Nearly a quarter of the JMC staff and volunteers were arrested two days ago as the result of a sit-in protest at Singha Durbar, a temple facing the entrance of Nepali Parliament. They were released within a few hours and no one seemed to be hurt or even the slightest bit perturbed. Yesterday almost half of the JMCers were arrested again – same circumstances, same results. This morning, I would guess that about three quarters of the staff were arrested for the third time this week. Right now Devin and I are sitting in the office, simply waiting for them to come back and recount their stories.
For weeks I have heard stories of my colleagues getting arrested after such protests. At first the news shocked and scared me, but soon after I realized that the situation was not nearly as grave as I suspected. In fact these arrests are almost like a game. From what I hear, the police are not forceful and often joke with the protesters. The demonstrators go with the police rather peacefully and even playfully tease the officers. After their release they gather again – sometimes a day, week, or month later – and the process continues. The legal issue in the whole matter deals with the location of these protests – Singha Durbar is a largely restricted area.
So what does this accomplish? (I find myself asking that question a lot nowadays.) Of course there is the local publicity that these protests generate as well as the fact that my colleagues are making a visible statement of discontent to government officials and the public. Hopefully, after these demonstrations, more people will know and understand the demands of the Dalit population for the upcoming elections and beyond. But I sometimes ask myself if news of these protests would reach a wider audience if they were a bit more sensational. Surely there is some intrigue to the systematic pattern of quiet protests followed by peaceful arrests… but there are times when I wonder if a burning effigy, a couple of megaphones, and images of police brandishing large sticks would make these demonstrations more compelling to an international audience.
While a “sensational” protest might provide a few interesting photographs and a news blurb or two, I think my colleagues have the right idea in the long run. They are demonstrating civil disobedience while respecting their fellow Nepali citizens. This is not a common combination of practices in Nepal. Since I have been here, I have read articles of buses being burned, property being damaged, and livelihoods being ruined, all in the name of protest and retribution of past wrongs. I have, on several occasions, personally experienced the frustration of road bandhas – a practice where a few people with petty grievances can cripple entire regions of Nepal by blocking major roads, making transportation of food, supplies, and people impossible for days on end.
At the end of the day, what do these “sensational” forms of civil disobedience accomplish? Obviously not much, because the problems that existed before these violent events still persist and are often magnified. All the while, the army and police – from what I’ve seen – rarely get involved because of the possible political implications.
The results of the demonstrations that my JMC colleagues organize and participate in are yet to be seen. They may or may not have their demands met before the November elections but you can’t help but respect their peaceful effort. And there is always the potential for plenty more arrests between now and November.
Posted By Ted Samuel
Posted Aug 9th, 2007