Without fear of exaggerating, I think I can say that protests are a daily occurrence in Kathmandu. Since my arrival only two short months ago, I’ve been astounded by the sheer number of rallies and protests. Ranging from 10 people to 200,000 (the size of the Maoist rally I saw on my first day in Kathmandu), and covering a wide range of issues, Nepalis are never short on reasons for taking to the streets to agitate.
One thing that all protests seem to have in common is a desire to stop traffic and start fires. From what I’ve seen and heard, the favorite way to express discontent seems to be burning tires. Burning effigies is probably a close second, although it often seems that burning pretty much anything will do. In the short time I’ve been in Kathmandu, I’ve probably seen close to 10 protests and read about dozens more in the news. While a few, such as the Maoist rally in Kathmandu and the Dalit rights protest in Pokhara, were ones that I purposefully attended, there are many others that I have only happened to stumble across during my life in the city.
The day I went to Pashupatinath, for example, protesters were blocking the streets and burning computers, file cabinets and other office equipment near the temples. Protesters were angry because the previous night several houses were swept away in a flood and local officials had failed to open the dam in the swelling river. Rumor was they were too busy watching the World Cup to be bothered. On another day, no one showed up at work because several of my colleagues had been detained by the police at a demonstration. I’ve seen tires burned in the streets more than once and last week I saw about 50 demonstrators burning an effigy in the street. Just last night, as I made my way home from work, streets all over the city were blocked in protest over the killing of a young 19 year old.
Unfortunately, for all the protests that are for a noble cause, there seems to be equally as many that can only be considered outlandish. One of the most ridiculous, yet tragic, examples I’ve heard of is the rioting that took place in 2000, when it was falsely reported that Hrithik Roshan, a famous Bollywood actor, made derogatory comments about Nepal during a television interview. The report triggered several days of rioting, which left 4 people dead and over 500 injured. In the process, Indian businesses and people were targeted, Indian TV channels were blocked, and the Nepali government placed a ban on all Roshan movies.
The rioting stopped only when it was verified that Roshan had not really said anything against Nepal, but by that point the damage was done. While reports later emerged alleging that the monarchy and Maoists had worked to incite the rioting, this explanation doesn’t suffice. Should an insult against Nepal by an Indian actor really be a matter of life and death for everyday Nepalis?
Amidst the constant disruptions, fires and traffic jams, all summer long I’ve struggled to understand the Nepali people’s drive to protest. Is it because they have no other way to have their voice heard in what continues to be a poor, corrupt and undemocratic society? Are they simply bored? Frustrated? Manipulated by those in power?
There is no easy answer, but the result is clear. With daily protests over every imaginable issue, it’s hard to know which ones are worth paying attention to. Just the other day, I caught myself walking by a protest, fires and all, without even bothering to stop and find out what the protest was all about. Rather than providing a strong expression of “people power,” constant protests only seem to be diminishing it. In the end, I fear that Nepalis are only recreating the exact situation of “the boy who cried wolf.”
Posted By Stacey Spivey (Nepal)
Posted Aug 3rd, 2006