Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Notes from the Neighbourhood

On the eight day of the Tarai Bandh, wanted to share some vignettes of Kathmandu. The long, long, long queues for petrol and diesel, waiting all night long for about 3-5 litres of fuel, are ubiquitous in all parts of the city. In any other city, it would have been mayhem and a near-riot situation at the mismanagement of the situation. But here, people are patient, taking inconvenience in their stride, shaming the impatient and edgy into thinking of larger processes at play. Instead, they soak in the sun, or play cards during the long wait. The elections to the Constituent Assembly, now scheduled for April 10th, have been postponed twice – from June and November last year. This time round too, the hold of the Seven Party Alliance government is tenuous. The Madhesi movement in the Tarai has gained momentum, and the bandh has paralysed life in the Tarai, and also choked the Kathmandu Valley, the seat of power, dominated by the pahadiya, or hill people. The grievances of the Madhesis (people of plains origin) are real – in terms of under-representation in governance, discrimination in language, among others.

While the turmoil, near-crisis, on-the-brink situation of Nepal is sporadically reported in the Indian media, what is under-reported, or completely ignored, is the resilience, the hope in the future, the optimism of the woman and man on the street. The highly politicised public, well-up on news – mostly through the radio, and the several Nepali newspapers – are positive in the face of extreme personal inconvenience. Where else would people be willing to walk long distances to get to work and school, endure eight hours of power-cuts, cooking-gas scarcity, and sundry other shortages? Where else would all this be viewed as merely a small hurdle on the path to democracy? It is the mood of a young nation-in-the-making, a mood that the media in the neighbourhood fails to capture. The Indian media is also unquestioning in the dominant attitude to Nepal, treated almost like a province of India. For instance, in the recent “kidney racket”, the infamous Dr Amit Kumar was arrested by Nepali police, and “handed over” to the Indian authorities. I wonder if any sections of the Indian media questioned (like the Nepali media did), what legal process was followed, since he was not legally extradited, and whether he should not be prosecuted in Nepal for violations of certain laws in Nepal itself. It’s high time the Indian media shed some of it’s patronising attitude to the country’s neighbours.


sweta said...

hi laxmi, good to see your fact here in singapre, I sometimes flip through the Straight Times and I did see a photo from Nepal showing those long quues for fuel...there wasn't more than a caption with it so your post gives a wider glimpse of the situation there in Nepal.

Kalpana Sharma said...

Hi Laxmi, What about the anti-Chinese demos by Tibetans in Nepal? I saw some footage on TV. The Nepali police were quite brutal. What's the general feeling there about this "uprising" in Tibet? How's the Nepali media dealing with it? It would be great to read you take on it. Incidentally, I've put a link to this blog on my blog, which is: