What I love the most about Mahendranagar is not the thousands of stars I can view from my rooftop at night, nor is it the countless frogs who come out at dusk to croak (and generally just get in one’s way…they even manage to get into my room though I have not figured out how just yet) and its not even the plethora of juicy mangos that I consume on a daily basis. No, what I love the most about Mahendranagar, and what enriches my experience here every day, is the friendliness and openness of the people.
For the first few days after my arrival I was met with intense stares every time I walked down the street (I even managed to cause a few bicycle accidents as folks got more caught up with watching me than the road in front of them.) Yet slowly people have become accustomed to my presence here and I have started to make friends beyond my work colleagues and host family.
Some of these relationships merely entail a “namaste” in passing (sometimes accompanied by my broken attempts to shoot the breeze in Nepali) but due to the fact that Mahendranagar is the major academic center of the far-Western region, many people speak varying degrees of English as well. I am consistently asked what I am doing in Mahendranagar, and this gives me a great entry point into discussing the general human rights situation in Nepal as a whole (dalits, janjattis, madhesis, ex-kamaiyas, YCL, women, daily bandhas- the whole gamut of issues). These conversations alone make me feel like my time in Nepal is worthwhile and productive, and provide me with a sense of purpose. I may still suffer communication difficulties at the office and with the outside world at large, but within Mahendranagar I am learning so much, and sharing my limited perspective with a wide variety of people.
People are either sensitized to human rights concepts or seem somewhat unclear, and perhaps even suspicious as to what “human rights” really are. Either way, many of our conversations serve to reinforce the fact that human rights are universal and that cultural norms and values are not valid excuses for perpetuating systemic violations of people’s human rights (often I must point out that “human rights” are fairly specific and are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), The International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and other documents which are legally binding on states party to them)
Thus, I have the opportunity to (at the least) expose people to human rights and (at best) to bear witness and give support to those who are struggling to promote them in Nepalese society.
For example, there is the young English teacher and journalist who I encounter in the street everyday. He is eager to discuss current political developments and social issues, and even more eager to volunteer his time for COCAP. Such volunteerism and a commitment to creating a more just and equitable society seems to be common in the young people I meet here.
Another illustration of the great people here: Every night I eat dinner in a simple bojanalaya (restaurant) down the street from my house. There I am joined by a large number of students from the nearby Science University. When I first told them of the work I was doing, several of them became very excited and one proudly recounted how he was held in police custody for two months during the second jan andolan (uprising against the king.)
As he told me, “It is up to us young people to change the society around us. There is too much narrow mindedness, too much discrimination in our society. With every last drop of blood in my body I will fight to make the new Nepal a just place for all of its people.”
Youth are the future of a country, and if such comments are indicative of Nepal’s future than it looks to be much brighter than the violent conflict and authoritarianism which have marred its recent past.
Posted By Jeff Yarborough
Posted Jul 6th, 2007