All of the movements in Nepal, including the women’s movement, adopted inclusion as a common agenda, and separate agreements reached with the state by respective social movements negotiated inclusive policies for all marginalised groups. For instance, the agreement reached with two Janajati groups in August 2007 stated that a ‘fully representative task-force will be formed immediately to conduct a study in order to ensure inclusive participation and proportional representation of all castes, ethnicities, groups, communities, genders and regions in all bodies and levels of the state’. It enjoined upon the government to ‘make a serious effort to reach an agreement for addressing the demands of various groups and communities, including Madhesis, women and Dalits through talks and discussions with the respective groups’.
Likewise, the first Madhes Movement led to an agreement later that month that committed to ensuring ‘balanced proportional representation and partnership of Madhesis, Janajatis, Dalits, women, backward classes, disabled people, minority communities and Muslims who have been excluded for generations, in all organs and levels of government and in power structures, mechanisms and resources’. The agreement following the Second Madhes Movement in February 2008 was instrumental in getting the government’s agreement on ensuring ‘inclusive proportional representation of Madhesis, indigenous nationalities, women, Dalits, (people from) backward regions and minority communities in all state bodies’.
The March 2009 agreement with the Samyukta Muslim Rastriya Sangharsha Samiti (United Muslim National Struggle Committee) stated that the ‘Government of Nepal shall take necessary initiative to ensure political, economic, social, cultural and educational rights of all Adivasi, Janajati, Madhesi, Tharu, Dalit and minority communities of the country, including Muslims’.
In terms of mobilisation strategy, the Madhes movement has stood out as having been able to muster mass rallies and instigate strikes, whereas the Janajati and Dalit movements did not resort to mass demonstrations as their primary mode of protest. The Madhes movements also forced engagement by established Madhesi leaders in the mainstream political parties. A number of these joined the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Madhesi People’s Rights Forum), which had been instrumental in the First Madhes Movement. Other leaders quit their parties to form the Tarai-Madhes Loktantrik Party. Janajatis had made attempts to form political parties since the 1980s but there have been very few examples of ranking leaders quitting their mother parties to start something new. A notable exception was in 2012 when senior leaders from both the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal– United Marxist-Leninist (UML) left their parties to establish the Federal Socialist Party, which would cater specifically to Janajati concerns.
Women, Dalit and Janajati movements also used other means to advance their rights, including activities by NGOs, journalists, lawyers, and caste, ethnic and other civil society organisations. Madhesis tended not to use such tactics, although lately, as their movement has matured and the struggle has been carried out in multiple fronts, similar organisations have emerged calling for the rights of Madhesis as well.
With the election of the first Constituent Assembly (CA) in April 2008 and the beginning of the arduous journey of constitution drafting, the whole focus of all the social movements turned to ensuring their rights in the new constitution. The issue of inclusion was the primary area where the different movements were able to speak with one voice. Women CA members from different political parties came together as a caucus and, working in concert with women’s activists and professionals, campaigned for issues such as non-discrimination on the basis of gender, equal citizenship rights and fulfilling commitments under various international instruments that Nepal is party to.
The Janajati movement called for restructuring of the state to include identity-based federalism that would recognise people’s history and autonomy, as well as respect for collective rights and rights over land and natural resources. CA members from Janajati communities also came together in an informal caucus that cut across party lines and proved effective in pressuring the political parties. In the run-up to the termination of the first CA in May 2012, following days of unrest, Janajati CA members managed to get government agreement on identity-based federalism. But the agreement fizzled out with the end of the first CA, and Janajatis were never able to build the same momentum in the second CA, while the caucus did not materialise either [see article on the constitutional process, p.59].
Dalit CA members were equally active in the first CA, alongside the struggle carried out by Dalit activists and organisations outside the CA, around three key issues: ending the practice of untouchability in both public and private spheres; ensuring representation of Dalits in federal, provincial and local level bodies; and including Dalits in the private and semi- or non-government sectors as well. However, Dalits, were never able to exert the same kind of pressure as Madhesis and Janajatis.
As the term of the first CA was coming to an end with agreement on a constitution not yet in sight, 416 CA members from different marginalised groups launched a signature campaign in an attempt to force a vote. But the leaders of major political parties could still not agree either on a constitution or on voting for it.