We are excited to share that Kirill’s article “Nepal and its Political Future” 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!
We are excited to share that Kirill’s article “Nepal and its Political Future” 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!
It’s been two month since we got back from Nepal. Two month of warm and sunny Californian weather and American food. I have to admit that we miss Nepal a lot, and every time I see Alex we are talking about our adventures there, challenges we got through together, bus rides, debrief sessions, when you don not know what to expect tomorrow.
As for me I am not only missing a country, but our team, as we all become really good friends. All challenges we got through together made us best friends. Frankly speaking, before coming to Nepal I expected that after one week of hard work, we would not even talk to each other. But it did not happen. We were constantly talking to each other, making jokes, sharing food and stories. We became even closer after one week of adventures.Â Even walking on campus we smile every time we meet. Â Smile as now we have something in common. We have Nepal.
When I was applying for the Nepal J-term, I wrote that I see my life as a road full of challenges, and each challenge you coming through makes you stronger.Nepal was one of this challenges. However, as it appeared it was not just about getting stronger, but getting more aware. Aware about challenges Nepali people are facing, and about some strategies we can implement in order to help them.
Moreover, this J-term helped me to understand that I made a right choice, when decided to persuade my career in the field of conflict resolution.
One of the last days in Kathmandu before leaving.Â No more purchases of souvenirs, no more shops.Â We are quickly moving through the palace area and going towards the palace of the goddess Kumari.
If you are lucky enough to be born a girl in a particular country in a certain cast, you might live an ordinary life, or might become a goddess. With the disappearance of the kingdom and the advent of the Republic, the king of Nepal has lost the ability to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu on earth. It was the politicians that had taken away his opportunity. Kumari, just like Dalai Lamas in Tibet, is reborn each time into a new body. However, in contrast to the Dalai Lamas, a girl becomes Kumari only for a while – until the “first blood”.
January sun rarely visits a small courtyard inside the palace of Kumari, which makes it cool and quiet. Quiet, except for couple locals that show up every now and then.
The life of a girl who became the embodiment of the goddess, in general, is not quite fun.Â Chances of leaving the palace are very rare- only during special ceremonies number of which is very limited. Walking on the ground is prohibited outside the palace â€“ on the streets, she is carried around in special covered stretchers.Â Parents hardly ever see their own daughter and are only allowed to visit her occasionally.
It is believed that a gaze of Kumari brings happiness to mere mortals.
Ritual of choosing a new Kumari is very difficult – not only that the three-or four-year-old girl must be without any physical defects, but her horoscope must match the horoscope of kings. In addition, the selected child is subjected to various tests.
In Hindu traditions during the ceremonial dedication, a bindi- dot of red color, is applied to the forehead of the initiate.Â In Nepal, it may even be forcibly applied on in the streets, if you find yourself in a crowd on a holiday or just because.
Kumari is the only one who has the right to put the bindi on the king of Nepal himslef.Â The king worships her, as it was ordered by the goddess Taleju.Â It happens every year during the holiday Kumari Jatra, when Kumari is carried through the streets, accompanied by two little boys, who themselves are incarnations of the gods Ganesha and Bhairava.Â By applying the bindi on the kingâ€™s forehead, Kumari blesses the king to reign during the next year.Â By tradition, the king gives her a gold coin and touches her feet with his forehead.
My finger hurts from pressing the shutter button, but it is extremely difficult to otorvatâ€™sya from the bas-reliefs.Â They are wooden at the top and made of stone at the bottom. The level of surreality and sophistication of the ornament images exceeds any expectations.Â I even unsuccessfully tried to look though the bars of lattice, but the cells were too small for my finger to fit.
Itâ€™s already past noon and I was still wandering through the inner courtyard of the palace Kumari, photographing the next piece of bas-relief, and cursing the ubiquitous pigeons. Suddenly, I felt a very intense look from one of the corners of the courtyard and it became clear I was not alone.Â Nepalese stranger was standing right in front expectantly and very carefully looking at my camera case and then in my eyes.Â He was literally boring my with his sight that shrill and harsh at the same time.
The next moment I caught a glimpse of movement in the opposite window, turned back and froze. There was a girl in red clothing carefully looking at me from the upper floor window. Â She was hatless, her hair decorated with several colors, and the third eye on her forehead was clearly visible.Â The gaze of heavily eyelined eyes was very quiet; you could only see restrained curiosity.Â We looked at each other for twenty seconds.
All this time I felt the looks of those standing next to me focused on my arms. Later, I realized that they were making sure I wasnâ€™t taking out my camera.Â It all happened so fast- taking pictures did not even occur to me. Realization of witnessing deity made me completely forget about photos.
Goddess disappeared as suddenly as she emerged.Â She just moved away from the window and another womanâ€™s head flashed in the window, apparently, mentor.Â The ones next to me werenâ€™t looking at me anymore either. I looked at the guard standing beside me- he was smiling.Â I smiled back as pigeon feces were flowing down my clothes. And so I left the palace with a silly smile on my face.
Ever since the king of Nepal was deposed, Kumari remained out of work. The dynasty ceased to exist, and the goddess now had no one to patronize, except giving blessing to the same officials and mere mortals.
Yet Kumari continues to live in the palace – the ordinary people need support. It is still safer that way even when things became routine.
I will try to write something about Nepal, although it is obvious I will not be able to retell everything properly. It was that special. Special should be the word to describe everything in that country- starting with its capital Katmandu, a city that hits you in the head like a bamboo stick, and ending with a smallest village. It is so full of contrasts and bright colors.
Nepalese reality affects with its every aspect:
What can one say about the cityâ€¦ Itâ€™s immersed in some magic. Thereâ€™ something good and evil in it, with both equally represented. It is dusty and dirty, at times- smelly. Thereâ€™s a monstrous stratification of society among both, poor and rich.
Traffic lights do not function. It is not clear why accidents are not an every minute thing at the intersections. It was there where I saw the flashing red light for the first time in my life. It is scary to cross the street because of the peculiar left sided oncoming traffic.
In the touristÂ district of the city of Tamel,Â the narrow streets are full of cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles andÂ rickshaws miraculously maneuveringÂ in the denseÂ crowdÂ of people.Â NoÂ sidewalks.Â Constant honking.
Important criticalÂ pointsÂ are guarded by soldiers on duty, dressedÂ in somethingÂ mouse-colored. NepaleseÂ soldiersÂ wearÂ khakiÂ with a predominance ofÂ blue-grayÂ tones andÂ carry rifles and machine guns, soÂ you knowÂ better no to bother them.
Real fieldwork starts tomorrow. And IÂ do not know exactlyÂ what to expect.Â I am confidentÂ that this will beÂ one ofÂ the mostÂ difficult andÂ exciting adventuresÂ of my life.
Re-reading my blogs on Nepal, I have mentioned that they are more op-ed than reflections. Maybe one of the reasons is that I am writing them after coming back to California, and have more time to reflect, read othersâ€™ opinions and structure them. For me it was very hard to write something on the spot, not just because I was tired or did not have time, but because all memories were still really fresh. Every time in the evening I had a lot of rapid thoughts in my mind about what I have seen, a lot of feelings that disturbed me. What we were doing there was so current, we made deal with real people, real problems and real stories. That did not help me in writing, but helped to get out of the bubble I was leaving in.
Before coming to Nepal, even before our first predeparture session I did not think about the oppression of women rights in the world. I could not even imagine how big this issue is. However, after first documentaries about women soldiers and women trafficking I was shocked and depressed. I remember talking to my mom on Skype, about what I have seen and experienced, about another reality I was not aware of.
As I understood from documentaries, women in Nepal have always been there, agitating, making change, and demanding more from their government. They have been there throughout Nepalâ€™s political history, but today, two complaints could be heard:
1. Womenâ€™s movement is not unified
2. It is led mostly by elite women.
The second oversimplifies elite womenâ€™s capacity for empathy and understanding of other womenâ€™s lives. The womenâ€™s movement in Nepal is complex, and if leadership and trust issues can be addressed, it can be a paradigm shift to those within, of how diversity can function and thrive. The first step that needs to be taken is addressing the lack of non-elite women leaders in the movement.
In my opinion, one of the problems is elite bias within the Nepali society and within womenâ€™s movements. Women with the time and financial stability will have more opportunities to act upon the injustices they experience, but these issues are not the issues of all women. Of course these womenâ€™s voices are necessary to the movement. Issues arise, though, when they are the only voices being heard.
However, Nepalâ€™s womenâ€™s movement is doing relatively well in terms of diversity of voice. The Constitutional Assembly includes women from many different backgrounds, and womenâ€™s non-governmental organizations have networks that are building consensus among diverse women. In the current constitutional process, these networks have identified womenâ€™s political participation and citizenship, as the rights women in Nepal most need. When we spoke to women in a village outside of Kathmandu, however, the first thing on their list was working opportunities and the right to work. They also wanted those political rights, but their immediate need was jobs. There seems to be a disconnection.
Economic issues need to be addressed. What about rural women that need jobs? Civil and political rights are incredibly important, and there is a need for economical and social rights that protect and empower women. Thirty-three or even fifty percent representation does not put food on the table or cash in the pocket for a rural woman. The rights of women need to be approached holistically.
Even within issues such as political representation, there are questions that must be addressed. Which women will be selected if 33 percent or more is guaranteed in all areas of government? Women in Nepal are obviously as diverse as Nepal itself. Would elite women feel adequately represented should the political parties decide to cover multiple quotas and only list Janajati, Madhesi and Dalit women in their candidate lists.
Because of how diverse Nepal is, if the womenâ€™s movement can create a thriving and successful base, they as a group can lead Nepal in example of how to make diversity a true strength.
How can Nepalâ€™s women do this?
Create a culture of listening. Organizations like the Three Sisters are spaces where such work is being done. They build these organizations and strengthen the power to empathize with women from vastly different experiences and backgrounds. They are also creating a culture of support. This goal is especially important for when different groups of women focus on different issues. For example, imagine that Brahmin and Chhetri women were focused on policies that increase womenâ€™s access to loans for businesses and Janajati women were working on ones that help rural girls get an education. If the women of both groups were vocally supportive of each other, it would be much harder to play these women and their issues against each other. Every goal for improving womenâ€™s lives in Nepal is part of a whole process to undo millennia of oppression.
All in all, Nepal in all its diversity has the opportunity to create a womenâ€™s movement that is truly anti-oppression.
One of the aspects of my research was Maoist ideology in Nepal, and the transition of the communist ideology from China to Nepal. Before I came to the country I had an unanswered question in my head. How does the communist ideology can co-exist with the traditional culture of Nepal? How monks in their red robes can live near red flags with the hummer and sickle?Â You can not imagine how surprised I was, when I discovered that not just the traditional Nepali symbols can coexist with communist symbols, but you can see a David star next to the swastika and the five ended star on other fences.
Nepali culture is amazing in the way it can obscure other symbols and traditions. And the red color of communism was the national color of Nepal long before Maoist came to power .The red rhododendron is the national flower and the national flag is overtly red.
Red, the color of revelry or piety, has a salient niche in the Nepalese lifestyle. When there is a festival or worshipping of a god or goddess, Nepalese put a red bindi mark on their forehead. They worship their gods with vermillion power because red is the auspicious color. The Red Machhendranath is one of the ancient deities of Kathmandu, and the Living Goddess, Kumari, is painted red. Nepali women put sindur and bindi on their forehead, and their bangles, beads, blouse and sari are usually red. Even their monks love red robes.
It looks like Nepali women love red. They celebrate their life with everything that is red. When they get married -they are decked in red. Because for them red is the color of joy.
Nepal is red not only because of its obsession with the color red, or the presence of overwhelming Hindu and Buddhist cult practices. Red became the color of communism and the Maoists – after soaking the white Himalayas, green hills and yellow flatlands with blood for a decade – have now painted Nepalâ€™s legislative parliament, Constituent Assembly and the government in red.
In my first couple of journals I was writing more about what I have seen in Nepal, more about my feelings and observations I had made. For some reason, even after two months, itâ€™s hard to write objectively about what we saw there. Hard to think about Nepal critically and talk about real issues such as corruption, for example.
On of the focuses of our group was corruption in Nepal. It is obvious that it is a very important issue in that country. Youâ€™re facing it on every level: in the morning newspaper you read that The Supreme Courtâ€™s indictment of Minister for Information J P Gupta makes him the second high-profile politician in Nepal, after former minister Chiranjivi Wagle, was convicted and sent to jail in a corruption case. Or in the airport when a guy on the counter asks you for some money in order to check-in some extra luggage. The worst example we faced was corruption on the ground. After the car accident, in which two locals were injured, people blocked the federal road and asked for money. That was a great example of the corruption that implemented into the culture and society at all levels.
In the Nepali newspaper called Republic, I read an op-ed, where the author was arguing that it would be asking too much to leave the fight against corruption to the judicial system and courts alone. An anti-corruption crusade should begin from within the political system. The political parties, especially their top leaders, should not and cannot dismiss their share of the responsibility for fighting corruption. Honesty in public life, transparency in the finances of political parties and accountability to the people in such matters are obligations that no political leadership can abandon.
On one hand, I agree with the author that political leaders should provide an example of honesty to the people on all levels of society. However, on the other hand, nowadays top-down exercise of authority is no longer acceptable in Nepal, as there is no trust among citizens in governmental institutions and political leadership. Speaking from experience, I worked for Russian government for half a year; the crusade against corruption should be started from grassroots. In my opinion, organizations like Research for Common Ground should use media as awareness tool and to establish an anti-corruption environment. It might sound naÃ¯ve, but I do believe in power of television shows in cultural transformation.
However, the leaderships are often found pursuing their own needs and that of their parties when it comes to institutionalizing these basic values. Instead, the politicians, when convicted on corruption charges, often claim that they are being victimized for political reasons. That only reinforces the point that NGOs working on the ground are still the best hope for fighting the monster of corruption.
During our last diebrief session we raised the question whether Nepal is a failed state or not? For me this question is connected with the question of type of governance in Nepal. It is not hard to admit that Nepali state, to a large extent, has lost its legitimacy to govern its territory and exert its monopoly through force.Â That is the important aspect of the debate that are missing, how well â€œforce-legitimacyâ€ equilibrium is maintained while drafting a new vision of Nepal.
Here is an example. Federalism and form of governance debate runs in the premises of â€œforceâ€ and â€œlegitimacyâ€. Those who are fighting for ethnical federalism argue that the state will lose its â€œlegitimacyâ€ if it fails to guarantee directly elected president and ethnic federalism in the new political set up. On the contrary, the advocates at the other end argue that the state will lose its monopoly over â€œcollectiveâ€ force if it is divided on ethnic lines and absolute power is vested in the president. The missing aspect is that top-down exercise of authority is no longer acceptable to Nepal as it has clearly through the people movements spelt out its demands for rights, inclusion and self-determination to take charge of its own destiny. Political elites need to understand that state function requires a major re-dressing to regain its legitimacy. The longer they take to realize this, larger the chances for the state to retain fragile will be. In this situation all debates on the future of Nepal are aimless, as failed government is not legitimate to reform the political structure of Nepal.
State has to take responsibility to ensure service delivery to its citizens that includes not only socio-economical goods, but also political participation and freedom at all levels. It is obvious that setting up liberal democratic institutions with presidential or prime ministerial form of governance, judiciary and federalism â€“ whatever the type â€“ will not be enough. Most importantly, they should return the belief in governmental institution to the people of Nepal.
During our bus trips through Nepal I mentioned ethnical diversity of Nepal because even European eyes can understand the difference between different ethnical groups. This observation raised another question of the debates over the federal system of Nepal. lt can awaken various minorities and marginalized communities in Nepal, that seek greater autonomy from the historically indifferent center.
Ironically, the reason the country might stay, as one could be India. For me it is hard to see India supporting Nepalâ€™s disintegration. For all its meddling, India calculates that separatist tendencies in other countries in the region could fuel such trends within its own territories, from the North East to the Kashmir.
I think that the keyword for India at this time in its rapid economic growth is â€˜stabilityâ€™. It is very unlikely to support separation anywhere in the region unless the cost of the support far outweighs the cost of refusal of the right to self-determination of people. In my opinion, in either case, there is little to gain for India.
China supporting national states next door to Tibet is even more inconceivable.
Nepalâ€™s political and economical relies on India for everything from fuel to electricity.Â In case of instability in Nepal, India will step in to return to the more â€˜stableâ€™ status quo. For me it will be India that will put in place the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that will be the future political map of the federal Nepal.
Nepal is going through the process of the constitutional reconstruction, as a result they are highly concerned with the best form and systemÂ of governance. Even during our last dinner after we our presentation, the first question that came up was whether Nepal should be a presidential or parliamentary republic, and whether it should be aÂ unitary or federal state. During our J-term in Nepal we heard a lot of opinions on federalism in Nepal’s political setting. Those opinions underlie merits and demerits of their own kind in one way or the other. The type of governance floated in those opinions â€“ whether it is a directly elected president, directly elected prime minister, or multi-party settlement â€“ has of course positive and negative sides to it.
I do not want to talk Â about the advantages and disadvantages ofÂ the two governance systems. I want to shift this contradiction to the level of the political conflict ( I’m not sure yet whether it is an ideological conflict) between two main political parties â€“ the Nepali Congress and Maoist. We mentioned that Maoist are losing their supporters on the ground level, people are dissapointed with the Maoist policy. At the same time the Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal pointed out the need to directly electpresidential system, while the Nepali Congress promotes the parliamental system, that neglects the role of the President.
Even the superficial analysis would show that Maoist ideology assumes a strong leader (President, Chairman) and in the situation when Maoist party is very lucky to lose its majority in Congress it’s obvious that they will argue for the Presidential system. The mai reason is that they can still activate the influence they have over the people and put Pushpa Kamal over the Congress and stay in power for at least four more years. However, it’s just my quick thought on the political situation in Nepal and I want to develop this idean in my article to Himal magazine.