Earlier this year, when I had the chance of attending the International Sustainability School in Nepal, I jumped at the opportunity. I had been selected for a 10-day long sustainability training program designed to equip individuals with concrete sustainability skills, while exposing him/her to an international network and green ideas. This year, the program had participants from Serbia, Japan, USA, Malaysia, India, Mauritius, Egypt and Nepal. A group of ten people from eight countries had a lot to offer in terms of wisdom and cross-cultural learning. However, I must say I was also excited about the location of the school. I always heard descriptive stories about the beauty of the Himalayas and richly cultured Nepali people. That’s why I did not give it a second’s thought and I booked my flight tickets and landed in Nepal on 1st July. With the kind of warm hospitality I received, I fell in love with Nepal right away.
However, things are not always as they appear to be. My friends from Nepal had told me that Indians have a very low status in Nepal but I had always refused to accept that hypothesis. On my second day in Nepal, another friend told me -“Gaurav, things have changed in Nepal. Nepalese do not like Indians anymore.” I asked, “But why?” He replied, “there are many reasons, like land dispute (the Nepalese believe that India has taken away their land), politics (India’s unhealthy interest in our politics), Indian interference in Nepal’s internal affairs, the recent campaign against Indian media, growing influence of Hindi due to cinema and cultural domination through literature, media, internet and in real life.” I was yet to experience this intense dislike for India, and I had always believed that is not true. After all, we have similar cultures, similar development issues, and open borders. But now I was curious and eager to understand this discrimination.
My belief in the amity between India and Nepal was proved wrong. It is good to have opinions, but it is more important to have informed opinions and not create judgments until you experience it yourself. However, this time my experiences in Nepal proved that the opinions I had were wrong. At the International Sustainability School we had different events such as heritage site visits, talks with Ashoka Fellows, theoretical sessions on sustainability, a visit to biodiversity farms, visit to fields, treks through the Annapurna range, and two days stay in Gurung village.
In Gurung village, they follow the traditional style of welcome and farewell. During farewell, I gave a vote of thanks in Hindi. I did this on purpose, because during my stay of two days I realised that a fair number of people know Hindi, and secondly I wanted to see their reaction to an Indian speaking in Hindi and see the reaction. My assumption was they would dislike it. Indeed, the assumption turned out to be true. While travelling back from the village to Pokhra, I had a small discussion with one of the organisers. He said, “I am proud that Nepal was never a colony.” I contradicted him and asked, “Can we imagine a city/place that is not neo-colonial? The English that Nepalese speak, the clothes they wear, the food they consume, the educational system, the medicines they use, and so on.” All of sudden I heard someone say to me, “Why did you speak in Hindi last night?” I was shocked because it was coming from one of the organisers. To cover up the entire story he said, “I was kidding. But you know, once I told a close friend of mine that the water that you drink goes through our toilets.” I realised this was a true warning by my friends in Nepal.
Nepal will never be India, but most important Nepal is a beautiful country being Nepal. Being dominated by majority of the Hindu populations, Indians always believe that Nepal is a younger brother. But this is not true. After arriving back from Nepal, I asked a friend from there, “Why you do hate Indians?”. She replied, “You Indians do not treat us well. I myself experienced the discrimination and derogatory comments while I was in India. Nepal WILL NEVER BE INDIA.”
Ill treatment of people from both the countries is really an issue of perception. For Indians the injuries of the ‘Go back’ Indian Media Campaign are yet to be healed. However, Nepal and India do not have social or cultural confrontations. Both countries have similar socio-economic development problems. When both these nations are fighting issues such as illiteracy, poverty, corruption, and health, then why is it that there is discrimination in the other’s treatment? Indeed, I truly believe Indian and Nepalese relations require a theoretical analysis.
I was able to get a handle on this problem through Ernesto Sirolli’s Ted Talk. Sirolli says that western people are imperialists, colonialists and missionaries; they deal with people only in two ways: they either patronise others or they are paternalistic. Both these words come from the Latin Pater, which means father. To be paternalistic means to treat anybody from different cultures as if they were one’s children. To be patronising means to treat everybody from different cultures as though they were one’s servant. In Small is Beautiful, Schumacher puts it well: ‘if people don’t wish to be helped then leave them alone.’ And, according to Ernesto Sirolli the best principal of aid is – respect. India should change her patronising attitude towards Nepal and act more like an older brother; India’s aid to Nepal should be accompanied by self-respect and empathy.
Yes, Nepal experienced an earthquake and of course they need aid. However, I believe they need aid with empathy, not sympathy. India shared a desire to build a temple in Nepal. In a meeting with Indian diplomats this idea was rejected by an eminent public figure –Anil Chitrakar. He said let the people decide how they want to use this money. We should not impose our ideas; Nepalese passion is more important for their growth. To avoid confrontation, India should listen to what the Nepalese have to say. And they will tell. This will help India provide dedicated service with respect.
If I have one message to give to secular Indians and Nepali nationalists it would in the words of Marjane Satrapi, “the world is not divided between East and West.” You are Nepalese, I am Indian, we don’t know each other, but we talk and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same.” Let us make peace as citizens of this only planet.
To stretch its influence in the region, India should change her patronising attitude towards Nepal and India’s aid to Nepal should be accompanied by self-respect and empathy.
Gaurav Dhankar is a Young India Fellow in the Ashoka University.