On a normal day, Kathmandu is a bustling, slightly berserk city that appears to be in a constant state of mania. Every stimulus that touches the senses seems to be magnified to the tenth power – the incessant and at times deafening blaring of horns (particularly when the vehicles are about five inches from your ear), the vibrant rainbow of gracefully draped kurta salwar on the equally graceful women, the pungent odor wafting from sun-warmed heaps of trash, the heart-wrenching sight of dirt-covered orphans and beggars contrasted with the historic beauty of majestic Hindu temples and shrines. It brings new meaning to the hopelessly inadequate term “sensory overload”; but somehow, the chaos has a rhythm and the ear-shattering sounds have a quasi-musical quality. Somehow, it works.
…That is, until another almost daily facet of Nepali life rears its head: the all-too-common bandh. (“Bandh” means “closed” in Nepali; it consists of a disruption of daily functioning, usually in the form of a roadblock or an order for businesses to close. Bandhs are sometimes accompanied by protest activity such as marching, burning objects in the street, vandalizing vehicles and property, punishing/attacking those who “violate” the strike, etc.) A bandh is not your typical demonstration; in its most extreme forms, such an event can entail a total shutdown of all local activity. However, the majority of bandhs originate due to rather petty reasons (such as a disagreement between neighbors), are not politically orchestrated, and only last a few hours. Moreover, destruction and violence are not always part of the equation.
Monday’s bandh – the first that I’ve experienced since arriving in Nepal – was atypical in how far-reaching and heated it became (there were five such events throughout the country, and said bandh in Kathmandu City effectively crippled all of the Kathmandu Valley area). The evening before, a violent clash had erupted between the police and the Young Communist League (YCL) over the alleged assassination of a high-profile Maoist leader. The next day, the Maoists got rather miffed and staged an all-day bandh, beginning at 5 a.m. and continuing through the night. All of a sudden, boisterous Kathmandu had morphed into a ghost town; roads were desolate save for individuals wielding the red hammer-and-sickle flag. All shopkeepers and business owners were required to shut down and keep their metal shutters drawn; violators of the strike willingly opened themselves up to brutal punishment as seen fit by the demonstrators.
Some action shots provided by news outlets:
And some of my own photos attempting to capture the aftermath:
It was both eerie and bizarre to see two completely different shades of Kathmandu in such a short time span, and amid all of the discord. Of course, as an outsider, I know the context is far more complex than meets the eye. The Maoists still boast a significant number of loyal supporters, but events such as the case at hand indicate that fear of further bloodshed remains palpable and prevalent. Many Nepalis’ faith in the government is so far gone that they believe meaningful reform, in terms of democracy and representation, is simply not feasible without resorting to extreme measures. A local businessman told me he feels that the system here seems so irreparably corrupted that the only reasonable solution may be total implosion, and starting anew thereafter.
As stated by a well-known Maoist commander two days ago: “We don’t want to go back to war, but we might have to.”
Posted By Jessica Tirado
Posted Jun 19th, 2009