We are excited to share that Alex’s article “The Rampant Spread of Corruption in Post-War Nepal” has been published on the WIP website, here is the link:
Enjoy! Keep checking back for the rest of the groups’ articles throughout the summer!
Our first drive out of Kathmandu was long and bumpy – it gave the group a taste of Nepali infrastructure to come. Â However, we were also able to experience, in my opinion, the best example of infrastructure development to date in Nepal.
We stopped for lunch on a mountain pass in Gorkha district on our loopy drive southbound at what we eventually learned is the only gondola in Nepal – a new structure with a vast amount of cars for people and even some for the sacrificial goats. Â The gondola is a fast – moving, long ride up in to the clouds, and then over the clouds with an eventual stop in Manakamana near a famous Hindu temple.
The walk from the gondola station through Manakamana to the temple is a gorgeous sight. Â The town is beautiful, colorful, and vibrant. Â It is clearly thriving thanks to the new gondola and increased tourism. Â The line to get in to the temple is huge and the crowds around it massive.
Corruption and its role in the disconnect between the government and Nepali society have been an important focus of mine recently. Â As I looked through my pictures randomly, I noticed a handful of beautiful street shots – most of which ended up being from Manakamana. Â The only major feat of infrastructure that our group witnessed in Nepal leads to a strong tourism and what appears to be a thriving local economy in the area. Â This reminds me of the stark contrasts that I witnessed throughout Nepal and makes me wonder why other development projects focused on infrastructure and tourism aren’t undertaken…
I came across a pretty regular piece of news from Nepal – there’s a lack of progress in the peace process.Â This particular article is displayed from the angle of the minority Nepali Congress Party places the blame for the stalled peace process on the majority Maoist party.
I have been thinking about the issue of power within the government lately, and this is a prime example of the Nepali Congress trying to stir the pot and get more popular support.Â However, the ruling Maoists have gained too much power by winning control of this new governing body, the Constitutional Assembly.Â The Maoists have shown their power by consistently extending the duration of power of the CA due to not having finished writing the constitution.Â In doing so, the Maoists, who are anything but assured of winning the next election, have been able to extend their hold on power since the end of the war with no end in sight.
How long can the Maoists stall the constitution-writing process and keep a strangle-hold on power and all its privileges?Â Are the Nepali Congress members content in their current positions of power to not push the Maoists to the limit?
I believe that such a significant amount of power has been so rare for so long in Nepal, that the members of the CA are going to enjoy it as long as they can without risk of losing their seats in a new election process.Â Eventually, the people are going to have to become stronger in order to pressure the minority parties to fight the Maoists in to finishing the constitution-writing process.
As long as the government has a strangle-hold on power and corruption runs rampant, Nepal as a country will not move forward quickly in the peacebuilding process.Â Thus, it is vital for the CA to come to an agreement on important issues such as the structure of government in order to facilitate the spreading of representation throughout Nepal.
As a student, I have spent a significant amount of time studying Islam, Arabic, and Middle Eastern culture.Â Not often do these studies extend to the Muslim communities beyond the Arabic speaking world.Â This is a reason that I was so excited to meet with the organization Fatima.
The organization is named for the famous daughter of Muhammad and works at the grassroots level to help not just Muslim women, but women from many marginalized groups within Nepalganj.Â It was nice to hear some success stories by the organization in a society that has no room for the Muslim community.
Yet the biggest problems that the Muslim community faces seems to come from within.Â The community is plagued by high dropout rates particularly among girls, high illiteracy rates, and, perhaps most problematic, a disastrously large amount of domestic violence cases.Â All of these seem to be interrelated in that as the people go through life without much emphasis on their schooling, they tend to have the same ideals for their children.Â Then, when the next generations remain poor and marginalized, certain members of the community seek to exploit their power relationships at home.
Perhaps under the Maoist government the status of the Muslim community and other marginalized communities will improve, but the idea remains a pipedream while so many other ideas have been prioritized and the disconnect between the government and grassroots remains.
Its pitch black and the bus is swerving around a bumpy one-lane road.Â We are going up a mountain and the driver has to flash his brights and play a tune every time we reach a curve just to make sure no one is coming.Â If they are, the drivers and their assistants must coordinate to make sure one can “safely” pass without dropping off the road.Â After reaching the top of the mountain, we descend to the town of Liwang in the district of Rolpa.Â We are told this much about Rolpa: the concept of hotels is not well-known, it is very remote, and it is the hotbed of the Maoist insurrection.
The first thing that happens upon reaching the sleeping town is that we are forced to pull over and write our names and nationalities.Â We reach the hotel and again have to write our information down.Â My initial reaction is that we have finally reached the type of police-controlled area that one expects of a Communist society.Â This will prove to be correct the next day.Â After sleeping through the freezing night on rock hard mattresses with just some scotch to warm my insides, we set out to see the town and meet some organizations the next day.
The looks we receive on the streets feel purely unwelcoming at first.Â After learning a bit about the region, such as the fact that it was the first district completely controlled by the Maoists during the Civil War, the only road was completely cut off, and all non-Maoists were forced out, I come to two realizations.Â One is that the town is completely monitored.Â We are being followed by a plain-clothes officer to report on everything we do.Â The second is that these people never see outsiders – perhaps not even from their own country.Â As the day passes, the people seem to grow accustomed to us to some degree.Â Although we are not offered tea or coffee for the first time in a meeting (all three times), the people on the street start smiling, waving, and greeting us with bows and Namastes.
We spent less than a day in Rolpa, but I would have loved to spend a significant amount of time here and learned and observed the reality of what truly felt like a Maoist stronghold.
Faith in humanity is like a roller coaster here.Â After witnessing a man block off traffic for hours demanding money from the government for a false death of somebody he may not have even known, our group was able to meet some of the most amazing people in the world today in Pokhara.
The Three Sisters are a women’s empowerment group that runs a boarding school, a youth hostel for girls, a hostel for women, and begins to teach these women the tools of the male-dominated trekking trade in Nepal among many other things.Â They do so much and have achieved so much.
More impressive than pioneering in to such a difficult trade is the way that the Sisters utilize their NGO to promote education and individuality among women.Â They have a great program that offers trekking training, basic education, and then helps the women go out on their own.Â The opportunity is a vital step for women’s empowerment in a difficult society.
Scene: A small town in the pitch black around 8:00 in the evening.Â The amazing light of the stars shows the way for a line of seven people walking down a street lined with stopped cars, buses, motorbikes, and people.Â After about five minutes, we reach our destination – a van is horizontal in the middle of the road in front of a bridge blocking traffic both ways for who knows how far.
We are told a man has died.Â His motorbike was ridden in to the ditch on the side of the bridge by a van – the man got out and ran.Â A local has decided to block the road, demanding that the police find the perpetrator and he pays 1 million Rupees (~$12000).Â The money will be split, he says, 50/50 between the locals and the family.Â Finally, a truck of armed police come and fix the situation somehow – we walk back to our bus which has been stopped for some three hours.Â It turns out nobody is dead, but two people were on the motorbike and are critically injured – a situation that is worse for the perpetrator.
Government corruption has been a major theme of our discussions over the past few days.Â A handful of organizations have been mentioning the difficulty in dealing with getting funding from the Nepali government and going through bureaucracy because so many wheels need to be greased and by the time the money reaches its destination it is considerably lesser than it is meant to be.Â We now see that this idea of corruption extends to the lower levels of Nepali society as well.Â Everybody wants a piece and is clearly willing to demand it.Â Our translator says that it is actually efficient for the people to arrange a death every month and demand the government pay the localsâ€¦
It can be difficult to keep one’s hope in humanity sometimes.
Bara district is real.Â In Kathmandu, it felt as though the people we spoke with had a mission for us.Â It seemed as if they said exactly what they thought we wanted to hear – the disconnect with the rest of the country was apparent.
Today in Bara, we met with four NGOs and visited a couple of remote villages a matter of a couple of miles from the Indian border.Â These organizations work so hard on the ground and care so much about what they do and what they fight for.Â We met the Rural Development Center, an organization that works for the rights of the Dalit and women communities in the region.Â These people were smart, outspoken, and passionate about the hard work that they do – a stark contrast to the previous Dalit group we met with.
The government-based Dalit Commission we met with in Kathmandu fed us what they thought we wanted to hear.Â After that meeting, everybody had a feeling that something was wrong with the people we met.Â It was confirmed today that the Dalit Commission was made up of “the elite Dalits” that can do and say things but are completely disconnected with those Dalits that are completely oppressed and suppressed.Â The Dalits on the ground have basically not even heard of the government commission that is put together for their “wellbeing.”Â The law that the Commission passed for the improvement of the Dalit community had not even been heard of by those in the field in Bara, yet the Commission is supposed to be working alongside them as their voice at the top level in the countryâ€¦
It is incredible to watch the changes in this country as we travel from Kathmandu to the southern city of Birganj.Â Its not as if Kathmandu is the most developed city in the world, but it is clear that it is and has been a city in a bubble, completely separated from the rest of the country politically, economically, and in terms of the conflict.
As we left the city for a twelve hour drive that was meant to be a mere six hours, the scenery began to change before long.Â The winding hill highway outside of Kathmandu is filled with farms and construction areas which turns in to shacks lining the road.
When we leave the hill region and go in to the Terai region, the visibility of the poverty clearly increases and I can start to see more than just dogs roaming the villages and towns as in Kathmandu.Â Some chickens, cows, and goats can be seen all over, but as we drive in to Birganj, they are literally everywhere.Â The city is completely dilapidated, the roads steadily worsened the whole way.Â In Birganj, they are bumpy, uneven, and unpaved.Â There are few cars but the streets are filled with horse and cow drawn carriages and the air is practically unbreathable – a mixture of smoke, pollution, dust, and who knows what else.Â There are also a significant amount of people defecating and urinating on the sides of the road in easy view of everyone.
As difficult of a place as Birganj is, it is so much more representative of the rest of this conflict-ridden country than Kathmandu.
Nine of us have been traveling together forward in time for over twenty hours now.Â In less than four hours, the final leg of our trip begins as we leave Hong Kong for Kathmandu via Dhaka.Â We are all excited and dead tired.Â Hopefully, in about 12 hours, we’ll be at our hotel in Kathmandu trying to get accustomed to the time difference and trying for a night’s sleep of some sort as we jump in to the world of peacebuilding in Nepal on Monday morning…