On paper, Nepal appears to be taking the opportunity afforded by the People’s Movement to restructure the country into a model of democracy and inclusion. It seems that every day there is some unprecedented official statement guaranteeing the rights of one group or another. I often wonder if this is nothing more than a lot of meaningless hot air—yet another betrayal of a people that has endured government excesses and personal deprivation for so long.
Since March, there have been declarations regarding the end of untouchability, gender equality, justice and reconciliation, freedom of religion, and any number of the countless barriers that delay development and the respect of human rights in Nepal. But as far as I can tell, not one of these lofty pronouncements has been followed up with concrete action.
The most recent example of this paralysis came just a couple of days ago when an interim constitution drafting committee was formed. Despite recent guarantees, the committee includes no women and no Dalits. While many of the aforementioned declarations cannot be implemented instantaneously, representing more than half of the Nepali populace on this committee would appear to be a very basic but important step.
Yesterday a group of infuriated activists and politicians protested the committee’s composition, and a handful were arrested for their actions—a disturbing reminder of the not-so-distant past but also an encouraging sign of civil society’s determination to confront exclusion.
So what, concretely, needs to be done in order to realize the grand promises that have been made? Well, there are probably as many answers to that question as Nepalis, but some themes have come up over and over again in conversations with friends and colleagues. I’ll consider some of the prescriptions being offered up by civil society in future blogs, so stay tuned.
What most everyone seems to agree on is that the first step to a fresh start for Nepal is the King’s abdication. I have mixed feelings about all the hope that is being placed in this single step, but I understand the widespread belief that Gyanendra has forfeited any right he has to be monarch, ceremonial or otherwise.
Frankly, after an endless stream of background reading that has emphasized the fundamental conservatism of most Nepalis, I’m surprised at the insistence of civil society to be wholly rid of the King. Still, Prime Minister Koirala’s recent statement that a some vestige of the monarchy would be maintained suggests that the “People’s” (read: civil society’s) agenda might yet be pushed aside in the name of power politics.
At the moment, there is so much hope, but at the same time so much ambiguity and uncertainty in Nepal. It’s what makes it such an exciting place to be, and I am learning something new and surprising every day. One hopes that sky-high expectations don’t yield to bitter disappointment, as has been the case many times before.
Posted By Nicole Cordeau (Nepal)
Posted Jun 20th, 2006