We are excited to share that RJ’s article “Money and Mountains: Tourism as a Tool for Development in 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!
I am currently doing research on Nepal for two classes, and with every article I read I find that I stop and go back to my research log from Nepal to compare notes and argue aloud with the walls around me about what is being said. This is probably why I don’t study in coffee shops, Samson, or the library.
In the middle of reading and writing about challenges to peacebuilding in Nepal I am struck by the ease with which I can come up with a prescription for some issue that was encountered on the ground. Here you go, Nepal, I have something that will work. I laugh at myself, but the truth is there is a system in which the Nepalese are struggling to build and rebuild that does much the same thing. Here you go, Nepal, this should work, and if it doesn’t… the problem is probably that you were so recently fighting a war.
I would like to leave the millions of readers with a positive note, in the American style of presentation. There were many organizations that were impressive from the Jan Jagaran Youth Club in the Bara district that worked to bring school children of all castes together, the Fatima Foundation in Nepalgunj that works towards making Muslim women financially independent, the Saathi and Maiti organizations that combat human trafficking, and one of our favorites, the Three Sisters Adventure Trekking that provide women with an opportunity to change their world as well as tools to restructure the world that they live in. These are by no means a complete list of organizations that are affecting the peacebuilding process in Nepal in a positive way, but they are for me easily remembered when I get bogged down in the steep challenges that Nepal faces in moving towards sustainable peace.
I noticed that the hotel we stayed at in Birgunj had no trash bins. I had left a snack bar wrapper on the side table expecting that it would be collected and put into the garbage bin that I assumed was sitting around on a lower level awaiting the daily trash collection from the rooms. On the way to Pokhara we had to stop and change buses. The bus that we vacated had a driver who walked the length of the bus and found a couple pieces of left behind trash which he then tossed out the window onto the ground. It was amusing at the time, but then I began to wonder what happened to my snack bar wrapper. Did it make into a trash bin? Is it lying on the sidewalk in Birgunj?
While in Pokhara we saw the most amazing scenery along the hiking trail we took with 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking. A lot of the gorgeous mountain views that we post were taken around that area.
along the hiking trail near Pokhara
However, it was on the way down that I began to notice how much trash was lying around the trail we were walking on. I also began to wonder exactly who it was that tossed their chip bags and candy wrappers aside so carelessly. Was it tourists? Was it the local children with their handwritten proposals requesting funding for sports equipment? Was it a small animal that stole it from a trash receptacle and drug it out for public viewing? It led to discussions regarding eco-tourism and what role the local community could play in ensuring that the trash would not litter the beauty of the natural landscape. My colleague, Jeff, delves into this issue in a previous post, “Thinking about Ecotourism.” It is apparent that the growth of this industry without some sort of policy towards solid waste collection and removal is not sustainable.
Recently some of the group that went to Nepal sat down and had a discussion about various findings we received regarding perception of caste and caste discrimination on the ground in Nepal. In particular we were reminded of those assertions that caste was not an issue within a particular organization. I was prompted to go and review my notes to clarify what was said and where it was said. I found a couple of very interesting notes I had made during some interviews.
While we were in the Bara district we interviewed a youth organization that worked on caste discrimination. They shared with us stories about how they worked with individuals, usually of the Dalit caste, who were accused of witchcraft. A more detailed blog entry regarding this subject can be found here. I found less detailed information was made available after our visit to this district. In fact we were told outright by some organizations that caste was not a problem. While we were visiting the Rolpa district we were informed that there was no longer discrimination based upon caste, gender, religion, or ethnicity.
Today I read an article on NepalNews.com that reports findings from the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) in Nepal indicating that 61 incidents of witchcraft related violence occurred during 2011. 51 of these cases involved females. The majority of these cases were in the Terai region where the Bara district is located, but the article reports 19 of these incidents occurring in the Hill region which is where Rolpa is located. It is obvious that the work of the NGO in the Bara district is a much needed service, and that Rolpa is not as free of discrimination as was claimed during our interview.
I am compelled to keep of organizations who combat the very real discrimination that still exists in Nepal in constant memory. It is all too easy to let the business of life steal away the experience of sitting in that small room listening to people talk about what they fight for, and it is also easy to forget the dismissive claims of others regarding those same issues. I hope in some way this medium helps give voice to those that speak out against caste discrimination as well as acknowledge the nameless victims of such violence.
Now that we are back the secondary research begins and we fill in the gaps on any particular subject by interviewing experts and reading academic publications with perhaps a bit more focus now than we did before we left. In a class on development I found an excerpt of a paper written by Nanda R. Shrestha, a Nepali man who now teaches in the U.S. He wrote a book in 1997 called In the Name of Development: A Reflection on Nepal. He briefly deals with “this new revolutionary movement which is commonly know as the ‘People’s War’” at the end of his book. Remember that the People’s War started in 1996, and was birthed in the districts of Rolpa and Rukum where later they established a parallel government. What I was unaware of was that USAID had implemented its largest development project in Nepal in these areas that had been in operation for 15 years when this book was published. It was a project that emphasized commercial farming and according to Shrestha resulted in a polarization of communities that eventually led to a violent insurrection. (p. 217)
This has, of course, opened up even more questions about Nepal, in particular these districts where the development project occurred. If such a model of development wasn’t successful before we had better make sure we are not regurgitating a slightly different version of the same model. It seems that the leadership of the Maoist forces have assimilated intoÂ the capital and have removed themselves quite a bit from “the people.” Is this an inevitable consequence of the system? Is there perhaps another way to ensure that the Nepalese people find a way to satisfy their basic needs and avoid approaches that have empirically proven to be flawed?
The TV set in Rolpa
There were some evenings that we would get into our rooms feeling exhausted after a day of meetings and bumpy bus rides, but there’s always that small window of time before you crash when your mind has to slowly wind down. TV is always useful for this sort of activity and there were many nights we flipped through channels before sailing off into the land of dreams.
Joel always flipped to the Cricket channel where he alone appreciated what did or did not happen with one of the world’s most popular sports that day. Then there was the action movie channel overdubbed in Hindi that we watched in Nepalganj. I never really liked Minotaur up until that moment. Perhaps one of the more surreal moments of the entire trip was in the remote village of Liwang in Rolpa district where there were only about five channels available. In the middle of the local Nepalese programs and a couple of Indian channels was a channel dedicated to the world of high fashion. Amidst the bare and stark surroundings of what is one of the poorer districts in Nepal one could view a parade of very skinny men wearing some very expensive apparel walk around in a circle while a large crowd applauded them. It was the first time I realized fashion shows seem to be such a bizarre cultural display.
I was captivated by that channel. I checked it again the next day before we had breakfast and again before we left the district. It was always broadcasting fashion. I am not sure who demanded that such a channel be made available in the place referred to as the birthplace of the Maoist movement, but there it was giving us examples of what was fashionable to wear. I Googled fashion tv channels and Rolpa, Nepal upon returning, but so far I have found nothing to satisfy my curiosity as to why Liwang gets daily fashion shows as a part of local programming.
village in Bara district
One of our final meetings was with an organization that works for (and with) children regarding their rights and empowerment. It was an impressive organization, and a lot of topics were covered in the limited amount of time we had available. Towards the end of the meeting a question was posed regarding the aspirations of what the future might hold for the organization and for the children of Nepal in general. I was somewhat taken aback when there didn’t seem to be a clear answer. In fact, this could have been the first time there wasn’t at least a formulaic answer readily available for such questions. The gentleman we were meeting with implied that survival was one of the most important goals for children in Nepal.
We had been exposed to life in rural Nepal away from the capital so this statement wasn’t shocking, but somewhat surprising that such a basic concept was still a priority for an organization that has been working for over 20 years in this field. It makes a lot of sense. We had experienced many examples of children still being manipulated by political parties to carry out the “dirty work” for them, and being recruited by criminal gangs was an issue that at least one member of our group was determined to find out more about. Young people are at high risk for trafficking, and often go overseas in order to earn money to send back home. We were informed that child labor is a huge problem in Nepal, and that only 2 labor inspectors are available to investigate the issue in the entire country. If survival is a priority then it shouldn’t be all that surprising to see such issues take the main stage in the arena of children’s rights.
It would seem that there are some basic needs that are not being met in the rural homes of these children. This organization is dealing with the problems that arise as a result of these needs going unfulfilled, and the gentleman we interviewed said that some work was being done at a local village level in order to mitigate some of the circumstances that arise when children leave in order to simply survive. There are many challenges that Nepal is facing on the road to building a peaceful society, and this simple challenge might be one of the most significant.
Under the summits of Gauri and Shankar in the Dolakha district we met with three women involved in peacebuilding. More than once the statement was made, “the war is not over”. At one point this was elaborated upon, “we don’t see the arms carried, but the war is still onâ€¦”
We heard (again) that Nepal was in a period of transition. It seems that there are many Nepalis who are simply waiting. We often hear that when the constitution is signed things will be better, programs can be adopted, etc. These women told us that the in this transition period there is no law and order. People can block the road, beat people up, commit theft, but there are no repercussions. There are still kidnappings in this district. The political parties are believed to be behind them, and whether willingly or not the police are most likely complicit in most cases as well.
We are told that there is a Constitutional Assembly, but there are no leaders. It is because of the lack of leadership there is so much corruption. The gap between what is decided in Kathmandu and what is implemented in the surrounding districts is enormous. The political parties politicize almost everything in an attempt to expand their power. The picture that is painted for us seems bleak.
Dolakha district near Charikot
In spite of this there is an optimism that a signed constitution will foster positive change. In the meantime it appears that there are a significant number of Nepalis who are content to wait out this period of transition and lawlessness waiting for the day that the war will finally be over.
Several times we have heard that Nepal got rid of one king but gained over 600 new kings (referring to the elected constitutional assembly). We have also heard from various organizations that political party affiliation can be a significant impediment to the necessary processes and functions of their program.
A Nepali man informed us over dinner that Nepal has not yet had a leader who can show by example what can be done by a man (or woman) who doesn’t try to rule in the same manner as the monarchy always ruled. He was hopeful about the future, but is skeptical of most of the people in power, and credits some of the party obstacles as stemming from this leadership model that emulates the former monarchy.
It is interesting that the current building for parliament looks much more royal than the former palace of the king. Perhaps there is a new sort of monarchy in charge of Nepal, but on the heels of a revolution where people were willing to kill and be killed for a new form of government it seems that this sort of governance will have to change.
There is a lot of talk in Nepal about empowering the Dalit community. The Dalits are considered the lowest of lows in the caste system that has existed here for centuries. They are also called the untouchables.
We met with the official government body tasked with supporting and empowering the Dalit community in Nepal. One of the programs that this commission shared with us was the encouragement of certain persecuted Dalits to change their surname, one of the ways by which a Dalit is easily identified. This strategy seemed to reflect a prevailing attitude at this government office. It seemed that the roughly dozen men and one woman wanted to blend in to the society (in the capital) rather than find pride and acceptance in being Dalit.
Later we met with the Rural Development Centre in the Bara district that also worked on the issue of Dalit rights and empowerment. This organization digs tube wells in a place that requires all castes to access it in the same location. The Jan Jagaran Youth Club in the same district works in schools by having Dalit and other castes sit and eat together while discussing the caste system. These people seemed as proud of being Dalit as they were of their accomplishments in their community.
It will be interesting to see how the government bodies react to what will undoubtedly be a strong Dalit identity infused with pride rather than a desire to erase the identity and walk around unrecognized and without the perceived negative stigma.