Isha Mehmood

Isha Mehmood (South-Asia Partnership in Nepal): Isha graduated in 2007 magna cum laude with a BA in communication and a BS in sociology from Virginia Tech. During her undergraduate studies, she studied abroad in Cambodia where she met children who lost limbs in landmine explosions. This inspired an interest in conflict studies and human rights law. Isha interned at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. At the time of her fellowship, Isha was studying at American University’s School of Public Affairs, pursuing a Master’s degree in justice, law and society.



Broken Windows and Burning Tires: Just Another Bandh

17 Jun

In Nepal, a typical work week is six days to make up for time that may be lost due to an unexpected bandh. A common form of political protest in South Asia, bandhs are becoming somewhat ordinary in Nepal, often causing major cities like Kathmandu to reach a complete standstill.

A street in Kathmandu during the bandh

Credit: Xinhua/Reuters Photo

During a bandh, no one is expected to open shop, including schools, or drive on main roads. Attempt to break the bandh, and you risk having rocks thrown at your windows, tires burned, and your car set on fire. As a result, streets are nearly deserted except for demonstrations and a small number of people on foot. Main roads, normally filled with the sounds of beeping motorbikes, are almost silent.

Credit: Xinhua/Reuters Photo

I know this, of course, because the Maoists declared one Monday.

Members of the Young Communist League (YCL) and other Maoist organizations ordered an all-day bandh after learning a local Maoist leader had been killed. Rumors circulating Kathmandu suggest that Youth Force, the younger wing of the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) party may be responsible. The police, people are saying, may have helped cover up details.

This came after an uprising Sunday night between Maoist supporters and Nepalese police. While searching for a taxi that night, the AP fellows and I caught a glimpse of police in the street with large shields protecting them. Peering to get a better look, a man on the street told us there was a fight. We later learned it was a riot.

I didn’t hear about the bandh until the next morning, just 15 minutes before I was supposed to have my first day at the South Asia Partnership. Shobha, my contact there, wouldn’t be able to pick me up, so I would be starting on Tuesday.

I wanted to see what was going on. The caretaker of our guesthouse said it was safe to walk, especially for tourists. For some reason, the bandha doesn’t apply to tourists. It only applies to Nepali people, including those on bikes. Yesterday, demonstrators burned the bicycle of a doctor attempting to get to the hospital.

Meera, Jess and I went into the city on foot. There was an eerie quiet on the streets. More people were out than I expected but it wasn’t as lively as I remembered from the day before. I barely recognized Thamel, a popular tourist neighborhood, because it was so deserted. Most of the shops, including hotels, had metal shutters pulled down to protect their windows. It reminded me of parts of DC.

On the way to Thamel, we saw Maoist supporters carrying red hammer and sickle flags. One man carried a large one that he put on display in the center of a major intersection. A woman being transported in a rickshaw was carrying five. In both instances, I wish I had taken a photo, but was nervous since we seemed to be the only tourists out. I wasn’t sure how demonstrators would react, but I later learned that photography is fine. Next time, I’ll have some of my own photos to show you. And since I’ll be here more than two months, there will be a next time.

Credit: The Himalayan Times

The current political situation in Nepal is very complicated. I must admit, the more I learn about it, the more confused I am. People that I have spoken with in Kathmandu are frustrated. Every party has promised change but the government is so corrupt that when a new party takes power, nothing happens. Money that could be going towards development programs, they say, is often spent providing a “life of luxury” for its leaders. Children are frequently kidnapped from schools as a political tactic. Strong leadership is lacking and a political career is equated with being a criminal, so few people are willing to step up.

Earlier this year, Maoists threatened a ten-day bandh. This would have been incredibly destructive to Nepal’s economy, particularly for those individuals who rely on a day to day income. Fortunately, it only lasted a day. In times like this, it is hard to see what the future holds for the people of Nepal.

A cute monkey I saw while exploring Kathmandu during the bandh.

A cute monkey I saw while exploring Kathmandu during the bandh.

Posted By Isha Mehmood

Posted Jun 17th, 2009

6 Comments

  • Coleman

    June 17, 2009

     

    I see you shining. I’m jealous. Keep writing/updating and don’t get stoned/rocked while you’re there.

  • Anjan

    June 17, 2009

     

    I know it’s strange, but it’s situations like these that make travel interesting.

    You ladies are lucky that you are tourists. I remember my parents always telling me that although I don’t sound like a Nepali, I still look like one so I must be careful of being “student age”.

    Beautiful country but an unstable government.

    Keep writing Isha!

  • Koiyan

    June 19, 2009

     

    isha-

    Its great to hear that you made it out of your first bandh unscathed! Also relieved to know that tourists are given a pass at such events..curious why as well..At any rate greeat entry! Sounds like you have great adventures ahead of you!

    p.s. Romeo huh? I guess pickup lines transcend cultural boundaries ahah

  • Walter James

    June 24, 2009

     

    Great photos, Isha. Please be careful. I hope you find those people who made that awesome Nepali music video.

  • Natasha

    June 29, 2009

     

    Isha,
    The honesty with which you write is greatly appreciate. I am enjoying your candid descriptions of what is happening around you. I hope you saw the AP newsletter in which your comment about the leaders using the money to live lives of luxury was quoted. Both Danielle and I separately read that passage and thought that it strongly exemplified the powerful type of message that needs to be conveyed.

  • Isha Mehmood

    June 30, 2009

     

    Thanks to everyone for keeping up with my blog!

    It is interesting how tourists don’t really need to worry, Koiyan. It’s as if protesters are trying to shut down the city and cause disarray, but they know ultimately if it hurts tourism then it can hurt all of Nepal (although, it still already has). Like you said, Anjan, some people who “look” Nepali do need to be extra careful. Meera was worried when traveling to more rural areas that are politically unstable because even though she is Indian, she is sometimes mistaken for Nepali. She has a completely different take on her experiences here that would be interesting to read when she updates her blog.

    Natasha, I did get a chance to see the newsletter and I appreciate your comment. It is frustrating because you learn about such a broken system and you wonder if there can ever be a solution. When a political system becomes so corrupt, how do you even begin to think about change? It is something I have been trying to keep in mind while here and unfortunately, I haven’t yet come up with even a minor idea.

    Though I would like to get some better original pictures during the next bandh, I’ll try not to get stoned/ rocked while out here Coleman! And Walter, I am still on the search for that awesome live Nepali music. I’ve been told places around here that say Nepali culture show is a euphemism for something else so I have been reluctant to check it out…Maybe sometime before I leave I’ll run into them!

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