In the Nepali Times, a recent editorial suggested to rename the country “Bandistan” because of all the strikes. Like all the best editorials, it was signed “Foreign Hand.” The author’s real name is Hattele Bidesh. Or maybe not.
Mr. Bidesh wrote:
As the major parties throw together a slap-dash constitution that manages to upset everybody another season of strikes kicks off throughout the land. Much of the Tarai has been shut down for weeks, nationwide closures threaten Kathmandu every few days and word’s already out to stock up on essentials in case it gets worse.
A recent eye-catching headline stated Nepal suffered 847 bandas in the past 5 years, an average of 169 per year. Reviewing the police list of major events is like taking a stroll down memory lane. The series of strikes called by the Maoists for ‘Civil Supremacy’ tops the list as the most disruptive (and gets my vote as the most idiotic), made worse by the fact all those months of rioting, taxi-burnings and wasted days achieved absolutely nothing
It is worth reading in it’s entirety, and here is a provocative paragraph:
During the first Jana Andolan that led to democracy in 1990, strikes had genuine support and shops closed voluntarily to send a message to the government. That was the last time this form of protest had any legitimacy. By the mid 90’s intimidation and fear of reprisal kept people off the streets. Once the Maoists began wrecking the country in earnest, bandas degenerated into little more than an exercise in bullying the people and destabilising the government. A strike’s success was no longer judged by how much support it garnered but by the amount of suffering it caused. A banda that allowed a few shops to open and minimal traffic for emergencies was deemed less successful than one that scared everyone off the streets. Maoist strikes soon gained the reputation as the most violent, dangerous, and therefore the most successful, of all.
In this blog, the one you are reading, I previously wrote about “collective culture” in Nepal, a feature of the society any westerner who visits will notice if they dig below the surface. Nepali culture teaches every member about group belonging and group identity. Usually this expresses itself by the large number of festivals and parades throughout the year. Apart from trekking and visiting World Heritage Sites, the hospitable culture draws tourists in it’s own right.
New Type of “Festival”
As of Aug 30, 2015, while the country awaits a new constitution, there are many group events. Here in pictures, is a partial guide. Please note: a “bandh “is a “closure” – usually the goal is to clear the street. We are going through a period of “Andolan” – a more active protest involving some sort of parade, chanting and signs. Here’s a video from 2013 that gives the idea of how many people go to these.
Above – one of the traditional processions, the kind that entices the tourists with wonderment and delight, as women show their devotion to Santoshi Mata. Every Friday this happens. There are many others, and they are delightful and fun. But – how to know if it’s a religious procession? (good) or a political one? (possibly dangerous)
One way is by the flags and banners. It’s helpful to read Nepali script if you can. Or ask around, people will tell you what’s happening.
The RPP has some interesting “props” they use when they go on parade.
When you go to an RPP event, you can also do puja. Milk is dispensed from the plastic udder of the fiberglass cow. I was the only westerner at this particular event. They were reluctant to admit that they were anti-Christian, for fear of offending me I guess. They focused on being pro-Hindu when speaking to me. When they told that, I asked about Buddhists and the guy said “Buddhists are part of Hindu family.”
At the time, people said RPP was a fringe party, but – the draft constitution left out the language declaring Nepal to be a “secular state.”
Women and women’s rights
Go to Twitter and look for the hashtag #citizenshipthroughmothers
The women’s group was nonviolent. A big part of the cat-and-mouse game of these andolans is that a) the protesters want to provoke a response and b) the police know that if they respond, things will escalate, so c) the police sometimes ignore things on purpose. they need to decide when to react and when it is over-reaction.
There is an ongoing issue of corruption in Nepal, and many medical people feel that the government is selling licenses to open medical schools willy-nilly. Dr Govinda KC has been going on hunger strikes to dramatize this cause. The andolan of white coats is to support the demands and force implementation of previous agreements.
Nurses are having an anti-corruption campaign, that started first in Biratnagar. The problem is exploitation – new nurses are expected to work for free for up to six months before being put on a hospital payroll. This is a problem when the nurse has student loans to pay. In the earthquake, the government found a way to pay the Army for their extra work, but somehow nurses were not paid for overtime. For now, the nurses have postponed further andolans and will work through proper channels.
Of course, sometimes parades are held for benign reasons – such as promoting blood donation drives.
I may be missing some things here…. if there are other protest that happened that should be included, please comment below and I will edit….
Preparation for events
The idea of casualties for one of these events is real, and somehow the hospitals get involved. in Kathmandu there was recently a shootout between the police and a “gangster” who was connected with a specific political party. They brought his body to TUTH, and soon thousands of party members were holding a rally on the hospital grounds. (he died at the scene from seven bullets. Why did they need to get TUTH involved?) In this case, the police were called. the event was moved somewhere else.
This gets close to home, and every doctor and nurse in Nepal is worried that such a demonstration will directly involve them. The climax of the book for which this blog is named, takes place when an andolan becomes violent.
I have so many of these photos I apologize but I can’t recall the source. The photo above was in eastern Terai where they had a bandh for fourteen days in a row. People usually stock up on supplies, this went on so long that even the most cautious ran out of food.
Usually a bandh is called to shut things down and the police simply wait.
Above is in Tikapur, far western Nepal, which is part of Kailali District, August 25th. This same barricade appears in a video of that day. In parts of the Terai, the Andolans have gathered as many as 4,000 people. Organizers of the Aug 25th andolan used the crowd as cover to attack the police, exhorting violence. Hooligans (“cadre”) in the crowd murdered seven, to prove a political point. This crossed a line.
It’s not funny any more.
Click here for an editorial that conveys the horror. UPDATE: an even more incisive editorial,translated into English by the Nepali Times. I agree that murder is not the way to go! The police that were murdered were Nepali citizens with families and children. There are many issues for the government as to how to respond, but from here in the USA I can certainly say that they will send the Army to the affected districts, despite the local calls not to do so. Why? because no unarmed Police guy is going to go there. Would you volunteer to serve in area where the local politicians tell the crowd it’s okay to kill you? where you have no guard to protect you if you yourself decide to sleep? The government has no choice but to reinforce the people who keep the peace. ( and yes, even without political protests, those police are needed there to keep law and order).
None of this is good for tourism
Whether or not you believe in the merits of the Terai protests, whether or not you support the new constitution, no matter your opinion on anything at all, even if you are disgusted by everything, none of this will promote Nepal’s reputation as a place where foreigners will come to spend their money and have a holiday. We seem to forget that an earthquake happened four months ago, and the Nepal economy took a hit. Tourism is a major source of money in Nepal, and this undoes all the slick slogans and promotion to entice tourists. In the above photos, no tourists are anywhere to be seen. Generally Nepal does well at keeping these events away from touristic areas – for example when the Tibetans wanted to demonstrate a few years back, they did it at the UN HQ in Lalitpur, so as not to disrupt things at Boudhanath, the usual center of Tibetan activity. No tourists have ever been targeted for these events, and often the tourist taxis going to airport will be let through. ( not always. planning for a bandh on the day of departure is tricky in terms of luggage. )
But the bigger question is for the future of the country. Where does it go from here?