Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holy River in Kathmandu Becoming Sewer

The Bagmati is a river sacred to Hindus everywhere, flowing from Bagdwar on the northern hills of the Kathmandu valley through the heart of the city. It used to be a source of livelihood for people, fauna and flora living in the valley and downstream. It is still thought of as a holy place for cremations, especially the Aryaghat cremation site. Thousands of people throng to Pashupatinath, with the hope of taking a dip in the river and drinking Jala (Sacred Water) from it.

A Day With the Maoist Army

Nov. 21, the government and the Maoists were set to sign the much awaited peace accord. The accord was much awaited because only this would formally end the Maoist violence in Nepal.

All the people were keenly watching the developments in the capital. My colleagues were also urging me not to miss the special signing function. Surely, it would have been an opportunity in the life of a journalist to attend the ceremony, because very few in very few countries ever get the privilege to attend an event where a government and former rebels declare that they have formally denounced war and will opt for peaceful politics.

Nepal to Face Cold, Dark Winter

Nepal is the second richest country in the whole globe in terms of hydro resources. It has a huge theoretical potential for hydropower, estimated to be in the region of 83,000 MW and the economically feasible potential is assessed at 42,000 MW. However, it has only produced 600 MW.

Owing to the lack of financial resources, most of the people are forced to live under darkness in Nepal. Fewer than 3 percent of Nepal's rural population has access to electricity, whereas the total population having access to electricity amounts nearly to 20 percent.

Nepal legislating anti tobacco laws

After the legislation comes into effect, it will be pretty difficult for the smokers openly exhaling smokes in public places.

This shall be an embarrassing news for the smokers and tobacco users in the country. However, Nepal has moved towards legislating anti tobacco laws that will ultimately affect the production, sale and consumption of tobacco. Besides, it will be pretty difficult for the smokers to continue their habit as they have been doing. The House of Representatives has recently ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This ratification entails certain obligations to Nepal government to make certain laws and formulate policies and plans to regulate and control the consumption of tobacco.

A plot to uphold monarchy

The issue of Congress unification has ignited political debates since Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's proclamation from his home town Biratnagar.

He has assured some of his party cadres that the Nepali Congress will be unified by Dashain festival. He has also shown his "intended" generosity to provide adequate room to all and even declared readiness to abandon party presidency.

There is, however, sufficient ground to doubt on 'noble' cause for Koirala's call for the Congress unification. The primary intention whirls around the question: Why is octogenarian leader Koirala, who ever wanted to be in power and negated the decent voices, calling for immediate unification?

Koirala's close aides doubt that it is not just his noble wish to unite both the Congress parties and make it the largest democratic force in the country, but he has hidden agenda. Political thinker and Nepali Congress (Democratic) leader Pradip Giri also raised his concern and wrote on a daily that the two Congress parties should be unified not to uphold the institution of monarchy but to address people's aspirations for peace and prosperity.

It has become evident now that Koirala didn't become prime minister alone by the support of popular uprising. He had a political dealing of give-and- take with the king before the latter surrendered the state authority back to the people. Koirala seems to have succeeded in convincing King Gyanendra for a ceremonial role and in return he assumed power.

This has been reflected on repeated appeals for ceremonial monarchy and subsequent appointments of former chief of Armed Police Force Sahabir Thapa and suspended former police chief Shyam Bhakta Thapa to the posts of security advisors and diehard royalist Rukmangat Katwal to the post of Chief of Army Staff. The trio had vehemently suppressed the democratic movement no matter how Koirala justifies their appointments now.

Although Koriala made attempts to correct his statement that his attitude was applicable till the constituent assembly polls and the people will decide the fate of the monarchy, he still wants his party to uphold the "role of ceremonial monarchy". The government activities, especially regarding army and the monarchy and Prime Minister Koirala's meeting with the king before appointing Katwal, still exhibit that palace continues to remain as a decisive force behind the curtain in the Nepali politics.

Delays on implementing the interim constitution and one point repeated call for Maoists' disarmament also leave enough ground for doubt. The assessment of people's responses to his call for the ceremonial monarchy indicates that for Koriala it will not be as easy as he thinks to create room for the king since the people have begun to disregard Koirala and the king. He also knows that a faction within his own party leadership and cadres favors a republic Nepal.

For this, Koirala needs a powerful support which could be nothing less than the uniting two Congress parties. Koirala is well aware that there is an anti-king faction within his Congress and a pro-king force in Deuba's Congress which favors ceremonial monarchy. A faction in the party thinks Koirala's voice as divine as king's so they must follow whatever Koirala dictates. And Koirala is assured of this faction because if united, it would be the most powerful political force of this country.

In a television program, Nepali Congress leader Narahari Acharya said that all the party decisions in recent days have not been in favor of President Koirala. The party has made some decisions against Koirala's expectation. Hence, Koirala could not be assured of his party's stance. On the other hand, the Deuba Congress has not made a clear stance on the future status of monarchy yet. Deuba is still awaiting and watching the political move, though he has always been a royalist. But the past experience of Sher Bahadur Deuba shows that he is ready to do anything to assume power.

Deuba dissolved the parliament at midnight, declared himself as the party president and resumed the 'post' of prime minister with an illusion that the regressive move had been corrected. He acted like a baby. He could not even analyze what was going to happen after half an hour. Yet Deuba remains the president of the third largest party in the parliament. And it seems that his call for respectable unification is just the beginning of bargaining.

Unfortunately, Koirala is not finding an appropriate successor from within the family and from the close aides. Ram Chandra Poudel and Narahari Acharya have opted for republicanism. Daughter Sujata and nephews have still not made considerable position in the party, nor has his brother Sushil Koirala done anything remarkable. This might have forced Koirala to look beyond for his successor. And to dictate anything, no one will be better than Deuba.

Upon green signal from Koirala and also from the Palace, Deuba will agree to any condition to assume power after Koirala. Hence, Koirala's call for unification is not free from the doubt that it may be a plot against people's aspirations for a monarchy-free-Nepal. It won't be a wonder if Deuba becomes the president of unified Congress on condition of supporting monarchy by defeating the republican force supposed to be led by Congress General Secretary Ramchandra Poudel.

However, only the Congressmen can make a difference to this plot. And it is inevitable to do so if the Congress wants to sustain as a democratic socialist party in this country. But so long as it backs the institution of monarchy for its survival, it will remain as a political party of some feudal lords which will have no place in the country's politics. The Congress campaign for a republican Nepal led by central member Narahari Acharya could save the party from this plot.

Published-The Kathmandu Post, Sept 11, 2007
Available at - http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=85804

A tale of Devnarayan Mahato

A youth from indigenous community but savior of many

Devnarayan Mahato, 29, lives with his small family at the bank of Riu River in Madi of Chitwan. Riu River separates Madi from Chitwan National Park and has become the cause of death and worries to more than 50 thousand people of Madi. And Mahato is the savior.

Mahato on his cart. The bridge at the background is under construction since last three years but seems it will never complete.

Hailing from an indigenous Tharu community, he didn’t have formal education. Asked about his literacy, he shyly said ‘1 or 2 class’. Asked why he didn’t continue, he smiled and said because they taught in the ‘same’ (Nepali; same because the question was also in Nepali) language.

He had a terrible childhood. His father died when he was just ten. And he had to leave for India to earn for him and his family. He did every task there from dishwashing to rickshaw pulling. And finally he got back to home after ten years; almost empty handed but with enlightenment that he will ‘do something’ in his own homeland.

Since then, he has been rearing two buffaloes and pulls cart. Pulling cart is not only challenging but a daring task. He has ten friends like him who pull carts at Riu River. The seasonal Riu River has water level up to many meters in rainy season and goes dry during dry months. The River has the fast flow as it originates from Mahabharat peaks. And the only alternative way of transportation for 50,000 inhabitants of Madi during rainy season is to cross the river on carts. And Mahato is one to facilitate those people.

Mahato doesn’t have much task at the river as the water level has gone down and most of the walkers and bicyclers cross the river on foot. Thus, Mahato and his friends have set up a queue system on which two carts facilitate the motorcyclists and others on crossing the river. They charge 20 rupees per motor cycle.

Mahato, on the day of his turn, comes early in the morning to the river and begins his job. Throughout the day, he keeps on helping the motor cyclists to cross the river and collects nearly five hundred rupees at the evening. With that money he has to fend his family of a son, a daughter along with his wife and also for the buffaloes. His miseries are doubled during other days when he doesn’t have the turn at the river, because at other days he may not even earn single penny if there is no work at the village. Thus he hopes the rainy season begins soon.

Nevertheless, pulling cart during rainy season in Riu River is like confronting death. The water level during this season is very fluctuating. It may rise or go down in no time; thus creating terror to cross the river at any time. Mahato recalls “the water level can go up at any time even when we are at the middle of the river on the cart. It is daring to save ourselves and our buffaloes.” He wishes rain just because he can earn good living from there. All ten carts are operating; means his cart will also be pulled everyday. However, he recalls that unlike nowadays, he will have worse time then the buffaloes. He says- “We pull our carts till the water level is up to our neck (nearly up to 5 feet). We push our buffaloes from many hundred meters up and cross the River with the flow of water. Sometimes we are not sure whether our buffaloes will really carry us across.”

The cart travelers during those days go wet up to their neck, confronting death every minute; so do Mahato and his friends. Other eight to ten people are needed to push the cart to prevent it from floating and flowing down. The people wait for hours at the River bank with the hope the water level goes down. Sometimes they are lucky, many times not.

However, Mahato and his friends do their best to let the travelers reach destination, ignoring their own death. Madi inhabitants have a faith on those people, all from indigenous Tharu community that they are the bridge over Riu River.