HONG KONG: As I went around talking to people in Central, trying to figure out why they were protesting China’s electoral policy, I noticed a large number of Hong Kong-born Nepalis were also actively taking part in the strikes. When I asked them why they were present, they told me they cared about their future and were fighting to protect it.
Earlier, in a moment of panic and misunderstanding, the Nepal Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong (NCCIHK) appealed to Nepalis to not take part in the strikes because it believed this would harm Nepal’s acceptance of the One China policy.
But even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu knows very well that the strikes in Hong Kong are not a call for separation. It also knows that Nepalis residing in Hong Kong are not here under a work permit managed by the governments in Kathmandu and Beijing. Instead, thousands of Nepalis were handed residential papers under the 1988 ‘Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong’, which also gives them certain political rights until 2047.
For the Nepali students taking part in the strikes, it is a question of universal suffrage. They want to make their vote count and elect a leader of their own choice. Those who were brought here when they were children are now in high schools and universities. They grew up with liberties and want to guarantee their future.
For their parents it is a question of survival. Like Hong Kong locals, they suspect China is trying to flood the Hong Kong market with cheaper and skilled labourers from the mainland and fear job loss.
“When representatives from Hong Kong’s local government and the Nepali businesss consulate asked Pradip Thapa of Nepalese Union Hong Kong to convince members to boycott the strikes, nobody was in favour of toeing the line,” says Adhiraj Rai, a participant in the meeting.
Thapa is a member of the pro-Beijing ruling party DAB and was handed a medal from the local government last year. Like Thapa, most Nepali leaders in Hong Kong are pro-establishment and have received similar medals. They also get funding for cultural programmes during festivals, which makes it impossible for them to support the strikes.
According to the Nepal Adivasi Janajati Mahasangh (NAJM) in Hong Kong, 97 per cent of the 30,000 Nepalis in Hong Kong are Janajatis. It is crucial to understand that there is a distinct Janajati culture and thinking to Nepalis’ activities in Hong Kong. The Khas minority here are insignificant and they tend to follow whoever is in power.
For the last eight years, NAJM has been petitioning the NCCIHK, taking out street protests and gheraoing its office building to have a Janajati lead the NCCIHK, but it is quiet about the strikes at Central. Its chairman MB Thapa is also an active Nepali member of DAB and he has neither supported or condemned the strikes.
Then, there are also some Nepali groups in Hong Kong who have lobbied and funded for pro-ethnic causes in Nepal. When people of Hongkong take part in ‘democratic struggles’, these people are quick to label it illegal. In Nepal they consider themselves revolutionaries and opposition, but in Hong Kong they will gladly be a part of the establishment. This is reflected in the contradiction between their actions and words. They interpret sedition in Nepal as a fight for justice, while democrats here are labelled as imperialist pawns.
When students in Hong Kong protest, these Nepali leaders advise their community to not lend any support. Back in Nepal they play the victim, saying the Khas language, Hindu faith and Bahun men wiped out their language, culture, and religion.
This is why the new generation of Nepalis in Hong Kong is increasingly sceptic of them and identifies more with the youngsters in Central.