Following the 2015 earthquake, I was a part of a community art project initiated by Artree Nepal in Bhaktapur. During this six month long initiative, I worked closely with local children & ritual mask-making artists. We created an installation Bhadakuti (toy utensils), which captured the children’s individual experiences of the earthquake in a collective narrative while using disappearing indigenous newa mask-making techniques. This project made me realize the importance of indigenous knowledge and skills in relation to our identity and social ecosystem; in addition to highlighting my own lack of knowledge about my indigenous Tharu roots. Upon researching the community all I cameacross were recurring stereotypical ideas. We were just "water snail eaters, jungle dwellers, alcohol drinkers, and an honest tribe," that was our identity. This made me question: why has the history of the Tharus been marginalized?
At the end of the 10-year Civil War and the consequent peace agreement, there was hope for identity based federalism with equal rights and representation. This envisioned an end to centuries of ethnic, gender and racial discriminations faced by marginalized communities such as Tharus, Madhesis, Muslims, Women, and Dalits. Moreover, there was an intense effort to make the new constitution inclusive with amendments to the Interim Constitution. But when these amendments failed to address people’s hope, they felt betrayed. They felt it was discriminatory, thus they protested against it on multiple occasions. Such protests lasted for months in the Far-West led by the Tharu community. They demanded an equal and identity-based federalism in the new constitution, but the state suppressed the Tharu movements in Tikapur, Kailali with curfews, often firing tear gas to control them. Unfortunately, on August 24, 2015 a mob killed eight policemen, which was a much
politicized incident. However, amidst the controversial draft constitution and the fresh trauma of the earthquake, the Nepali Government suddenly promulgated the new Constitution of Nepal on September 20, 2015. The Tharu demands were ignored and the State portrayed theTharu community as cruel perpetrators of violence. This kept me thinking: are the Tharus really criminals? With this thought I visited Tikapur, and other Terai districts. I talked with locals, activists, researchers and learned about the endless discrimination meted out to the Tharus by the State. Their daily agony had persisted for hundreds of years.
My artworks revolve around displacement and resistance of Tharus and the discrimination our community has faced at the hands of the State. Innumerable questions keep hovering in my mind. Why has our history been kept in the dark in Nepal? How do we come to terms with our struggles? How do we value our resistance?