How Youth are Driving Nepal into a More Democratic Future

  • Nishchhal Kharal, Sushmina Baidya

In 2006, people took the streets to chant Loktantra Zindabad, meaning “long-live democracy” in Nepali. Millions shouted these words to put an end to the direct rule of the King in Nepal.

The April uprising of 2006 not only transformed the Himalaya nation from monarch to republic, but also restored citizens’ belief in their rights. From 1996 until 2006, Nepal had endured a civil war fueled by class conflict and ethnic discord. Since the parliament’s vote to abolish the monarchy in 2006, young Nepalese citizens have been committed to resolving ongoing ethnic tensions and strengthening local governance to secure a more democratic future for their country.

Youth play a key role in the effective growth and development of the country. Especially in countries like ours with a youth bulge, it is very important to engage young people by providing them with access to civic spaces so that they can feel a sense of community and help identify solutions to challenges they face. The youth-led organization ‘We’ for Change provides a platform for young minds to help build a stable democracy and forge peace in Nepal. Our campaign and projects focus on promoting civic engagement, democratic governance and peacebuilding. Our efforts have directly engaged over 400 young people in Nepal.

We recently collaborated with IRI’s Generation Democracy to test new ways to engage young people, and piloted the “Get Engaged Caravan.” Through the program, we trained 205 young people in four districts across provinces 2 and 4. We not only discussed the value of good governance and democracy, but leveraged this program to listen to the concerns of young people, members of the community, local representatives, political activists and leaders of civil society to better understand how the country’s political transition has impacted the Madhesi, an ethnic minority who have been historically marginalized. The Madhesi continue to advocate for establishing proportional representation in every state legislature within Nepal, greater representation and rights.

As part of the Get Engaged Caravan tour, we interviewed Chief Minister, Lal Babu Raut, who shared his optimism and confidence that the rights of ethnic minorities will be recognized. He added that, “after the demarcation of provinces, there was a chaos in Nepal, and we still believe this decision should be revisited. But now it’s time to move forward and I am committed to working for democratic co-existence of every ethnic group in Nepal.”

We also interviewed secessionists from the Madhesi community who believe that ethnocultural justice cannot be achieved until the community secedes from Nepal. In our conversation with a prominent activist on Madhesi secession, Dr. C K Raut, who is currently under house arrest, shared that “ethnic suppression existed since the colonization of the Madhes in Nepal.”  For example, to acquire citizenship, fluency in the Nepali language was a requirement. Therefore, citizens of non-Nepali speaking communities like the Madhesi were not granted this right. Although the constitution was amended in 2006 to grant citizenship to anyone born in Nepal before 1990 who is a permanent resident, the legacy of institutional discrimination exists and remains a barrier for Nepal’s transition to democracy.

In this context, ‘We’ for Change is clear that it is critically urgent for Nepal to integrate historically marginalized ethnic communities and help facilitate greater social cohesion to secure a more democratic and peaceful future for Nepal.

By creating a space for young people in Nepal to connect, learn and share at the grassroots, ‘We’ for Change hopes to encourage people to get engaged at the local level, and find common ground to help forge more sustainable peace and participate in local governance. The Get Engaged Caravan literally put young people in the driver’s seat, and instilled in them the idea that democracy, after all, is not a final product, but a journey to secure equality for all.

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