This writer recalls a famous poem, "The Unknown Citizen," by a British-born American poet, W. H. Auden, where he portrayed a picture of a citizen in a modern nation. Interestingly, the title's meaning contradicts the meaning of the text's main body, making it ironic. On the surface, Auden seemed to argue that the citizen was known to the state because the citizen did everything the state wanted him to do, rendering him a true devotee of the state. His deeds were in accordance with the rules of greater community and were well recorded in the annals of the state, which did not arouse any controversy. But in an underlying sense, Auden meant that the citizen was unknown, as the poem's title indicates, if not in the lines that ensued. Based on the attitudes he developed and the behaviours he demonstrated to his greater community, Auden ironically called him a genuine "saint" in the modern sense of the old-fashioned word.
In Marxian terms, somebody is alienated when they are engaged in machine work, thus devoid of human company, losing their identity. In a similar sense, the unknown citizen was alienated from the state, which turned him into an automated machine. In almost the same tone, sociologists in the twentieth century extended the meaning of alienation to study society and culture. For sociologists, alienation refers to the cultural shock of a person. For instance, when someone encounters an alien land with a different language and culture, they feel alienated because the new place and its people are entirely new and unfamiliar to them. Someone feels alienated even when they are in a large crowd because the culture is alien to them. People are alienated when they are culturally distant.
Whereas alienation distances people even as they are physically near, the sense of community promotes equality, where everybody feels truly one among others. In this social condition, everyone is equal to everyone else. But this kind of ideal society has remained only in dreams thus far. A relentless effort has to be made to alter this social condition. The meaning of cultural alienation is extended to the political domain, where a person is socially excluded. When somebody is excluded from state affairs, they feel alienated. Likewise, when people are excluded from social activities, they are alienated. They are alienated not by choice but by circumstances that compel them to be so.
When a powerful group of people marginalises a powerless group, the latter is said to be socially excluded. This human condition is social exclusion that occurs when the powerful people of the leading class manufacture ideologies which the common people take for granted. The commoners internalise those ideologies as Sunday truths and put them into practice in real-life situations. The process of alienation is thus subtle. Social exclusion is rampant across the world – America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. A few cases can illustrate this point. The Native Americans feel that European settlers subjugate them despite being the first citizens of the land. The Afro-Americans think they are still excluded from the mainstream community though they have been living there for several centuries.
Europe is no exception. Within the continent, people of different races have been living but still are excluded from mainstream ethnic groups. In Australia, the Aborigines are displaced from their mainland. The less severe cases are those of Asia, where there is immense ethnic and cultural diversity. While China is the largest population with low ethnic diversity, India inhabits a nearly equal population of multiple diversities. This country is also the main residence of Hindu people, who are supposed to descend from their ancestors trained in Vedic civilisation.
But the painful fact is that the Hindu population is divided into different castes based on the Hindu Varnashram system. In the social hierarchy of this system, the Dalits belong to the lowest status. So is the case in Nepal. In both countries, the Dalits are excluded from many social activities, alienating them from their own land. The issue becomes more pressing when certain groups of people are devoid of fundamental human rights. When a person cannot even enter a public temple, let alone a private house, they feel excluded from the mainstream community in their own land.
In recent days, however, society has been changing, albeit slowly. The newly promulgated Constitution of Nepal 2015 has envisioned an egalitarian society where people of all castes, ethnicities, classes, and regions would be truly equal, where men and women would be equal in every sense, and where there would be no discrimination between the so-called low and high castes and classes. This would be an equitable society where discrimination of all kinds is strictly prohibited. It is assumed that the constitutional provisions would create a sense of community among all citizens, making them feel that they all are the building blocks of the larger society.
With constitutional provisions, a certain percentage of marginalised people have been elected to the local, provincial, and federal political bodies. Thirty-three per cent of women candidates have represented the federal parliament and provincial assembly; a few posts have been reserved for them at the local level. Each marginalised group has thus represented each political body in some way. This is obviously a positive social change in the nation. This shows how changes can take place even by a stroke of a pen. But this is not enough. There is no reason to deny that these constitutional changes are the results of socio-political activism.
But this is also equally true that awareness among people has further arisen due to these constitutional provisions. But they are not adequate either. In order to really empower the marginalised community, the marginalised communities should be offered special state facilities for their education. Unless they are genuinely educated at schools and colleges, they may not be able to perform their tasks well. Only representation by election cannot solve the problem of marginalisation.
(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation. firstname.lastname@example.org)