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Lessons unlearned

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

The culture of violent protests, intimidation and destruction of properties as a tool for effective political bargaining IMG_1796 has  become a permanent feature of Nepali politics. Today,13 youths and student factions affiliated to various political parties including NC, UML and the Maoists called for a Kathmandu bandh protesting the petroleum-price hike.

Young boys and girls carrying bamboo sticks and flags gathered in the streets from early in the morning. The first few hours were tensed as the strikers vandalized and torched at least four vehicles in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. There are also reports of three trucks vandalized in Dhanusha, one bus in Sindhuli and a motorcycle in Chitwan. Seven people have been arrested in the valley as full extent of the damage is yet to be ascertained.

Hundreds of students affiliated to NC and UML youth wings picketed in New Baneswor, outside the CA building. A group of youths were cooking tea in the middle of the street in Shantinagar. “We want the government to know this is how we are going to cook our food from now on if the price hike is not taken back”, said one of the student.

IMG_1755While the leaders of the youth factions were declaring the bandh as ‘peaceful and successful’, a restaurateur was beaten up by an irate mob near Humanities Campus in exhibition road about the same time. Throughout the valley, the commuters on their way to and back from work faced harassment as protesters misbehaved and forced even those riding bicycles to dismount.

Suri Mahato, 70 year old vegetable vendor said he was slapped in the face by kids of his grandson’s age near Sankhamul. “What have I done? I am only trying to feed my family”, said Mahato as he wiped his tears. Daily earners like Mahato are among the worst affected by the strike. While the government and the protesters battle it out on the streets and at the bargaining table, few care about the small business, laborers and the street vendors who struggle to feed their families everytime there is a strike.

In the last two months, series of protests and strikes have disrupted the peace process and constitution writing. A week back, it was the landless people of Kathmandu who called for the strike, few weeks before that the opposition NC called nationwide bandh. The factions of various indigenous groups have time and again disrupted the lives across the nation in the last few months.

The strike was lifted at 5 PM after the government promised to review price-hike decision but the students have warned they will padlock Prime Minister’s office in the next stage of protest if the government did not meet their demand of fuel subsidy for the students.

Anurag Acharya

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