Lately almost every day, indigenous peoples in Nepal are taking to the street. Following the removal of reservation quota by Civil Service Commission in its call published on May 29 for hiring some 9161 staffers for 515 local bodies, indigenous peoples including other marginalized communities have been protesting against the government criticizing the advertisement. Just prior to this, following the massive movements by indigenous peoples, the government was finally forced to withdraw the Guthi Bill introduced at the Upper House. The movement of indigenous peoples are meant for autonomy and self-governance. Sociologists Dr. Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan says that enduring solution of the problem is amendment of constitution of Nepal, 2015. Here is the excerpt of interview conducted by Shree Krishna Maharjan with him for TV program titled ‘Janasawal (public concerns) for Indigenous Television, the issues concentrated on Indigenous peoples’ movement in Nepal.
Indigenous Peoples’ are in the continuous movement. During their movements, one of the major demands that they are making is autonomy, what exactly the autonomy mean?
The autonomy is the fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) 2007 also has guaranteed this right to indigenous peoples. Nepal government has voted yes to this particular declaration. Each member state of UN has responsibility to implement the provisions of UNDRIP. The declaration also has ensured right to self-determination of indigenous peoples. Article 4 of the declaration clearly states that indigenous peoples exercise their right to self-determination through autonomy and self-government.
Can then the Indigenous peoples’ recent movement against the Guthi Bill be linked with Autonomy?
Yes of course! Indigenous peoples’, mainly of indigenous Newar nationalities movement against the Guthi Bill was to prevent government from curtailing their long existing social and cultural autonomy. The Guthi Bill aimed at regulating of Guthi, the religious social management customary institution of Newar Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples had protested against government’s move to introduce legal and administrative measures that curtails indigenous peoples’ centuries old Guthi tradition. According to International laws, prior to making any decisions affecting Newar indigenous peoples, government has to maintain ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)’. The Guthi plays important role in the social, religious and everyday lives of Newar indigenous peoples. The government had to maintain FPIC with Newar indigenous peoples prior to devising laws relating to Guthi, but the government failed to do so, therefore the problem was emerged.
Guthi plays important role in the social, religious and everyday lives of Newar indigenous peoples. But prior to devising laws relating to Guthi, the government failed maintain Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) with Newar indigenous peoples, therefore the problem was emerged.
The autonomy and self-governance is closely linked with Guthi system of Newar indigenous peoples. In the past, Government frequently made attempt to seize their autonomy but not succeeded. Recently government had made another attempt to wipe out their centuries old customs and traditions therefore thousands of Newar indigenous peoples had protested against government being gathered in Maitighar Mandala, an amphitheater in Kathmandu. It was indeed huge shocks for government. If government curtails their rights, the government certainly is likely to face more shocks.
That means, none can curtail indigenous peoples’ right to autonomy?
The Guthi system of Newar indigenous peoples indeed is based on the customary laws. The Guthi itself is customary institution of Newar indigenous peoples. The guthi system therefore is based on their right to self-determination including autonomy and self-governance. Right to self-determination includes their rights over their land, territories and natural resources. These no doubt are their human rights. The human rights is inalienable, sovereign, fundamental, indivisible and natural rights. These rights are neither granted to them by anybody nor are seized. The Guthis existed long before the modern Nepal was formed. Neither the then King Prithivi Narayan Shaha, who consolidated and formed modern Nepal could exterminate nor dictator ruler Janga Bahadur Rana even thought to destroy it. the government, having 2/3 majority had to pay the price, as no single regime could seize their right relating to Guthi in the history. Guthi of Newar Indigenous peoples is similar to Badhghar of Tharu Indigenous Peoples, similarly are Mukhiya system of Thakali, Bhalmansha of indigenous peoples living in southern plains of Nepal. The government should never even imagine to demolish those customary institutions of Indigenous peoples in Nepal.
Government has withdrawn Guthi Bill, wasn’t this a solution?
Government’s move to withdraw Guthi bill is merely a ploy. Government always has employed divide and rule game. Though the government has recently withdrawn the Bill, Minister of Land Management, Cooperative and Poverty Alleviation has said the bill will be reintroduced after amending some provisions. I don’t think Newar Indigenous Peoples are in the position to welcome the government’s decision to withdraw the Bill.
The lasting solution of ongoing problems of indigenous peoples is amendment of new constitution of Nepal 2015. Indigenous Peoples will be happy only if their right to self-determination is ensured constitutionally.
Government is waiting an appropriate situation. The leaders in history have made move against indigenous peoples when they are in critical condition. Therefore, the lasting solution of ongoing problems of indigenous peoples is amendment of new constitution of Nepal 2015. Indigenous Peoples will be happy only if their right to self-determination is ensured constitutionally.
But, there is no clue at all of Constitution amendments.
If not now, the present constitution should be amended.
Do you mean, the Constitution is not in favor of Indigenous Peoples?
The Constitution is like full of snake venom. Like snake venom, constitution has bitten up to Newar Indigenous Peoples, also to all Indigenous Peoples. Like the snake venom though spread all over, it will not kill whole body quickly. Its poisonous substances may first affect to some parts of the body and then others. Similar to this example, there is urgent need to remove the poisonous substance existed in the present constitution of Nepal.
Do you mean, indigenous peoples' agenda is amendment of Constitution?
The constitution of Nepal should be inconsistent with UNDRIP, but many provisions are against the provisions of UNDRIP. Therefore, indigenous peoples should force government to amend Constitution as per UNDRIP. The leaders should not be ‘yes man’ of political party. They should be able to take stand and be free from selfish reasons and petty interest. If we all stand together collectively, nobody can rule us. If we are divided, there will be problem. The history shows that Newar King had to lose their regime as they were divided. Today, Newar indigenous peoples stood together against government move to introduce Guthi Bill. The movement could set the exemplary in the indigenous peoples’ history of movement. If we all indigenous peoples stood collectively, we can exercise our own self-rule, autonomy and self-governance. The day I guess is not far. Indigenous Peoples are synonymous to old tree. If one tries to cut-down, the trees flourish from different arena, this lesson was set by Guthi movement.