On page 178 of the novel, The Sacrament of the Goddess, there is a scene where the small group of doctors are assaulted by members of the family of a patient that died. The chowkidars of the hospital come running. There is a small “street brawl” but the hospital staff prevail. The attackers are subdued before permanent harm is done.
The event in the novel was chosen give the idea of how anger and frustration lead to violence in Nepal, and it is not the only example of collective action in the novel. Nepal is a “collective culture,” and any person who wants to study Nepali culture needs to grasp this idea.
Ram steadied himself against a shelf, red-faced and sweating as he regained his breath. “Never say for whom the bell tolls, Matt Sar. And now you see an ugly side of medicine in Nepal.”
Somewhere along the way,two hands had twisted the collar of Matt’s scrub shirt around his throat, trying to strangle him until his eyes bugged out. Now he had a headache. His clothes chafed and he was short of breath. Looking around, everyone looked like a rugby team resting during a time out. Even Sara took part in the jostling. She was at the sink, washing her face.
Matt heard protests from the corridor as the last men were escorted away.
“That was eleven against six. I am glad we outnumbered them. It is much easier,” said Ranjit.
Sara looked at Matt. “This – has been – a problem. Last year there was an assault at a hospital in Kathmandu, and the doctor received a skull fracture. The doctors of Nepal called for a nationwide bandh on medical care for one day.”
Then, “This could have been worse. A lot worse.”
Later Matt asks:
“And this is a Buddhist country?”
To read the answer the Nepali doctors gave Matt in the novel, you will need to read it for yourself. The climax of the novel takes place with another protest demonstration at the (fictional) hospital, and the team is challenged to find a way to survive the confrontation, as an angry mob of demonstrators gathers outside. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but – the entire plot of the book is designed to answer the question of how those doctors got there and what led up to the situation they faced, before presenting how the situation was resolved. These things do not take place in a vacuum.
This happens throughout Nepal but nobody talks about it
I wrote the novel because I had seen real-life events in which thrashing was meted out or threatened. I read every newspaper account of somebody getting thrashed. Starting in 2011 I was asked over and over what do to about doctors getting thrashed. In that year I began to teach de-escalation skills and situational awareness skills to nurses and docs in Nepal. At each class, nurses and doctors shared their stories of dealing with groups of people using violence to express themselves. Every reader of this blog is encouraged to find a nurse or doctor and hear for themselves about this. They will tell you. It affects all of us.
I myself wanted to understand how such violence could be woven into Nepali culture – the land of Never Ending Peace And Love. That’s why I wrote The Sacrament of the Goddess. On it’s surface it’s a love story – mainly so that readers would stick with it despite the challenging events of the plot. At a deeper level, it explores how group identity dictates the actions of the individual. The ending was intended to leave you guessing up til the last minute as to how it will end.
Violence as a means of expression in Nepal
This week in Nepal we all were shocked by the killing of seven police in Kailali during a protest in far-western Nepal. In particular, it was reported that SSP Neupane – the senior police guy on the scene – had told the Armed Police Force not to shoot just before he went to negotiate with the demonstrators. He was talking with the leaders of the demonstration and a man lunged at him with a spear. It seems clear that SSP Neupane was trying to avert violence. He was brave and heroic and he was filling the role of a senior guy in the police. Yesterday in this blog I shared my own observations of how the police operate in Terai. He deserves every honor given to him, as do his comrades. It is very sad that he failed.
When an angry person has a weapon it is indeed necessary for the Army to re-direct the situation, but he was trying to avert shooting. It was worth a try.
BBC Nepal posted an interview with Shanti Chaudhary, an activist from that region of Nepal, who pointed out the each police man killed, was a person who left behind family. This has also been true of the demonstrators in Terai, all along.
The initial reaction of many on the Twittersphere was anger and the desire to clamp down. The reaction from seasoned gurus was – don’t make things worse by responding with violence. If this was a terrorist act, the goal was to provoke the other side – the side of reason and discussion – into an over-reaction. For that reason, when the Army responds with overwhelming force, the terrorists get what they want.
De-escalation is the word for actions that bring the stress and anxiety down to a manageable level. De-escalation is what is needed now. De-escalation can only be provided when the central government decides to invite the demonstrators in Terai to a seat at a table where the issues can be discussed. De-escalation in my view, will only be achieved when those in power in Kathmandu begin to recognize the humanity of the people in Terai and accept the idea that Nepal is more than just Kathmandu. And amend the draft constitution so that the people of Terai are given a voice commensurate with their prominence in Nepal. The same goes for women and dalits.
In previous entries on the blog, long before this latest round of protests, I wrote about all the strategies to prevent violence and to de-escalate, focusing on small situations. It’s time now to expand those strategies to address violence throughout the country. I’m not saying that the killers should be allowed to go free – they need to be punished. But the strategy to find the criminals should be one that does not hurt innocent people with legitimate grievances.