Tag Archives: Maoists

“Nepal’s Stalled Revolution”

There was an interesting article in the NY Times today– I wanted to share. It reminded me of a conversation I had at work the other day with an immigration lawyer my boss and  I had dinner with. I bolded the parts I found most interesting…

(Full text below)

Op Ed By Manjushree Thapa

I was at a dinner party in Kathmandu when a journalist friend looked at her cell phone and made a joyous announcement: “Mubarak’s gone!”

“Really?”

“He left Cairo for Sharm el-Sheikh. The army’s taken charge,” she said. No one at that Feb. 11 party, neither the foreign-educated Nepalis nor the expatriates who call Nepal home, had any connection to Egypt. Yet the victory felt personal. A bottle of wine appeared and we toasted Egypt.

As protests spread in Bahrain, Yemen, Iran and Libya, what is emerging as the “Arab Spring” continues to resonate here. Just five years ago, the world was watching Nepal as it now watches the Mideast and we had our dreams of democracy.

“I don’t know why, but I love to see people revolting against their leaders,” Jhalak Subedi, a magazine editor, wrote on Facebook.

“We Nepalis, we grew up with political movements,” he explained over a cup of coffee. He had came of age amid student politics, was even jailed in 1990 for his activism. “Despite all our movements, we still haven’t been able to have the kind of change our hearts are set on,” he said. “I think that’s why we feel so happy when we see change taking place elsewhere.”

We also approach world events seeking correspondences between our history and that of others. India’s struggle for freedom from British rule inspired Nepal’s first democratic movement in 1950. Forty years later, our second democratic movement was energized by events farther off: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

Our third and most recent movement took place in 2006, when democratic political parties and Maoist rebels united against King Gyanendra Shah, ending a 10-year civil war. Millions of Nepalis participated in nonviolent demonstrations in a show of support. Nineteen days after that, the king relinquished power; two years later, a newly elected Constituent Assembly abolished the 240-year-old monarchy with a near-unanimous vote. With the democratic political parties and the Maoists vowing to work together peacefully, a “new Nepal” felt attainable.

Five years later, it still has not taken shape.

Instead, we have learned that it is easier to start a revolution than to finish one. Overthrowing the monarchy was difficult, but institutionalizing democracy is harder still.

Our democratic parties are inexperienced, deferring to “big brother” India on all matters political. But India has backed an inflexible policy of containing the Maoists. And the Maoists have also been unwilling to compromise, holding on to their 19,000-troop army and their paramilitary group, the Young Communist League, and refusing to turn into just another political party.

The result has been a bitter polarization between hard-liners of democratic and Maoist persuasion.

The May deadline set for finishing our new constitution is less than 100 days away, but the document remains in rough draft. The will to complete it — among the democratic political parties and the Maoists, as well as in India — appears to be wholly lacking.

And now Kathmandu is rife with rumors that the Constituent Assembly — the country’s only elected body — will be dissolved through a military-backed “democratic coup.” Equally dismal scenarios in the public imagination are a return to civil war, the escalation of localized conflicts or the rise of the criminal underworld.

Whether or not the worst comes to pass, it is clear by now that the democratic political parties and the Maoists prefer to prioritize their own struggle for power. They have left it to us to find our place in the world.

This, we increasingly do by leaving. Unable to earn a living wage at home, up to 1,000 Nepalis are estimated to leave the country every day to work as migrant laborers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and elsewhere in the Middle East and the Far East, often under very exploitative conditions. As many as six million Nepalis live in India, and hundreds of thousands more have migrated to the developed world. In London and New York and Toronto, Nepali is now spoken on the streets.

“Those who could lead a new movement — you could call it the Facebook generation — have left the country,” says Mr. Subedi.

And there is no single tyrant against whom to direct a movement. What we have in Nepal is a “ganjaagol,” a mire.

“The thing about movements,” Mr. Subedi says, “is that at a certain point, the ordinary person experiences power. Beforehand and afterwards, nobody pays him any attention. But at a certain point, the ordinary person feels his own power.

“That feeling,” he says, narrowing his eyes. “That feeling … .”

He does not complete his sentence, but we both know what he means. So many Nepalis have experienced this giddy sense that change is possible.

For now, we watch others in the Arab world feel their power. We wish them well, and worry for their safety, and share in their victories.

They inspire us. They make us feel wistful, and also a bit envious.

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“Little Princes”– Book Review (Guest Post)

About two weeks ago I received an email from a readers about an author she had recently met and a book recommendation that she had for me. So of course, I wound up in a bookstore not long after that, taking her up on her suggestion. I asked if she would be willing to write a guest post about it and she agreed. Her timing is perfect because I just finished the book last night, and also found it enjoyable. So thank you to “Navajo Keti” for the review!

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Like “C” I am one to stop all traffic when I find something related to Nepal, so I thought “oh lucky day” when I came across a meet and greet with author of Little Princes- One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Connor Grennan. I was excited not only because this was related to Nepal, but this summer I’m planning my first trip to KTM on a volunteering trip in an orphanage. The book follows Grennan’s initial plan to travel around the world, where volunteering at Little Princes Orphanage was intended to be a pit stop in his one year trek around the world. But at the end of his yearlong excursion despite load shedding, lack of plumbing, and more than enough dal bhat (which he describes with such humor) he is hooked; to Nepal and the smiling faces of Little Princes. The story follows Grennan’s discovery that the children of Little Princes are not orphans but victims of Nepal’s civil war. Grennan not only changes his career plans but ends up starting a NPO- Next Generation Nepal where he treks to the most undeveloped parts of Nepal to reconnect the children with their begotten parents.  I’ll admit this book had my mind pondering for a while, mostly because by the time you finish the book, YOU feel like you have established a connection with the children. Grennan’s coming of age story is beautiful and makes me anticipate my May 15 departure even more.

I told them the truth. I told them I loved Nepal, I loved spending time with them and living here in the village. But I had to go home, and I would likely not be able to make it back for a few years, when they were all much bigger. I had to start a new career. I was completely broke, and I had to buy food and rent a home.

“And get married, yes, Brother?” said Santosh, smiling.

“Uh — yeah. Well, no — not really, to be honest. I think you will be married before me, Santosh,” I said, happy that the children took this as a joke.

Then the children started with a chorus of “What about me, Brother? You will be married before me?” and I had to go through the whole list of children, all the way down to assuring Raju that yes, even he would probably be married before me.

Photo credit: Little Princes-- Grennan with the boys

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If you want to hear more from Conor Grennan you can view the following videos and if you want to learn more about his organization Next Generation Nepal click HERE.

DIY Foreign Aid Revolution

There was an article in the NY Times today (thanks for sharing P!) about American women who were inspired to find their own way to help aid projects in rural (often) war torn areas of the world.

The first example was a Harvard Business School student who as an intern in Mozambique was shocked to learn that productivity was affected by women who could not come to work or go to school during menstruation due to the cost of sanitary pads. Since menstrual taboos has been a topic on the blog before, it grabbed my attention.

But further into the long article (around page 4) the story of Maggie Doyne began– she grew up in New Jersey, a top student and three-sport athlete, who needed a break before starting university. Using the money she saved from babysitting in high school, she took a gap year in northern India to work with  children and…

It was an impoverished area, yet Nepali refugees were pouring in and sleeping on the bare ground, fleeing civil war in their country. Doyne couldn’t imagine what kind of conditions would be so bad that people would flee to where she was. So when the Maoist insurgency in Nepal calmed, she boarded a crammed public bus with a Nepali teenage girl to visit the girl’s hometown. They got off, 48 hours and several bus breakdowns later, at the end of the bus line. Then Doyne and her friend hiked for another three days to the girl’s home in the heartland of the Maoist insurgency.

It was a gorgeous Himalayan village, with a river running through it. But it was also ravaged by the war. Temples had been burned down, and the girl’s home had been converted into a rebel camp. Most children couldn’t afford school. In the cities, she had seen them working with hammers, breaking rocks into gravel to sell.

“The first little girl I met was Hema,” Doyne remembers. Then 6 or 7 years old (few children know their precise age), Hema spent her time breaking rocks and scavenging garbage and had no chance to go to school. But she was radiant and adorable and always greeted Doyne in Nepali with a warm, “Good morning, Sister!”

“Maybe I saw a piece of myself in her,” said Doyne, who decided to take Hema under her wing and pay for her education: “I knew I couldn’t do anything about a million orphans, but what if I started with this girl?” So she took Hema to school and paid $7 for the girl’s school fees and another $8 for a uniform so that she could enter kindergarten.

From there it became addicting– and needless to say five years later (she is only 23!) she still hasn’t  gone to college, but she is now the principal of a school for 220 children that she has built and financed herself, and more recently with grants from CosmoGirl Magazine and DoSomething.org. The story was an inspiring read, so I wanted to share. Please check it out… and the photo slide show of her school and students.

From the NY Times Slideshow: "Maggie Doyne began her philanthropic work in a remote and war-ravaged area of Nepal as a 19-year-old financed by her baby-sitting savings. Now, at age 23, she’s running an orphanage and a school for 220 students."

 

The Strike Continues…

P talked to his family on the phone last night—Day 5 (now day 6) of the national strike I mentioned in Maoist Protests and Everest Expeditions . There has been no water for days (his family eventually purchased some for cooking purposes) since the little water available in the city is being re-routed to strikers in the streets. Electricity has been sporadic, businesses and schools are closed. In fact a few days ago one of our Nepali neighbors flew home to visit family and had to walk home from the airport since there are no cars allowed on the streets. Another friend is probably landing in Kathmandu as I write this, and will most likely have to walk home as well. I asked her to write a guest post and email it to me to give us some updates on what is happening “on the street.”

Strikes are not uncommon in Nepal. I’ve mentioned them before in my own travels in the country. However  these extended, nationwide organized strikes make it difficult on the average person to survive. As one recent New York Times article mentioned:

Katmandu has come to a halt as bands of Maoists brandishing sticks march through the streets ensuring that government offices and businesses stay shuttered. Schools are closed, households are running out of food, and even money is in short supply, since all the banks are closed. Tempers are flaring. It would not take much for people’s discontent with the strike to tip into civil unrest.

No wonder P’s dad insists that P never permanently move back home and why my university would rather create student programming in India than in Nepal.

Another article states:

Nepal is often hit by strikes, but this one is particularly severe. Journalist Prashant Jha said it was unusual in its strict enforcement and longevity.

“Tourists are going back, people are suffering, there is going to be a shortage of supplies, exports will dip and industry is crippled,” he told the BBC.

A peace rally was organized for Friday night so demonstrators could protest against the strike and advocate for a return to normal business, but latest word on the street is that the peace rally was cancelled due to security concerns. (Update… I just heard that the protest is still on– Nepali Times: Rally Goes On Despite Threats, you can also show your support through a Facebook group…)

Let’s hope the strike ends sooner rather than later.

Some of the latest articles on the strike:

New York Times: Powerless in Kathmandu
BBC: Nepal Brought to Standstill by Strike
BBC: Nepal Feels Effects of Maoists’ Anti-Government Strike
NPR: Nepal’s Maoists Block Roads to Government Offices
Republica: Maoists to Retaliate if Attacked
Republica: Maoists Ban Milk Supply
Republica: Maoist Strike Brings Traffic to Halt (and lots of other similar stories)
Nepal News: General Strike Turns Violent; Clashes in Various Places

Political Cartoon from today's Republica featuring Maoist leader Prachandra

Maoist Protests and Everest Expeditions

May Protests Planned

News has been fluttering around about the threat of a month long national strike in Nepal organized by the Maoists starting with May Day on May 1st. Several articles have recently covered the issue:

BBC: Maoists converge on Nepalese capital
Republica: Peace Process at Risk
Nepal News: More than half a million people set to hit streets during… May day demo
Nepal News: Bhattarai says Maoist nationwide agitation will be ‘peaceful’
Nepal News: Government asks Maoists to call off demonstration

Added on 5/3: BBC Maoists strike shuts down Nepal to Topple Government
New York Times Nationwide Strike in Nepal Threatens Final Steps of Peace Process

Everest

May is the start of Everest summiting season—the critical few weeks in May where the South Asian weather patterns usually shift (before the arrival of the monsoons) giving climbers a good shot at finding the summit of the mighty mountain relatively clear and storm free. This year a Sherpa team is leading a Nepali organized environmental expedition to help clean up the ever-growing trash on the mountain including old ropes, used oxygen bottles, camp gear, and the bodies of climbers who died on the ascent. Seven-time summit-er Namgyal Sherpa  notes, “I’m a climber and I can say frankly that I’m a little bit angry when I climb Mount Everest because of the rubbish,”

As part of the expedition the team hopes to retrieve the bodies of three climbers which have been lying on the trail: Swiss climber Gianni Goltz, American Scott Fisher, and New Zealander Rob Hall (Fisher and Hall were part of the 1996 team that died on the mountain in one of the worst climbing disasters in Everest history, chronicled by Jon Krakauer in his book “Into Thin Air”—a book I admit I have a hard time putting down, even though I’ve read it several times).

A recent BBC article (“Everest ‘death zone’ to be cleaned”) notes:

Namgyal says some families have expressed the desire to leave the bodies on Mount Everest, as they feel this is what the climbers would have wanted.

However, the expedition project co-ordinator, Chakra Karki, says that Nepalese people do not want the mountain to become a graveyard.

“We respect the sentiments of the family of anyone who has died on Everest,” he said.

“But it is a holy mountain and our government policy is clear – there should be no dead bodies on the mountain. All dead bodies should be brought below base camp and either buried or cremated. They shouldn’t pollute the mountain glaciers.”

You can learn more about the expedition by listening to a PRI’s The World audio segment on “Cleaning up Mount Everest” and reading the Nepal News article.

Uncertain future of Nepal’s former child soldiers

There was an article from the BBC today on the rehabilitation of Nepal’s former child soldiers. You can see the original article HERE.

Clad in navy tracksuits, dozens of young Nepali faces stand around in the midday sun at Dhudhali barracks in southern Nepal, waiting to board buses and trains home.

After three years spent living in UN-monitored camps since the country’s civil war, they are the first of around 3,000 former Maoist child soldiers now being discharged and returning to civilian life.

The move, which has been repeatedly delayed, is seen as an important step at a time when the nation’s peace process has stalled since the Maoist party left government in May last year.

Nepal’s decade-long conflict cost 16,000 lives and finally ended in 2006 with an agreement between the government and Maoist rebels.

‘Sad to leave’

The children, along with about 1,000 disqualified combatants, will be given a choice of vocational courses, entrepreneurial training or school classes for up to one year.

On Thursday, around 200 combatants at the Dhudhali camp had a final midday meal of chicken, rice and beans, and sat through a ceremony where they were each given garlands and blessed with red powder.

They then boarded buses to go home, each with 10,000 Nepali rupees ($137; £86) allowance for travel and other expenses.

“They told me I was a child soldier so I have to leave,” said 20-year old Punita Shah, who quit school four years ago after the Maoists asked her to join their cause.

Accustomed to getting up at 4am and a strict routine of military drills and physical exercise, she says she is looking forward to being back with her family and working on the farm.

“I have many friends here and I am sad to leave them, but I want to go back and support my mother and father,” she says.

“I joined the party to help the people and serve the nation,” she says, “Now I am a common person, not a soldier”.

The UN has said it will monitor those discharged for a year to ensure they do not join military or paramilitary structures.

However, many of those being released on Thursday say they will remain committed to the Maoists and plan to join party organisations.

‘Revolution not over’

During the war, the Maoists were notorious for their recruitment of young people – voluntarily or by force – from remote villages. Some were aged only 12 or 13.

“The revolution is not over, but it has now turned to peaceful politics,” said 22-year-old Dev Das, who says he will get a job and join the party locally.

During the war, he organised food and water to his “comrades” during conflict periods and saw many of his friends die.

“I was ready to sacrifice my life. On the one hand I was thinking about liberation, on the other about death,” he said.

It is hoped that, following the discharge, the Maoists will be considered for removal from a UN list of political parties that recruit and use children.

An agreement in early 2007 pledged immediately to discharge 4,000 minors and disqualified combatants following a UN verification process which was completed by the end of the year.

But the move has been delayed by the failure of the Maoists and other parties to reach an agreement.

Robert Piper, country resident for the United Nations in Nepal, say he hopes the move will add momentum to the peace process which has stalled.

Indoctrinated?

“Progress in Nepal’s peace process has been a long time coming,” he said.

“The reintegration or rehabilitation of these people back into civilian life is a terribly important sign that we are turning a corner and entering a new chapter this year.

“I hope these young people will be able to move from an institutionalised life spent following instructions to one where they can make their own choices.”

As part of the peace deal in 2006, about 24,000 Maoist troops agreed to be confined to 28 cantonments – monitored by the UN, but run internally by the party.

The fate of the remaining former combatants has not yet been decided and remains a key political issue.

The Maoists want their former fighters to be integrated into the army, but political opponents claim they are politically indoctrinated and therefore ineligible.

Former rebels have been protesting since their leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) quit as prime minister after a failed bid to sack the army chief over the issue.

Other articles on this topic appeared today as well including including “Nepal former child soldiers free” on the BBC and “Ex-child soldiers leave Nepal camp after 3 years” in the Washington Post (with a picture slide show).

Sari Soldiers

While on the topic of recommending things… a friend in Canada recently went to a documentary film festival and saw this film: “Sari Soldiers.” It looks really interesting. It doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix yet, but if I can find it and watch it, I’ll let you know how it is. The trailer is below: