Some time ago I attended a political meeting of my Tamang community. The speakers drew attention to the genuine grievances of the Tamang people and how they have been neglected, excluded, and exploited by successive rulers in Kathmandu. Indeed, in terms of education and access to health and basic services, Tamang villages in the districts surrounding Kathmandu Valley are far behind the national average.
As an airline pilot, I am reminded of this every time I make the approach to Kathmandu airport and look down at the Bhyabar mountains from my 757 cockpit. Tamang villages cling to the steep slopes, their terraces of yellowing mustard fields stunningly beautiful below the deep blue sky. Although these homesteads are less than five minutes from my touchdown at Kathmandu, in terms of development they are as remote as Humla or Mugu.
At the meeting, there was a lot of self-righteous anger and fiery rhetoric against other communities. It was my turn to speak. I said I am proud to be born to a Tamang woman, that I hold my head high when I say I am Tamang. But I also said that when I travel around the world, I hold my head high and say I am Nepali. People know me as a Nepali, not as a Tamang, Newar, Bahun, Rai, Gurung, or Magar.
I am a Nepali first, and then I am a Tamang. I will not allow my identity to be shrunk down from my Nepaliness to just my ethnicity. We don?t have to play down our greater identity to play up our Tamangness. Instead of talking against other groups, we Tamangs must work and study harder to be as good as or better than them. That is how we empower ourselves, not by chauvinism and bigotry.
I meet a lot of people when I fly to remote areas, and am reminded how Nepal has always been a garden with many flowers, each with its own identity. They can teach Nepalis who think divisively?those who look at what sets them apart and not what binds them?about tolerance and living together in harmony. It?s in Kathmandu, that people are cynical and talk about differences. Stand near the Khula Manch and listen to the speeches, they?re all about what divides us. About I am this, and you are that.
We can get over our differences by doing whatever we do well. By being caring and considerate Nepalis who look after other Nepalis. I am trying to put this into practice with an initiative called ?Nyanopan?, through which a group of us pilots takes warm clothes to remote areas. We work with local youth clubs and community organisations and take woollens donated by people in other parts of Nepal to Simkot, Jumla, Bajhang, Bajura, Rukum, as well as eastern airfields like Bhojpur, Taplejung, Lamidanda and Rumjatar.
Nyanopan is a private initiative, it is not an NGO, we don?t deal with money. There are children in Mugu who live indoors for four months of the winter because of the cold, and by summer will have worn the same clothes night and day for that entire period. In addition, indoor pollution from the fireplace gives them acute respiratory infections. The child mortality rate in Nepal?s remote mountain regions is three times the national average.
What I do is not going to change Nepal, but it helps keep part of it alive. There are more urgent things to do than creating new divisions in society. All Nepalis are the same, it is only a handful of people who see the differences for their own political vested interest. This season, let?s spread the warmth of tolerance.
Captain Vijay Lama flies with Nepal Airlines. For inquries about donating clothes to his Nyanopan program, write to [email protected]