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Plain soldiers

JAN 17 -

Group entry of Madhesi youth in the Nepal Army was one of the main demands of the Madhes Andolan when 52 youths sacrificed their lives. Six years after the Madhes Andolan, not even a single Madhesi youth has been recruited as per the 22-point agreement signed by the government as a bow to the uprising. The recruitment process was halted after the then defence minister Sarat Singh Bhandari became the victim of a media conspiracy. The Nepal Army, dominated by hill Brahmins and Chhetris close to the CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress, started raising issues regarding “interest” and “capability” to bar Madhesi entry into the Nepal Army.

Who said that Madhesis are not interested in joining the Nepal Army? In 2011, a total of 154 Madhesis applied for the 32 reserved seats at the officer level, but only one was selected. In the same year, 1,683 Madhesis applied for various non-officer posts. In 2012 a total of 31 Madhesi candidates passed three levels of examinations including the IQ test for army officers. None of them passed the written test. On August 21, 2012, one of the candidates, Rakesh Yadav, who passed three levels of examinations, went to the Supreme Court charging that the written test was biased towards Madhesis.

The Supreme Court issued a stay order on the 15 seats for army officers reserved for Madhesis. The court ruled that the examination should be conducted in a way that would make it easy for Madhesis to pass. A separate written test should be conducted to maintain the principle of equity. The principle of equality should be maintained among equals, not among those who are unequal. Rawal’s justice theory of difference principle is the basic guideline to maintain the inclusion principle that is constitutionally and legally ensured to Madhesis and other marginalised communities. Rakesh Yadav, who is physically and mentally qualified to be an army officer, ultimately left to work in the Gulf. In his application to the court, he argued that “the Nepal Army has created such a manipulative examination system that barred and discouraged Madhesis from passing the examination.”

Thus, the ruling class has raised the issue of “interest” as an excuse for the army to escape from its constitutional and legal duties. This is a new technique used by the hill ruling elite to keep Madhesis out of the army structure. At large number of Madhesi applicants can be found at every recruiting station. However, they are pushed into a state of frustration as they usually fail at the final stage of the selection process. Thus, it is not a question of interest. Go to the Gulf countries to observe the industriousness, courage and sincerity of Madhesi youth. It is the army’s ethnically biased attitude which is a major reason keeping out eligible persons from the Madhesi communities through a manipulative selection criteria. The army’s selection criteria contains insulting words which allow it to block Madhesis. Applicants are dumped for disqualifications like “kurup dekhine” (looking ugly) and “chhippar dekhine” which have no clear meaning and are based on a biased attitude that Madhesis are “kurup” and “chhippar”.

On April 12, 2002, a joint bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi quashed a writ filed by Chure Bhawar Hari Prasad Pokhrel against Madhesi entry into the Nepal Army.

The judges clearly stated that “the entry of Madhesis into the Nepal Army is constitutional and legal”. Articles 144, 21 and 13 of the Interim Constitution has guaranteed such rights of inclusion. Similarly, the Army Act 7 (1), Clause 4.7 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, point No 5 of the eight-point pact signed between the Nepal government and the Madhesi Morcha and the recent four points have also ensured Madhesi representation in the Nepal Army. However, Madhesis have not been able to join the army despite these agreements. Forget the joint entry of 3,000 Madhesis as mentioned in the four-point agreement, not even a single candidate under the 15 reserved seats has been selected by the army despite the Supreme Court order and the Defence Ministry being led by a Madhesi Morcha leader.

Among the 96,000 troops in the Nepal Army, there are 1,700-1,900 Madhesis. Unfortunately, most of them are in technical non-officer level posts such as barbers, doctors and electricians. It is difficult to find more than 10 Madhesi officers in regular combat jobs. The Ripu Mardan and Kali Bahadur battalions are caste-based battalions. In India, the Punjabi, Bihari, Maratha, Assam, Gorkha, Rajput, Rajasthani and several other regiments have an ethnic composition. Even the British Army has Gurkha battalions which are composed of hill indigenous communities like Gurung, Magar, Rai and Limbu.

The interest and capability pretexts should be abandoned. The army structure has to reflect the cultural diversity of the country. Only when candidates drawn from the Madhesi community are recruited, they will own the institution.

Look at the Diversity Roadmap of the US Army that “articulates the army’s plan for achieving the vision to be the national leader in embracing the strengths of diverse people in an inclusive environment”. There was a stereotypical impression that a black man could not fly an aircraft. In 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt climbed into the cockpit with a black pilot. In 1942, a black flying unit was formed after a lawsuit was filed against the War Department. The US Army focused on black opportunity channels instead of eradicating racism.

If hill Brahmins see Madhesis as a Bihari race, they should not forget that the Bihar regiment of the Indian Army played a crucial role in the Kargil War. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai’s accusation that Madhesis are “cowards” has been proven false. During the Madhes Movement, 52 Madhesi youth fell boldly facing Nepal Police bullets. The Nepal Army is an anti-Madhesi institution, it should adopt and internalise the principles of inclusion and cultural diversity that were brought forward by the Madhes Movement.

Jha is an advocate at the Supreme Court

Posted on: 2013-01-18 09:14


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