An unprecedented event is taking place today. Chandra Kant (CK) Raut from Mahadeva village in Saptari district is being tried for treason—a charge that could send him behind the bars for life. If you are a Madheshi, you will probably talk about this day with your kids and grandkids in the years to come.

Raut is not an ordinary man. Giving up an enviable career as a computer scientist in Boston, Raut did what loyal sons of Madhesh want to do, but rarely gather the courage to do—go back and fight for justice for their kind. Since his return to Nepal, Raut has written books, made documentaries, corresponded with the queen of England, spoken at Harvard, and been invited by the Constituent Assembly for his input in drafting the constitution of Nepal.

Raut is also a brave man—probably one of the bravest of his generation. He has dared to speak publically, what most Madheshis have feared even contemplating privately—that they might be better off if they become an independent country, rather than stay a part of Nepal.

Madheshis have rallied behind Raut’s release. Amnesty International has also urged for his unconditional release. An otherwise vocal Pahadi intelligentsia, however, has largely kept mum.

Raut believes it is best for Madheshis to seek a separate country. He has also peacefully campaigned for this. The question is: Should he be allowed to do so?

As a country, where do we stand on this issue? To what extent does our constitution guarantee the freedom of speech? To what extent does our constitution guarantee peaceful dissent? These are the questions our brightest legal scholars need to answer today.

If the Supreme Court decides that Raut committed treason, then it is a defeat for the freedom of speech. It is also a step backwards in becoming a nation of civilized people. If the Supreme Court decides to let him free, it will be a victory for the freedom of speech. It will tell us that nothing is out of limits when it comes to criticizing the government. It will be a step forward in becoming a civilized nation.

We have in front of us two paths: the North Korea path, where the government decides what kind of hairstyle is acceptable and what is not, and the United Kingdom style that lets its citizens decide whether they want to remain in the union or not. Do we want to adopt a path of the United Kingdom, or do we want to adopt the path of North Korea?

We are a country that has been internally colonized for more than 90 percent of the last 300 years. Our great-grandparents, grandparents and parents, have lived under the tyranny of either the Ranas or Shahs. It has been a North Korea type of government for our ancestors. The question is whether that is what we want for our children and grandchildren. If we want to be more like the UK, and less like North Korea, we need to change our mindset. We have to watch out that we do not let the government oppress us.

Let us hope that the Supreme Court passes a judgment against the Koirala government, and releases Raut. But should the Supreme Court pass a verdict against Raut, the rest of Nepal should rally behind the Madheshis and make the CA change the rule, and seek Raut’s retrial, and grant him freedom.

All of this should happen before the new constitution is drafted. It will show a commitment to freedom for liberal democracy. It will show that Nepal will never be a country where its citizens can be sent to jail for speaking his mind, no matter what they says.

Sending Raut to jail will raise other issues—that of a double standard. Let me explain. Baburam Bhattarai, Prachanda and other top leaders have openly advocated for identity-based federalism. At one point a single Madhesh in the Terai belt was their agenda. Further, the Maoist party was the first party to talk about self-determination (another term for the right to secede from the nation). So what is so treacherous about Raut’s advocacy?

Raut has the commitment, discipline, intellect and the courage to be the Baburam Bhattarai of the Madhesh. After the Maoist revolution, and the Madheshi revolution, his trial at the Supreme Court today is perhaps the most significant day for a Madheshi. No matter what the decision, it is a game-changer. No wonder, his competitor and the former prime minister, who himself has fought for the right of self-determination, recently tweeted: “We cannot agree with the views of CK Raut. But the government has committed a serious mistake by arresting him”. Yes, Koirala government has made the unknown but extraordinary Raut famous. He is going down in history book as a man who was tried for treason for seeking an independent country for Madheshis.


Published on 2014-09-21 01:22:46
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