In 2006, a peace accord ended a civil war and Nepal began a new era as a secular, democratic republic. After eight years of political negotiation, over two weeks ago, Nepal announced its new constitution. It is a landmark document, a boon for South Asian democracy and pluralism, with provisions aimed at protecting minorities, including LGBT and Dalit communities.
Like the initially unamended constitutions of many nations around the world, however, it has flaws. For a significant number of Nepalis, the foremost among these is its failure to adequately safeguard the rights and representation of women, indigenous communities like the Tharus, and important Terai communities like the Madhesis. Dissatisfaction with the constitution resulted in widespread protests, some of which involved violence by police and protesters, resulting in over 40 deaths.
Peaceful protests like that of Dang students, who took to the streets with books in hand to voice concern over political turmoil disrupting education serve as a poignant reminder for politicians of what the real game is. As justification for their peaceful protest, students cited their right to go to school: “We are being deprived of our basic rights.” The next generation of Nepalis are ready to begin life in the new democratic, federalist, republic.
The hard-fought constitutional victory was welcomed by China and theUnited States. Initially, the UN merely acknowledged the promulgation, but a few dayslater Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson said the secretary-general “commends the Nepali people” and called the constitution “a milestone in the peace process”. The Indian response to Nepal’s announcement has been overwhelmingly negative. India coolly“noted” Nepal’s constitutional announcement on the day of and a few days later went on to publicise an article-by-article prescription for how the Nepali Constituent Assembly needs to rewrite it. India’s legitimate concern is with the lack of representation of groups like the protesting Madhesi and the related instability on the border. Its handling of the situation, however, amounts to an undeclared economic blockade and demonstrates short-sighted strategy, prioritising a lower objective at the expense of long-term Indian interests.
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