“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