‘Sons of soil’ mark Black Day, shut down Nepal

By Sudeshna Sarkar


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Kathmandu : Condemning June 1 as a 'black day' in the history of Nepal's ethnic communities and flaying the failure of the government to address their grievances even after seven months, over 60 communities united under a common banner to enforce a countrywide shutdown Friday.

The Nepal Adivasi Janajati Mahasangh, formed of communities who were the first settlers in the kingdom as well as some of the most underdeveloped, struck a fresh blow for their demand that Nepal's ethnic groups be given genuine proportional representation in the upcoming election.

"We asked the government to ensure the rights of the ethnic communities even before the new constitution was drafted," said Pasang Sherpa, president of the Mahasangh.

"But our plea was ignored. Then we waged a seven-month agitation and the government held three rounds of talks with us.

"But still it has done nothing. We feel the government is not serious and so we had to resort to this shutdown."

Since last winter, when it began its movement for proportional representation as well as a federal form of government where each community would have its own autonomous state, the Mahasangh enforced seven closures.

The Friday protest has an additional issue.

Ethnic groups are marking the day when their languages and cultures came under attack from the state.

On this day nearly seven years ago, a dispute over how the work of municipalities should be conducted led to Nepal's Supreme Court rule that Nepali should be the language for all official work.

Non-Nepali speaking communities have been opposing the decision vehemently.

Their anger is targeted not just at the seven-year-old verdict but an event in history that is more than two centuries old.

Prithvi Narayan Shah, king of Gorkha, a small principality in western Nepal, overran the other small kingdoms in Nepal 238 years ago and founded the Shah dynasty. The present king, Gyanendra, is a scion of that dynasty.

When kings reigned absolute in Nepal, Prithvi Narayan was regarded as the unifier of Nepal and his feat lauded in Nepal's school textbooks.

However, the royal family became unpopular following King Gyanendra's attempt to impose his absolute rule backed by the army, a public uprising overthrew the royal regime.

With the king now out of power, Prithvi Narayan Shah is regarded as a coloniser who imposed his kingdom's rule and culture on the others.

The dead king's statues have been bearing the brunt of the public anger against monarchy.

His statue in Kathmandu was vandalised and on Thursday, on the eve of the shutdown, ethnic groups affiliated to the Maoists, demolished another statue in Kavre in central Nepal.

The shutdown comes even as Nepal's eight-party government succeeded in rescuing parliament from obstructing MPs after a month and a half's paralysis.

The ruling alliance, accused of moving at a snail's pace, has been defusing one explosive situation only to be plunged into another crisis.

Ironically, the ethnic protest comes on the day the government is beginning negotiations with another ethnic community from the Terai plains, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, which too has been on the warpath since January with similar demands.