The banda is Nepal’s version of a strike, and a uniquely Nepali one at that. This is not your London or Madrid student protest, Greek civil servant strike, or French air traffic controller strike. Here, depending on the type of banda called, whole cities, regions, and country itself, shutdown. Enforcers, linked to whichever group or cause organized the banda, roam the streets, forcing most vehicles off the roads. Citizens respect the call. There have already been two this week, one last week, and more ambitious national ones are planned in the coming days and weeks. Since January, Nepal has witnessed just over 100 bandas.
Nepal’s Constituent Assembly’s (CA) yearlong fruitless extension to finalize the country’s new constitution expires May 28, and internal political bickering and civil strife is mounting as the date approaches. Nepal’s constitution is far from complete, and more time is required to finalize this bedrock piece of democracy. On banda days, businesses and government offices are shut, taxis and buses don’t run, cars are parked at home, with some street vendors and food stalls open. Civil society and the Nepali economy come to a standstill, granting media headlines and dubious status to whichever group(s) (and their affiliated cause) organizes the banda. As May 28 looms near, bandas are on the rise.
Last Sunday, the banda was organized by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), demanding indigenous rights and inclusion in the new constitution. This most recent Sunday, it was the ethnic group Chetri Samaj, demanding recognition as an indigenous community. Today, it was the CPN Maoists Matrika fraction, promoting the “people’s rights”. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday bandas are being prepared by what seems like every political party and cause under the Himalayan sun.
How much do they influence the average Nepali? Who pays attention to the actual group that organizes them? Are their issues actually raised or debated in the media because of the banda, discussed in teashops and public squares? Not really. Society goes on, enjoying the day off, working on projects.
The Nepali banda is the definition of a civil society in disarray, not ready for the mature compromises required in a functioning democracy. Unflinching demands permeate Nepali political parties’ platforms, including the Maoists not wanting to give up their 1000s of weapons in arms depots scattered across the country. Yes, a history not completely familiar with democratic norms and compromise is partially to blame, but that excuse only goes so far – just like the never dying idea that continues to squarely blame post-colonialism on Africa’s continuing woes. Nepal’s media generally does a poor job in exposing the hypocrisy of the political establishment (more on that in a later post), but once again, that excuse is limited.
So, what to do? Like most things in life, act like an adult and take responsibility.
I must say, though, that a great bonus of the banda is that peace and tranquility sweeps over this crazy city. Traffic is quiet, horns honk less, kids play in the streets, the air is cleaner, and my beloved holy cows can roam the streets and munch on garbage in relative safety. On these days off, Nepalese head to their ancient squares and temples to hangout. Women and men sit on the steps and ledges of the squares’ Hindu and Buddhist temples, gossiping as the days go on, while kids play below on old red brick terraces. If you’re lucky, glimpses of Nepali beauty will catch you off guard on these slower days (see the banda spectacle below). Perhaps I shouldn’t be so critical then, but that would be too selfish of me to ease up on this silly political ill.
Posted By Corey Black
Posted May 24th, 2011