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Open thoughts on a closed day

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

A farce unfolded at the Reporters’ Club at the end of the first day of the bandh, during which enforcers (or vigilantes, depending on who you believe) attacked several members of the public, including journalists. NEFIN general secretary Ang Kaji Sherpa began by apologising, but then launched into a rant against the media, threatening to finish off Brahmin journalists. Said journos reacted, let’s say, rather excitably. But reassured by reports of equally farcical ‘khada and abir samaan’ being accorded to journos by bandhers the next morning, I got on my bike to join the anti-bandh Facebook activists in Thamel.

I decided to thread my way along the Bishnumati, but the masses of people walking up the Teku road would have made it impossible to discern bandhers were it not for their swagger and penchant for red flags. A cyclist in front of me was stopped, a rush of children laid eager hands on his tyres, and that was all the riding he’d be doing that day. As I hesitated, a double-loaded cycle that had passed through encouraged me. ‘Janoos majja le, kehi pani gardaina.’ So I did, ignoring the calls of ‘O Dai! O Dai!’ at several junctures. They were just spread too thin. I was relieved, but what real satisfaction could one derive from being allowed to cycle in one’s own city?

The turnout in Thamel was a little disappointing, but I had to admire the determination of the regulars. We stood in the sun awhile, calling out to passersby, some of whom stopped. But others merely went about their business, with the non-commital smile of the apathetic sympathetic. And for most, staying home is much the easier option. Why expend oneself on a strategy that has no guaranteed returns?

No to Bandhs!

Adjourning to the office of Social Tours, I watched Raj Gyawali, Ujjwal Thapa and others (including over Skype) affiliated with the various Facebook-fuelled movements discuss this very strategy. What were they trying to achieve? Could one focus on ridding our polity of the bandh culture, regardless of what one thought of the constitution and federalism? Or should the movement take a political stand? How could one generate consistent public support? Opinions were varied, but a decision proved elusive. Outside in a teashop we listened to the younger participants’ anecdotes, and I couldn’t help but be impressed by their positive energy. A few of us then moved on to a restaurant, and here we found a consensus on a ‘Sadbhab’ gathering to promote the simple, unifying message of socio-ethnic harmony.

Unbeknownst to us, several other organisations had decided on Sadbhab rallies for Wednesday. It’s clear that in Kathmandu at least, there is considerable anxiety about the potential of communal strife in Nepal, to the extent that the demands of ethnic activists have been veiled in fear and ignorance on all sides. No thanks to the politicians and radicals for having postponed and polarised the debate we never really had. But it’s never too late to talk about the best way to achieve the kind of harmony that will not only preserve the fabric of our multi-ethnic society, but also ensure that it is fairer than it has been. Tomorrow, we hope to reinforce the message of unity in diversity that has kept this nation together thus far. Let’s hope Nepalis of all stripes haven’t forgotten the essence of what makes this country unique.

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