Butwal is a particularly interesting place to reside because it rests at the precise junction where the hills meet the plains; where the Himalayan region fades into the Terai. For generations, the Terai area was geographically separated from the rest of Nepal. As a result, the pattern of development and migration in this region took a different course than most other areas. Historically, it was a place where people from North India and displaced ethnic groups from other parts of Nepal migrated to in search of land. The Terai boasts great ethnic and linguistic diversity, but is at the same time a place where ethnic, political, and religious tension is kept precariously in check. Someone I met who works for the Red Cross described the Terai as a place where caste discrimination has been the most effective. According to some accounts, it is the place where caste discrimination in Nepal began.
Although the New Nepal is currently in a state of peace and reconciliation, the instability of the Terai remains a cause for great concern. The Maoists abandoned the Terai, the center of the conflict, more than two years ago leaving behind mass suffering and wide-scale poverty, isolation, and displacement on the part of the victims. It was less than two years ago, and months after the Maoists abandoned their “People’s War” that a violent uprising in the Terai resulted in more than 300 deaths. Recently, the activities of the Constituent Assembly, who is in the process of drafting a new constitution for Nepal, were completely halted because leaders representing the Mahdesis, one of the region’s most agitated ethnic groups, are demanding a separate, autonomous state.
Journalists in this area face greater risks than in other areas – victims of persecution, torture and imprisonment by the Maoists during the conflict, they continue to receive threats and pressure to produce stories that are one-sided and typically have partisan aims. Nepal, and the Terai in particular, is still a fair distance away from upholding principles of freedom of expression and the right to information.
Journalists in the Terai are, at one and the same time, faced with great opportunity to draw on the rich diversity that defines it, and great responsibility to help ensure that the tightrope that holds the region, and the nation, together is kept taut. If the Terai falls, a Nepal that is currently hopeful but uncertain of itself as it moves forth with unsteady legs, will come crashing down with it.
Posted By Heather Gilberds
Posted Aug 1st, 2008