Thursday, June 23, 2011

Political Unrest in Nepal

The people of Nepal have been through many difficulties and disappointments in the recent years, the most recent is having gone more than three years without a constitution. The final deadline came and went on May 28 without the promised constitution; the people are so disappointed. They are just coming from a civil war, which drove off tourism, so they have pledged to keep from violence and they also pledged ‘no more bandh.’


There had been demonstrations and rallies for weeks and in the past week or so, in May 2011, some of the political groups started calling for one ‘bandh’ (pronounced ‘bund’) after the other. A bandh, or strike, is a day when all activity comes to a standstill. Those who are caught driving are subject to having their motor cycle burned as they stand by hopelessly watching. It is interesting that the person is let go unharmed. The bandh is enforced by political groups that want their needs met or be recognized through the constitution. Really, I think the people are just getting tired of waiting. Many are wishing for a monarchy again. They had been under a peaceful king’s rule up to as recently as 2002 when the king and his entire family, except for the brother that most likely did it, were massacred. That opened the door for Maoist influence and political and social collapse.
I know I am here as an observer. This is not my battle, nor is it proper for me to interfere.  That being said, this blog is about supporting these people in getting a constitution. I have participated in four protests so far. 


The first protest was for women’s rights where we all marched to the prime minister’s residence to demand equality in the constitution. The prime minister’s residence was nicely decorated with an open tent and podium for him to give his speech assuring the women that he is working on their behalf.  I didn’t have to understand Nepalese to know what he was saying.




 
Then, the next protest was sponsored by the gay rights movement, led by a man from Gorkha, Mr. Sunil Babu Panta. If a group has over 10,000 members in Nepal they are eligible to have a representative in the Constitutional Assembly.  This group, the Diamond Society Nepal, had been brought together with the aid of FaceBook. This group is known in Nepalese as “Nil Heera Samaj Nepal.” As we mingled in the crowd, a TV reporter asked to interview me. A couple of people told me they had seen me on TV that night. 


The political groups had all agreed to stop calling for bandhs, or strikes without good cause, but as the deadline approached the bandhs had started again. A group of people, mostly from the tourism industry, called for an Anti-Bandh protest. Naba and I got on his motorcycle and joined the parade. There were several hundred motorcycles driving with the national flag held high.






 
As I sat behind Naba riding through Kathmandu with this group of protesters, I would occasionally hear a rolling cheer. As I seemingly passed the point of the cheers I saw nothing. Then a bit later it would happen again. I did notice a group of armed military police standing along the street occasionally, also.
“Naba, are they cheering the police?” He mumbled something that sounded like ‘yes,’ but it didn’t make sense to me. A little while later I asked again, “Naba, are they cheering the police?” Again, something that sounded like the affirmative, but it was loud on the cycle. Finally, I heard, “Yes, of course.”  That moment defined these gentle people to me as nothing else could have. In the Nepali culture everyone is related. It is similar in India, but this is taken more literally, whereas in India it is more of a custom, from what I saw in India. 

These  lovely young women were a bit reluctant to allow a picture because it was the end of their shift after wearing all the heavy garb. They were still amazing role models and quite lovely and their inner strength shined brightly.  
 
In Nepal when a person calls out to a stranger they refer to them as little brother, big brother, big sister, little sister, auntie, etc. They are all family and it is lovely to see how they have such respect for each other. 

At this point, as I write this, the powers that be made a three month extension. The people seem very discouraged to me, but when I saw how willing they are to get out in the streets to make their voices heard I felt a bit of shame at my own American heritage. The Nepali can really teach us a valuable lesson in political participation. 

All this being said, I would not want anyone to think this is not a serious situation. Just last week there was a clash with the police and a group of protesters who demanded that a criminal involved in the death of a journalist be released. As it turned out, the man was released and about 100 people were hurt in the clash with the police. This illustrates both the volatile nature and the values of the Nepali culture. 

 
After telling you all this and posting the pictures, I hope you will appreciate this time in Nepali history. This is the beginning of the world’s newest democracy. Maybe that’s the energy that has endeared me to this little country. Tourism is the mainstay of the Nepali. I feel very safe here and even have privileges that the Nepali are not afforded. Please, if you are thinking of coming to Nepal for any reason, please come. You are safer here than you would be in many parts of America. And you can have more fun and adventures here, too. If you need any help with your trip just drop me a line. 

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