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Social Movement and Inclusive Citizenship in Nepal


Organised by Centre for Consolidation of Democracy (CCD)

19 June 2010

Ritu Raj Subedi

The Nepalese state is now in the process of restructuring itself with the people from diverse classes and communities engaged in socio-political campaigns to ensure their rights in the new constitution. The agenda of inclusion, identity and citizenship have now taken a center stage in the peace, transformation and state-building processes. The debate and discussion on how to consolidate the achievements social, political and cultural movements of the past are now going on. Gasping the important of this historic moment, Centre for Consolidation of Democracy (CCD), a forum of the intellectuals loyal to Nepali Congress party in collaboration with Freidrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), a German political foundation, organized a one-day seminar entitled 'Social Movement and Inclusive Citizenship in Nepal' in Kathmandu on June 19, 2010. The objective of the meet was to fathom and assess the identity-based movements, highlight the role of citizens and bring the voices of the marginalized to the fore. Attended by the people of cross-section of intellectual circle, the workshop was divided into two parts - the opening and paper presentation sessions.

Opening Session

Speaking as a key figure at the opening session, NC acting president and CCD founder Sushil Koirala said that the centre was established to provide a forum to democratic intellectuals in line with vision of BP Koirala.

Stating there was no alternative to democracy, Koirala, also the current patron of the organization, said that his party would never compromise democracy, freedom of expression and rule of law.

He noted that social movements should bring awareness among the people of all groups and communities. The NC leader observed, "The Nepalese society is facing the threat of extremism owing to the dwindling power of ideology."

Reiterating the party's faith in democratic socialism, Koirala urged UCPN-Maoist to give up politics violence and 'authoritarian attitude' so as to usher the country in the era of peace, stability and democratic republic.

National Planning Commission (NPC) vice-chairman and CCD chairman Dr Jagadish Chandra Pokharel said that the need of the hour is to expand the constitutional boundary to tie up the values of social movements, the spirit of inclusive democracy and citizenship by widening the legal framework. "We should do so without disturbing the basic value system of the society."

Dev Raj Dahal, FES head of Nepal office, said that genuine social movements fostered the concept of inclusive citizenship by educating them about rights and responsibilities and mobilisng them for the attainment of collective interests.

"Genuinely broad-based, nonviolent social movements have an integrative potential as they embrace the capacity of society to articulate the grievances of citizens, communicate the unfavorable condition of society through media, form public opinion for social change and emancipate the citizens through the realization of rights," he noted.

Stating that constitutionalism, democratic leadership and citizenship competence were needed for social transformation, Dahal stressed for tying up citizenship to nationality and bringing sound population policy to build a cohesive and democratic nation-state.

NC central committee member and CA member Shovakar Parajuli asked the civil society members to judge as to which political party abided by the past agreements and which party failed to implement them.

CCD vice-chairman Dr. Yagya Prasad Adhikari said that the time had come to evaluate the political system the country has been practicing for the last two decades.

Dr. Adhikari, who is also known as an expert on democratic socialism, said that democratic socialism passed through difficult time since 1990s.

He said that the NC played a vital role in various social movements and now it should focus on social justice to realize the objectives of such movements.

Laxmi Rai, CCD general secretary, said that the center, which was established 18 years ago, aimed at consolidating democracy by spreading its values and principles to the grassroots.

"Intellectual community should significantly contribute to the promotion of democracy by giving voice to the marginalized people," Rai said.

CCD executive director Sumit Sharma Sameer said that social movement has three fundamental aspects - collective mission, collective agenda and collective emancipation.

Sameer said that the hill-origin people living in Terai were facing identity crisis. "In Terai, they are treated as pahades (hill-origin people) and in the hill, they are called madhesis."

Paper presentations

The second part of the seminar saw the presentation of three working papers - Understanding the Social Movement in Nepal - A General Perspective by Mohan Das Manandhar, Social Movement and Identity Politics in Nepal by Mrigendra Bahadur Karki and Democracy and Citizenship Building in Nepal' by Yuba Raj Ghimire. Participants actively took part in the discussion of the papers. As most of them were from educated class, their comments, questions and curiosity on the experts' papers were lively, interesting and thought provoking.

Understanding Social Movement in Nepal - A General Perspective

In his working paper, Manandhar offers conceptual framework to social movement and tries to scan it through different historical events of Nepal starting from early 1920s to 2006. He defines social movement as a type of group action in which individuals or organizations focus on specific political or social issue to carry out, resist or undo a social change.

Manandhar uses the concept of frame, borrowed from DA Snow and RD Benford, to explain social movements, which consists of three elements - diagnostic framing (problem identification and attribution), prognostic framing (proposed solution to the problem), and motivational framing (the means to attain the goals). For example, the social movements of 1920 -1951, which reflected people's revolt against Rana regime, can be put into Manandhar's framing concept this way: the diagnostic framing - the Rana rulers captured state powers and resources illegitimately resulting into the dispossession of the peoples' rights; prognostic framework - making Nepal a democratic state and motivational framing - armed revolution to topple down the autocratic regime.

He, however, said that western concepts of social movements might not exactly apply to the Nepalese context because of geographical and cultural variations.

Nepal experienced four major social movements in the last 70 years, resulting in social and political structural changes in 1951, 1979, 1990 and 2006. These movements are intermingled and difficult to separate each other. The crusaders of such movements applied both violent and peaceful means to bring about desired socio-economic changes.

Manandhar gives the example of Newar community as to how the social movement brought a change in its structural pattern. The political change in 1950 abolished mandatory rule that limited Newars, for example, Manandhars (except those assigned to advise Ranas) to specific business such as oil expeller, selling food, clothes and drinks. But when the legal barrier broken down, specific caste within Newars began to explore their potentials in the area of business, administration and knowledge profession.

Grassroots organizations such as forest users, micro-credit and cooperative groups; civil society and ethnicity-based organizations, which rose after 1990 political change, played an important role in social and political movements, he said.

He noted that social exclusion was one of the key factors, which the Maoist applied to fuel their violent insurgency against the state in 1996.

"In recent time," Manandhar said, "new elements such as solidarity, action and network, have emerged as catalytic agents of the social movements."

Commenting on his paper, Govinda Bahadur Tumbhang, said that the writer has conveyed hot theme in mild tone but it failed to include some important aspects.

He said that it did not make a clear distinction between social and political movements and forgot to mention social justice, which he said, is an important objective of any social movement.

"It is highly theoretical and does not correlate the concept of equal society with that of autonomy and right to self-determination, which have now become hot issues," he said.
There were many commentators to express their curiosity and suggestions on Manandhar's paper.

Human rights activist Kapil Shrestha said that politics has dominated the Nepalese social movements and there was need to keep social movement out of political influences.
One participant said if the paper presenter had included the social movement launched by social worker Tulasi Mehar, it would have been far better.

Sumit Sharma Sameer said that the writer explained identity issue from narrow perspective and failed to recognize the concept of multiple identities. "He adopted the Marxist approach to highlight the social movements. Does he mean to say that the future social movements will be guided by class-oriented conflict?" he questioned.

Kanta Rijal asked about the apparatus needed to launch social movements and demanded a precise definition of elite class and their role in the social changes.

Former FNJ president Tara Nath Dahal stressed on analyzing the impacts of past social movements in Nepal. He floated a number of questions: Is social movement rooted in culture or politics? Which approach - democratic or Marxist - can be effective to address social movement?

He noted that the Nepalese widows have in recent past spearheaded a crusade against religions taboos by wearing red saaris and bracelets but the political parties could not own this social reform.

Pesal Dahal, an expert on culture, said that social movements in Nepal have root in culture and positive aspects of society should be incorporated into social movement.
He warned that the identity politics, being carried out under the assistance of donors, could disintegrate the society.

Chitra Bahadur Karki called for economic revolution to back social movements. "Our social movements are donor-driven. We should identify our own agenda for sustainable social changes."

Furnishing the queries of participants, Manandhar admitted that he applied Marxist analytical approach to describe the social movements. "The Marxist approach is popular in the western academic sector."

He said that ultimate goal of any social movement is to bring about changes in the political structures.

Stating that identity-based politics would lead the country towards fragmentations, he said that collective and consolidated actions were necessary to make social movement successful.

"For the creation of solidarity among the people, the nation must face external threat as happened in Europe."

Summing up the first session of the seminar, Dr Jagadish Chandra Pokharel said there lay a gray area between social and political movements.

There are two types of social changes - wholesale and issue wise - but they are continuous process, he said and added that globalization has deep impact on social movements occurring in the contemporary world.

Social Movement and Identity Politics in Nepal

Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, in his highly academic research paper 'Social Movement and Identity Politics in Nepal' describes motivational factors; networking patterns and dynamic processes of social movements and identity politics in Nepal.

Karki defines social movement as one of the vehicles of campaigning to re-make the world through which individual or collectivities give voices and claims to their grievances and concerns about the rights, welfare and well being of themselves and other engaging in various forms of action.

"Since 1990, particularly the post-Maoist insurgency, various forms of social movements and identities are replacing the role of political parties or somehow overcoming set political ideologies - socialism, liberalism and democracy - with sparked social makers: ethnicity, caste, religion etc are in center of identity discourses," he writes in the paper.
He noted that various activities organizations and social movements are substituting the role of political parties, intermediating citizens and the state in Nepal.

Commenting on his paper, professor Krishna Khanal said that Karki's dissertation was highly sophisticated and applied advanced research methodology.

"With the rise of identity politics, the ideology has become dead worldwide although the political parties continue hold its tag," he said and added that in Nepal the Maoist cashed in on identity politics while mustering support of women, dalit and various ethnic and indigenous people.

Responding to a query of a participating student, Khanal said those, who are involved in political activism, feel unhappy when they come to hear that the day of ideology has come to an end.

"However, democracy is itself an ideology, in which identity politics can be an agenda to push for social change," he noted.

Chitra Bahadur Karki said that social movement and ethnicity were interrelated with each other.

Tara Nath Dahal questioned the relevance of identity politics in the Nepalese context: "How much is it democratic and scientific to do politics based on language, religion, geography and caste?"

From the chair, Dr Yagya Adhiakri said that social movements give birth to the political movements and at the same time identity politics is embedded in the social movements.

Challenge of Citizenship Building

Citizenship denotes the membership of political community that is known as the state. But, this membership, as political scientist Dev Raj Dahal states, stands above individual's membership with the family, civil society, political parties, market institutions and interest-based associations. Relationship between the state and the citizens is accepted as a 'social contract' that guarantees certain rights to 'citizens' and at the same time they are obliged to the state for their own protection, security and common well-being, writes journalist Yuba Raj Ghimire, in his working paper 'Challenge of Citizenship Building'.

According to Ghimire, the Nepalese citizens have only rose for political rights and no so much for other people oriented issues largely due to the pervasiveness of partisan politics. He argues that the people have been unable to make their extensive participation in the debate over state restructuring agenda such as federalism, nationalism and culture, because of the frequent adjustments of CA calendars.

"The civic education in the country is weak and therefore, there is delay in transforming multiple identities of the people into national identity of citizenship," he says.

He stated that in recent time interests of the Nepalese citizenries to the state affairs have slackened while the role of donors in peace process and post-conflict developments have increased, which he says, poses a challenge to the concept of sovereign citizens.

Ghimire said that the extension of CA's tenure by a year has sparked a moral question because the parties did not give a plausible answer of their failure to the citizens as to why and how they could not to draft the new constitution in time. He attributed the current political vacuum to the various hasty steps and procedural flaws of the past four years.

'The political parties may have failed the people but the citizens will never fail themselves because they are the source of sovereignty. Therefore, their role, responsibility and challenges have only grown in the days to come," he concludes.

Commenting on his paper, journalist Tara Nath Dahal said that it has been almost 60 years since the activism of the people began but ironically they were still in the process of being citizens.

He said that the concept of prerogative contravened the concept of sovereign citizen.

Stressing on the active citizenship for building dynamic lokatantra, he called for enough discussion on participatory democracy.

Participating in the discussion, lawyer Dinesh Tripathi said that democracy building was long process and formal and procedural democracy hardly helps in creating real citizens.

Tripathi said. "We, Nepalese are still in the process of transforming from subject to citizen while the people in the western world are becoming consumers from citizens.

Stating that there existed justice versus peace dilemma, he noted that justice was key to the lasting peace and stressed on transitional justice to address the grievances of the people affected during insurgency and transition period.

While a large number of participants questioned the political affiliation of the civil society leaders some others put emphasis on the rights of citizens to bolster democracy.

Hari Binod Adhikari, a columnist, said that the paper has not given due emphasis on civic education, which he said, is an important instrument to strengthen the citizenship.

Some speakers said that the working paper failed to interpret autonomy and right to self-determination in relation to the rights of citizens, and did not clearly define the terms exclusion and inclusion.

A woman participant said that the civil society and the media were not in position to vigorously raise the rights of citizens in Terai where the incidents of killing, abductions and extortion have become routine.

"The democratic institutions should not only blow up the complication of the transition period but also suggest solution to the problems facing the citizens," she said.

Summing up the session, NC leader Sagar Shumsher Rana said that the citizens and the state should work together for the betterment of the society.

There should be legal apparatus to prevent the people's representatives from abusing the people's mandate, added Rana.


Active and informed citizens are prerequisite for a vibrant democracy. So is democracy for the promotion of active citizenship. Passive citizenship is detrimental to the health of the nation. The Nepalese people have experienced several social and political movements in the past but the political leadership often disregarded the mission of such movements upon ascending to power. Indifference of the people is to also partly blame for this situation because they could not democratize the Nepalese political leadership and became unable stop them from going astray. Now time has come to assert the role of citizens to realize the gist of all past social movements by framing them in the new constitution and applying to the real life. The citizens must rise above the partisan interest for building a cohesive, democratic and equal society.

(Ritu Raj Subedi is an Associate Editor of The Rising Nepal and can be accessed at riturajsubedi@yahoo.com)

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