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ARPAN SHRESTHA



On the eve of what would be his 14th day of fast unto death, Dr Govinda KC, senior orthopaedist at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital met Nepal Government's negotiating team at the eleventh hour, Thursday night.

Thursday's negotiations hint towards a fruitful Friday morning. However, outcomes of the 10 o'clock meeting at the Ministry of Health would decide the course of fate. [*Please note the time has been later confirmed for 8:30am]

Meanwhile, Dr KC has refused to end the fast and his health continues to deteriorate.

This is Dr KC's third protest against the alleged anomalies in the Institute of Medicine (IoM).
ARPAN SHRESTHA

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Indifferent voters elect indifferent leaders!

1990. I remember the victory rally, the crimson powder in the air and on the faces of the jubilant people as they marched in the heart of the city, chanting slogans in favor of democracy. There were so many people – young men and women, children and even elders, raising their fists in glory.

Some ran on the streets with party flags while some groups sang songs. Some sat on the roads and on sidewalks while some formed circles and danced. The entire town was out to either watch or participate in this parade on the streets, which until the night before was a shoot-on-sight regime, imposed on the capital city of Nepal – Kathmandu – where minds and muscles have wrestled since mythical times.

I was in primary school back then. I really didn't understand why all of a sudden, I stopped going to school or why my uncles shut their shops and why we locked up ourselves in our house, peeping through the windows to a deserted street and listening to Radio Nepal bulletins.

Back then, the only thing that was dauntless was the Ghantaghar. It didn't skip a toll. It never did and it never does. The rest of us lived with fear and paranoia because the army with its guns and the khaki donning police with batons patrolled the city.

Soon the celebrations disappeared. I was back in school. My uncles opened their shops and we were free to walk in the neighborhood and go wherever we pleased. I was told there was democracy in the country although I didn't understand what that meant. I also overheard seniors talking about Ironman Ganesh Man Singh with awe and bottles of Iceberg Beer.

Then came Election Day, and the rest that followed in the most savage history of Nepal, as we all know, only concludes one thing – people paid the price with blood and no politician in my memory has regretted or apologized for the blood on their hands.

And it’s not just the politicians who have blood on their hands. Like it or not, we all have blood on our hands because we have an equal role in institutionalizing the roots of all the issues that plague our society.

Our collective silence and ignorance endorses all injustice and corruption or what better answers some of these questions:

• What makes one or two-day Nepal Banda a great walking opportunity but a week-long good enough to knock the latte off the table?

• What makes even the educated assume that because they don’t experience socio-political or economical discrimination, that it doesn't happen?
• What kind of economic policies lead to a real estate crash while thousands and thousands of Nepalis continue to be literally enslaved abroad?
• Where was the radical center when democratic institutions were crushed one by one?

• Where was Nepal’s “critical mass” when its Truth & Reconciliation Committee went nowhere and on several other occasions?

• Why do sponsored racist and sexist rap battles get religious hits on YouTube and get glossy coverage in the press?
• Why do corrupt politicians get a hero’s welcome after their jail term?

• What kind of a society is quiet when a Supreme Court acquitted murderer is allowed to contest elections?

These and many similar questions force one to ask what kind of voters, who make the largest chunk of the voter base, has our parenting, schooling and the private sector produced but the white-collar class and higher up is either uninterested or too occupied to talk on an issue it thinks is not an issue at all because in a democracy, everyone is equal and no one is above the law.

As #NepalVotes, Nepalis, especially the youth, are lately being provoked to speak up against injustice and to vote for “doers,” which is a good thing. But this is the same generation that was both asked and beaten to keep quiet, first at home and then in schools and workplace.

It wouldn't hurt to say the political affairs of the country reflect our social, private and institutional lives because it is very much the unspoken truth. This is the ground reality of Nepali society at home, in schools and offices, in our neighborhoods, cities and villages.

We champion conservative thoughts but look for a liberal victory. Clearly, we are nothing but our choices.

As lies of revolution and regime change invade us once again, we are only too wary since we have been fooled enough in the name of Constitution but we haven’t been asking the right questions or what better explains the strong presence of monarchy, oppression and exploitation at our domestic turfs.

Don’t indifferent voters elect indifferent leaders?

Arpan Shrestha is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @arpanshr
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ARPAN SHRESTHA



“Dial 100 for haircut.”

Comments like the one above on Nepal Police’s latest campaign against “crime and hooliganism” that started on February 25 are rife in Nepal’s social media sphere.

The campaign, which initially targeted individuals with long hair, ear accessories, tattoos and “rough getup,” is reported to continue until the “crime rates in the Valley will come down.”

But following a human rights violation writ against Nepal Police, AIG Nawaraj Dhakal has directed the Metropolitan Police Range Office (MPRO) not to detain people just because they fit the “descriptions.”

As of March 6, some 1,300 innocent youth have been detained and their photographs taken and fingerprints recorded for “reference” and only three of them are still under custody because they have been “found to be involved in different unlawful activities.”

This latest “unscientific and cosmetic” move by Nepal Police, a reminiscence of the Panchyat regime, has “terrorized” the youth and longhaired people and continues to draw bitter criticisms from all corridors of Nepali society.

“The campaign by Nepal Police violates Article 12(2) of the Interim Constitution 2008 which guarantees individual freedom of a citizen,” says Bikalpa Rajbhandari, law student, who together with advocate Subash Lamichhane have filed a writ.

“It is also against the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which acknowledges one’s getup as a medium for freedom of thought and expression. Nowhere in Nepal’s Interim Constitution or any other law has it been stated how an individual’s hair and getup should look like. Stereotyping these features to be that of a criminal or having a criminal mindset is illogical.”

The MPRO, however, defends the move saying the drive was badly misinterpreted by the media and others and requests cooperation.

Chief District Officer (CDO) of Kathmandu, Chudamani Sharma, disregards the widespread condemnation of the campaign and calls all quarters of society to not portray the “security of social values and norms” in a negative way.

“Long hair and accessories are alien to our culture and tradition. They are ashovaniya (inappropriate) features. Citizens should be well behaved and civil. They should follow the social code and live a right life,” says Sharma in his defense of and support for the campaign.

“Individual freedom doesn’t translate to chhadapan (vulgarity) and individual choices shouldn’t go against social code. The public should be positive rather in this latest drive by Nepal Police to maintain peace, law and order.”

Rejecting Sharma’s “personal opinion that lacks sound knowledge of culture and tradition,” 70-year-old Mukund Aryal, a venerated culture expert, says, “Long hair and ear accessories have always been a part of our culture. Look at the images of our gods and deities whom we idolize and their adarshas (ideals) which we try to accomplish in our lives.

“Long hair, but tidied up and taken care of with perfumed oil, is very much a part of our culture,” says Aryal while pointing out that spiky gelled hair is not. “Only priests and monks have to practice limitations on the length of their hair, as prescribed by their respective code of conduct.”

Criticizing Sharma’s take and Nepal Police’s campaign as stereotypes of what a good or a bad image is, Aryal further mentions that long hair, beards and earrings are part of the entire subcontinent’s culture. Borrowing instances from history that he is a testimonial to, Aryal recalls how even some 40 years ago, male students actually went to school with their long hair tied at the back since rituals actually specify that one shouldn’t have his hair cut until one undergoes his “Bratabandha” ritual.

“Ear accessories have a significant cultural value as well. Ritually, it is worn for protection and one has to wear it during one’s marriage as well. In the Janku tradition, observed by elder people, the number of ear accessories in the ears increases with each Janku succession,” Aryal adds.

Cultural debate aside, the very instance of Nepal Police detaining 1,300 youth has also raised serious concerns like the “abuse of power,” “moral policing,” and “unbecoming of a democratic country.” Questions have also been raised against the vague clauses as stated in the law that give Nepal Police immense power.

“The police will argue that it is against morality, public peace and harmony as defined by them. Such is this law called Public Offence Act (Panchayati law) that police has immense powers under it. This Act is a ridiculous piece of legislation. Read Section 2(h), 3 and one will go mad,” reads a series of tweets of lawyer Semanta Dahal who is also a law commentator.

Section 2(h) of Some Public (Crime and Punishment) Act, 2027 (1970) states [sic], “No person shall commit any of the following acts: To make undue behaviour in public place.”

Section 3 of the same Act states [sic], “Power to arrest: (1) The police staff may arrest the person without a warrant if he/she finds him/her on the spot committing any of the crimes mentioned in Section 2.”

“It is against the law to indiscriminately detain people just because of their “features.” All individuals can exercise their right to freedom. The law of the land guarantees individual choices,” says Hari Krishna Karki, President, Nepal Bar Association. “The very concept of the campaign is flawed. It is rather a drive to hide the institution’s inabilities to fulfill its duties.

“Can a getup or long hair be the basis to detain people? Shouldn’t Nepal Police identify people before arresting? If this goes on, this will result in a major misuse of power,” he adds.

The hair hullabaloo comes at a time when IGP Kuber Singh Rana, Chief of Nepal Police, hosted an interaction program titled “Nepal Police for Rule of Law and Human Rights” at its headquarters earlier this week. Addressing the interaction, Rana committed to investigate all human rights abuse by police personnel and take departmental action.

“Nepal Police will have zero tolerance against all human rights abuses,” he said.

Commenting on MPRO’s campaign, acting spokesperson of Nepal Police, SP Puskar Karki, says, “We are clear on the way ahead. The headquarters has had a discussion with MPRO and directed us to discontinue detaining people on stereotypical grounds.

“The headquarters will now be a part of all campaigns carried out by Nepal Police to curb crime and hooliganism. Many positive developments and policies are being formulated at the moment and will soon be introduced to maintain law and order in society. Leadership will play a key role.

“People can rest assured that they will not be detained just because they have long hair or wear ear accessories. Nepal Police has to grow over stereotypes.”
And DSP Chakra Bahadur Singh, spokesperson at MPRO, confirms just that. Of the 1,300 detained, only three are currently under custody and they were caught redhanded near Balkhu possessing four grams of brown sugar.

Did they have long hair or ear accessories?

“No!” remarks Singh.

Aptly portrayed in a facebook comment, “Just as how all policemen don’t take bribes, not all longhaired people are thugs.”

Dhan Bahadur Khadka contributed partly to this reporting.

Arpan Shrestha is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @arpanshr
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Only the perpetrators of the horrendous TIA rape and robbery are perhaps not enraged with the ugly abuse of powers against a young returnee immigrant who owned forged travel documents, the news of which transpired into peak tolerance for many. Similar cases could have happened before and there are definitely many untold, unreported and unfiled cases of violence against women (VAW) in Nepal. Given the context, how do voters across the divided society unite and fight for law, order and justice without having to take shelter under donors, I/NGOs and political parties, non-profits or even religious outfits?

This piece doesn’t intend to show a roadmap to the question just asked and nor exerts the resignation of authorities on moral grounds because in a moral society, resignation would’ve come voluntarily. But isn’t our political climate too obvious? What follows is strictly a close observation of what was initially a drop-in petition to the Caretaker Prime Minister (CPM) to take immediate action against the accused of the TIA rape case and how it evolved to the yet evolving ‘organic and leaderless’ movement that is now OccupyBaluwatar.

It all started with The Kathmandu Post report on the #TIA rape that created a ripple in social media, especially Twitter. Outrage, as much as it could fit in 140 characters, were tweeted and retweeted. Back and forth, the tweets eventually settled into silence with tweets questioning the tiny corridor of social media conversation and ‘clicktivism.’ There was silence among the ‘keyboard warriors.’ The owl-hours tweet then dropped with the mercury as the cold winter night seeped in. By then, #TIArape, a Twitter tag
was born.

As Kathmandu woke up to yet another day of bitter realities, the #TIArape outrage had transformed into a string of Gmail conversations calling for what could be done. A letter petitioning the CPM to take immediate action against the TIA rape accused had been drafted. It had then been posted online and via social media, called anyone for support. People were asked to download the letter, sign it and mail it electronically to the CPM’s official e-mail address or show-up in Baluwatar to drop it off physically. People were also asked to call Hello Sarkar, the CPM’s hotline number, for complaints and suggestions.

At the same time, a tweet had flooded the timeline informing about an NGO-led Singha Durbar sit-in protest the next day. The drafters of the original letter decided to attend the protest in solidarity with the #VAW cause. By then, the #TIArape outrage had gradually transformed into an online wave of call for action through a drop-in petition at Baluwatar the next morning.

As a group of young people showed up in front of the CPM’s quarters with placards and the letter in hand, they were greeted by a scene in which the CPM motorcade zoomed off for the airport using an alternative gate. By then, the Singha Durbar sit-in protestors of the previous day had joined in too. There was minor hustling and pushing by the police and citing ‘restricted zone,’ the police eventually managed to move the two different groups to an area opposite Nepal Rastra Bank. By this time, however, about 100 letters had also been submitted to the CPM’s staff.

On the spur of the moment then, the group of young petitioners and the Singha Durbar sit-in protestors mutually agreed for a Baluwatar sit-in protest. There and then! A tweet informing about the protest then surfaced on Twitter and the tag #OccupyBaluwatar was born, which flooded the social media timeline to an extent that it attracted major media attention and support from people from mixed backgrounds and associations. By midday, families and friends of a disappearance case had also joined the protest. The day climaxed with a set of demands drafted on the streets and submitted to the CPM.

The press and the electronic media have meticulously reported on #OccupyBaluwatar and #TIArape since then, and the ‘nonviolent’ sit-in protest saw major solidarity for the demands to take action and ensure justice for #TIArape victim from general citizens, star athletes, senior editors and journalists, famous cartoonists and writers, local stars, rights activists and so on. As the sit-in protest ‘organically’ grew in strength and in headcount, the CPM probably felt the pressure to address the issue. He publicly apologized on the state radio and television in his monthly call-in show and publicly committed himself to the cause and promised speedy investigations and stern actions and introduced new directives.

A fast track probe committee comprising senior government representatives, leading advocates and rights activists has been formed and put to work since then. There have been some positive developments, like the arrests of the murder accused of a controversial ‘suicide’ case and the corruption charges against senior TIA officials which were followed by their suspension.

But much needs to be done in a manner that is fair and at a pace that respects the sentiments of #OccupyBaluwatar which at its core presses for law, order and justice. As this is filed, the cabinet meeting has been postponed twice and the nonviolent unrest is seeing growing participation from mixed groups – donors, I/NGOs, political parties, non-profits and even religious outfits.

Volunteers and self-professed messiahs, rights activists and more young people have stepped up since #OccupyBaluwatar witnessed its biggest display of strength earlier this week. A theater group showed up and performed an impromptu theater on the street for the cause. Cartoonists sketched cartoons and a group of young artists mimicked the crime scene investigation on the street by sketching layers of outlined bodies. A group of volunteer designers and programmers has even been discussing and developing a wireframe for a blog to track the issue. Another set of volunteers has even started documenting the case. These volunteers who come from mixed backgrounds have been hosting meetings and they have already had two briefings from the fast track probe committee.

But there are also issues in the ‘organic’ movement, and the discussions are now swinging from whether this should be a nonviolent movement to chanting of slogans asking the CPM to step down. Volunteers are already requesting angered individuals to refrain from the idea of blockades and political sloganeering, which has resulted in minor verbal exchanges. And the ripple effect of #OccupyBaluwater is now growing.

There have been rallies and protests by various groups in other parts of Kathmandu, one of which turned violent and injured some. Republica reported that some 29 groups are currently championing the cause. A taxi bearing saffron flags was also parading the town blaring messages in solidarity with the cause. Criticisms that fashionable youth sporting tight jeans and converse and slinging gadgets are surfacing yet once again while the sit-in protest has also been labeled ‘dollar khetipati’ and that its volunteers are trying to hijack the ‘organic’ movement. Some even ridiculed the Twitter handle and Facebook page setup by #OccupyBaluwatar volunteers, and as this piece is filed, the #VAW cause has even ignited a discussion on religious values in social media.

Surely, #OccupyBaluwatar has ‘sparked nerves’ in Kathmandu. But will it click? Will the new stakeholders, actors and opportunists who are now taking charge deliver? Will the new faces of the ‘organic’ movement make sure that the government takes strong measures to commit to its words, takes actions and ensures justice?

Click-Click!

The writer is former editor of The Week and supports the demand of justice championed by #OccupyBaluwatar. Follow on Twitter @arpanshr