After only three short days in the JMC office in Kathmandu, last week I traveled with my colleagues to Pokhara, a small town west of Kathmandu. Pokhara is well known as a popular tourist destination, although these days its empty of tourists as a result of the recent instability in Nepal.
Upon our arrival in Pokhara, we headed straight to a meeting of civil society groups, politicians and activists who were gathered to discuss Dalit issues. The meeting was my first chance to see the JMC activists outside of the office and I was amazed at the transformation I saw in my colleagues.
In the office, the environment is lighthearted–lots of jokes, smiles and laughter. The moment the meeting started, however, the deep passion of my co-workers and the gravity of the issues being discussed was immediately evident. As I watched the impassioned and emphatic speeches, I suddenly saw a different side to my friendly colleagues.
My initial impression of dedication and passion from the meeting was confirmed the next morning as Suvash Darnal, JMC’s executive director, explained to me the difficulties and danger of being a human rights activist in Nepal. “As a human rights activist you can be killed at any moment. Killed. It’s not a job. It’s your life.”
The words seemed so heavy and dark as we sat in the peaceful courtyard of our guesthouse, surrounded by flowers and chirping birds. It was hard to imagine the brutal truth of what he was saying, yet I knew his words rung true, as he had told me stories of seeing people shot and killed right before his eyes during April’s democracy protests.
I wondered to myself what I would do if I were in his shoes. Would I risk my life? Would I fight and stand up to such powerful forces? In my life, I’ve only been an activist from afar, and can only hope that I would have such courage if I were in a similar situation.
Later that day, we went to a rally for Dalit rights, and I was encouraged to see so many people taking to the streets, standing up for their rights, and demanding an end to discrimination against the Dalit. Both Dalit and non-Dalit, men and women, all marched together, and it suddenly seemed to me that Suvash and JMC are not alone–Nepal is full of courageous activists.
Looking back on my first week, I’m amazed at the passion of the activists here, the difficult lives of Nepalis, and the amazing capacity for joy and laughter of Nepalese people, all of which have already left an indelible mark on me. Not to mention that in one short week, I’ve already got two rallies under my belt! I can only wonder what else the summer will possibly bring.
Posted By Stacey Spivey (Nepal)
Posted Jun 13th, 2006