that some people from privileged families might have. From buses to classrooms, from college canteens to family ceremonies, everywhere I suffered racial discrimination endlessly; they abused us as "bhaiyas", "black ghosts", "garbage collectors", "dhotis", "Indian migrants"and so on. Madheshis were not treated as human-beings (remember the famous proverb, "not man, but a Madheshi"), not someone they could invite to their houses, not someone they could introduce to their relatives, not someone they'd like to employ in their offices other than for menial work. In fact, every aspect of life, every single day is a hell just because of being a Madheshi, whichever office you go, whomever you come in contact with, wherever you are amidst the ruling class Pahadis. Even at home, registering your child's birth in a local office, admitting your kids to a good school and getting citizenships to finding a government job, opening a school, shop or business, acquiring land and getting any loan or even some relief materials in case of emergency—at every level, Madheshis' lives are fraught with racial, political and structural discriminations.
In today's government, there are a significant numbers of Madhesi parliamentarians, there is a large number of Madhesi youths in Nepal's armed forces, and our president and vice-president are both Madhesi. Aren't these a result of the Madhesh uprising? And an agenda of Madhesh as the state is currently under discussion. Isn't Madhesh revolution on a right track now?
The representation in parliament, or police force, is still far from being proportional. The army is still very much exclusionary. Due to high political games and equations, rather than from genuine acceptance, Madheshis somehow managed to become the president and the vice-president of the country, indeed thanks to the Madhesh uprising. But the quantity is just one dimension; the quality of the Madheshis'relationship with the Nepali state mechanism and structure is perhaps more vital. And it is very evident that, regardless of a Madheshi becoming a president or a minister, their status in the Nepali state remains the same–that of a slave, that of a ruled class, that of a lesser or third-grade citizen. And due to this, even when a Madheshi becomes a president or a minister, he or she is hardly allowed to take even rightful decisions or exercise his or her just authority even in simple matters; even his driver or peon barely obeys him, not to talk of passing a decision through bureaucracy. And all this stems from the fact that Madhesh remains a colony of Nepal, and Madheshis colonial subjects, very discernible through all plans and policies and governance of Nepal.
A similar scenario could be observed in India during the British colonial time: even though the number of Indians in the state structure far outnumbered the British, the Indian's status remained as colonial subjects. The Indian people became free and dignified citizens, and India was able to rise again, only after getting independence.
How is your vision for Madhesh different than other political parties ofNepal, in terms of programs and policies?
We, first and foremost, believe that freedom is the key to everything else—from political liberty to economic prosperity, from individual progress to social upliftment, from gender equality to social justice, from materialistic development to spiritual awakening, everything. That's the root to everything, whereas other political parties, at their best, show us leaves and branches. They bring plans and policies looking at one particular thorn bothering the society and they approach to cut it out, but as they do not show us or reach to the root cause, those problems again spring up. There is no permanence in their solutions, even if sometimes they may seem to work momentarily. And the root cause for the problems of Madhesh is the colonial rule of Nepalis, not just that not many Madheshis are becoming ministers or parliamentarians, not that not many cadres of Madheshi parties are getting enough shares at local administration, not that not many bridges and roads are being built in Madhesh. And thus, getting independence is the only solution out of the Nepali colonisation. We have to be free first, break the chains tying our hands, to be able to solve any problems for good.
A year ago, you drafted a letter to the Constituent Assembly asking to include a "Right of Secession" in constitution. Why is a "Right of Secession" so important for country like Nepal? Why are you demanding a separate nation?
What we call Nepal today was forged out of many independent and autonomous states, about two centuries ago. They belong to different nations, meaning they have different history, territory, language, culture, economic structure and aspirations, but they have been ruled by one particular ethnic group, and that too has been proved to be very discriminatory and exploitive in nature to the extent that the whole existence of the conquered nations or ethnic groups has been at stake. In such case, it becomes vital that "right to secession" is constitutionally institutionalized. That gives a mechanism to check-and-balance that no territory or ethnic group is exploited severely by the union state for they can choose to separate in such cases. It also preempts the chance of violence for the disgruntled groups can address their demand for a separate nation peacefully, and no ethnic clashes occur.
Looking at the history of Nepal for the last two centuries and the course it appears to be bound for, we have come to conclusion that the issues of Madhesh can be only addressed by freeing itself from colonization, as all incurring problems are mostly colonial in nature. Because Madhesh is colonised by the Nepali/Gorkhali Empire, the very natural solution is to be free by ending that colonisation.
Second, under the colonial rule, as long as the Nepali colonial forces keep occupying Madhesh, no constitution, no political system, no legal codes can help –for they can be seized in minutes by using the colonial army. That occupying Nepali forces can return from Madhesh only when it is free.
Third, all the solutions other than independence can, at most, provide only an effervescent relief. When Madheshis remain vigil, warring on streets out of the control of the state's power, the Nepal government agrees for some concessions, but as soon as the movement dampens, the state retracts any right given to the Madheshis. See, when we had a rattling, strong Madhesh movement, the government agreed literally on an autonomous Madhesh province and the proportional representation of Madheshis at every level of the state structure, but as soon as the movement went off the radar, almost all is gone now. Though 50.3% of the Nepal's 26 million population lives in Madhesh, we could not even integrate even 3000 (~3%) Madheshis into the Nepal Army, which barely has 5% Madheshis–that too mostly as non-combatants like cooks, barbers and cleaners. The Nepal government ignored all agreements done with the Madheshis granting them some right. Not only that, in the past, even as fundamental things as citizenship certificates distributed to the Madheshis, after decades of political struggle and negotiations, have been snatched in thousands by the Government of Nepal. In 1997, the Supreme Court annulled the thirty-five thousands citizenship certificates distributed earlier on the government's recommendation. So for any permanent solution, independence becomes mandatory.
Besides, any other solution like federalism and state-restructuring is unable to address the issues of Madhesh, simply for the reason that the nature of the problems is colonial, it is not simply discrimination and underrepresentation. State-restructuring cannot make the occupying Nepal army, 95% of them coming from outside Madhesh, return. It cannot stop Pahadis'migration into Madhesh, they have already swelled from 6% in 1951 to 33% in 2001, putting enormous pressure on Madhesh, making indigeneous Madheshis landless and homeless. It cannot assure the jobs of Madhesh to the citizens of Madhesh. It cannot place the vital citizenship, foreign and defence policies in Madheshis'own hand. It cannot guarantee that our resources–land, forest, water–will be under our full control. It cannot guarantee that a fair portion of budget and aids shall be allocated for Madhesh. Madhesh has been contributing three-quarters (up to 76%) of total revenues of Nepal, yet barely 10% budget is allocated for it, and that too is spent in Pahadi-migrant dominated areas like Jhapa and Chitwan. Similarly, the solution like state-structuring cannot stop the question of identity and loyalty being directed at the Madheshis, and so on. That's why we stand for the full independence of Madhesh.
You are not affiliated with any political parties or groups. Many consider Dr. CK Raut a one-man-activist team. Critics claim that you are using Madhesh Andolan as the leverage to gain political power? Any plans for opening a party or joining them?
We have our organisation, the Alliance for Independent Madhesh (AIM), declared officially on 21st May, 2012 in a press conference right in Kathmandu in a media-house, amidst much-fanfare. The precursor of this organisation appeared in 2006 right after the Nepalgunj Riot, even before the Madhesh Movement of 2007-8, under the name the Alliance for Rights and Independence of Madhesh (ARIM). The organisation, AIM, is meant to bring together all parties, civil society and social organisations to fight for a common goal: independence of Madhesh through peaceful means. The unity has been the utmost need of our time for Madhesh, and thus our aim has been to provide that platform for unity, rather than joining or opening a separate party. By opening more parties, there is a big chance of more crevices among already much fragmented Madheshi people, and of much-more trust-deficit amidst already much cynical Madheshi society. So our clear goal from the beginning has been not to open a "political party", but remain as a political front or coalition to bring all parties and organisations together to fight for a common goal of freedom.
In your book, you are highly critical about "Pahadiya" ? What will happen to "Pahadiya" living in Terai for centuries if, lets say, a separate Madhesh was formed? Do you believe in diversity?
I have made it pretty clear in our books and many interviews that they are equal citizens of Madhesh, with equal rights and responsibilities, and that the term "Pahadi"is no more appropriate for them for they have been living in Madhesh for decades and already settled there. At best, "Pahadi-origin" may be used technically but we'd like to see them fully integrated, without any sense of fear and insecurity. And we encourage them to join our freedom movement. We often give people an example of how eventually it was the "British migrants" who fought for the independence of America from the British colonization and built what is called the United States of America.
As a voracious reader and observer of the world politics and follower of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, is this kind racially charged activism good for modern day Nepal that is slowly trying to get on its feet? Do you share any love for the nation?
Our movement is exactly to end that very racism and colonization. Wherever racial discrimination exists, people have to be vocal about it; that's the first step towards ending it. Being silent, and pretending that no such discrimination exists, is like standing on a bomb pretending to be safe. And when you speak, they resort to defamation, ad hominem attacks and many more such techniques. I think Gandhi must have endured the same when he said, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win." The cases of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or Mandela were not much different either; all of them were accused for racially charged activism.
And if Nepal is stepping on such bombs of racial discrimination and colonisation to get on her feet, it's in her own best interest to take few more steps and find the best place to stand. It is our sheer love for humanity, and people everywhere, that we are aspiring for free nations, without any suppression, as humanity on a suppressed ground is as dangerous as suppressed springs that can hit back anytime.
India has history of dismantling an ethnic and culture based revolutions like rising of Gorkhaland? Do you think India or other foreign countries will support your andolan for "Swaraj" ?
Personally and ideologically, I do not bother much about what India or other foreign countries think about our movement; that's their concern, my concern is Madhesh. So I focus on what's best for Madhesh. And once people rise, every other thing becomes secondary; at that stage, all foreign powers have to respect people's aspiration. And I am sure, once Madheshis stand united, determined for their freedom, they'll support.
Every major political party has expressed disagreement to your ideas of "Swaraj". Is there a way to comprise at all?
It should not be us or them, not a person or a party, rather people who should decide about it. So the best way to move ahead is to hold a referendum on the issue of independence. It is the mid-way. In that way, we will not be seeking an outright independence and imposing that on others, but the people will be deciding themselves what is right for them.