Yesterday after a pleasant evening out my night took a sudden and drastic turn for the worse. Having arrived in Kathmandu several days ago to meet with my team members and to discuss the respective conditions of our focal points, we were now availing ourselves of the wonderful array of cuisines available here. After two months of eating Dal Bhaat twice a day every day, the variety of food on offer is gastronomically tempting, and serves as a reminder of the sharp divide between urban (i.e. Kathmandu) and rural (i.e. roughly everywhere else) life in Nepal.
Returning from a veritable feast of a Korean meal, we were walking past the Royal Palace when suddenly a taxi smashed into a man on a bicycle. The bicyclist was thrown onto the hood of the car, shattering the windshield before crumpling to the ground.
We paused, stunned. The taxi driver also paused, but then proceeded to attempt to leave the scene of the accident. However, he was not quick enough to prevent a passing bystander from opening the car door, dragging him out, and kicking him repeatedly in the face. Soon the police guarding the Royal Palace rushed over and joined in the fracas.
As the closest people to the accident, our instinct had been to rush to the scene, call 911 (or whatever the Nepali equivalent is) or somehow otherwise help out. Instead we were left to walk away in shock, unable to assist in any meaningful way.
As I attempted to fall asleep that night, my thoughts kept returning to this tragic incident. At the very least, two lives were ruined in the flash of an instant. Perhaps the taxi driver was driving too fast, or the bicyclist was foolish to ride in the middle of the road with no light on his bike. Most likely the fault lies in a combination of the two.
Most significant to me was the immediate vigilante justice meted out on the taxi driver. Even the police guarding the Royal Palace had immediately joined in beating the taxi driver rather than calling for medical assistance.
To my mind, this situation is indicative of the lack of law and order present in Nepal and that this vigilante/mob mentality arises when there is no trust or faith in a higher authority to provide justice and rule of law.
Perhaps the taxi driver was attempting to leave the scene of the accident because irregardless of who was at fault, he could expect a beating and a lack of due process. Or perhaps the passerby who attacked the driver did so because he didn’t trust the corrupt courts to adequately hold the driver accountable for his actions.
Whatever the case, my sense is that in Nepal you are ultimately on your own to resolve your own problems. Due to corruption and inefficiency, the people don’t trust the police or government to provide them with restitution or justice.
As I was finally drifting off to sleep, my thoughts turned to the bunker-like military fortifications surrounding all government buildings in Nepal. It appears that the government doesn’t really trust the people either, or even trust in its own ability to maintain order and rule of law.
Posted By Jeff Yarborough
Posted Aug 4th, 2007