Nepali Times
Moving Target
Innocence lost



Remember the good old days when all we had to worry about was the earthquake? Compared with the plethora of concerns facing society today, this primal fear shared by our ancestors seems almost quaint and folksy.

The 1990's brought pollution, overcrowding, and a rapidly deteriorating environment to the nation's capital. Urbanites fretted about smog and effluents, the air was filled with toxic emissions, and the beloved Bagmati River degenerated from holy to filthy.

These perils have not gone away, but who has time for such mundane matters nowadays? New dramas, far more tangible and immediate, currently preoccupy us.

With crime soaring, theft is the only 'old fear' still in the news, holding our attention by mutating into ever more alarming forms. Home invasion by armed gangs is burglary's latest and nastiest manifestation, outdone only by the Maoist innovation of evicting house-owners and stealing all property outright. Simple, time honoured anxieties like losing valuables to a thief in the night have been ousted by the fear of dispossession at gunpoint.

Worries once considered irrational have become dreadfully real for many. Outrageous crimes like extortion and kidnapping inflict psychological terror leaving scars that may never heal.

The introduction of such wholesale fear in society can be blamed on the war and its perpetrators. Kathmandu was recently one of the safest capitals in the world, and the countryside even safer, until the flood of guns fuelling the conflict changed everything.

The use of intimidation and terror for political ends is a well-known Maoist trademark, employed for decades with brutal efficiency by the Chairman himself. Human wave attacks on isolated police posts and mass abductions of school children for propaganda indoctrination are among the many Maoist introduced traumas that no society should ever have to endure.

Mainstream politicians blundering their way through the war launched clumsy reprisals notable only for their brutality, bringing state sponsored terror home to many of Nepal's villages. Things got even weirder after the second People's Movement, when the police seemed to follow the monarchy into a purely ceremonial role. Reports of widespread demoralisation in the force were confirmed when emergency calls for help went unanswered, leaving the citizens to fend for themselves in a country riding a crime wave. Rumours of off-duty officers in uniform stealing whatever they could grab during spurious house searches added new fears we never wanted to think about, especially the part about liquor on their breath.

The social cohesion that helped control crime and provided moral support in the past has been wrecked by the displacement of millions, shredding the fabric of both the villages left behind and the cities flocked to. One can't count on the neighbours in a pinch if you've never met them, or they've already fled.

As civil society remains under siege, our repertoire of dread grows. The recent incarnation of Mao's infamous Red Guards in the guise of the YCL has introduced fear of the mob, every bit as primal and unpredictable as that of the quake.

The fact these thugs haven't been thrown in jail causes yet more anxiety, leading many of us to suspect the state has broken down. Given the track record, we can expect the firearms hidden by the Maoists in contravention of the peace accord to be used against us in the near future. Since the guns don't officially exist and surely won't be thrown away, at the very least they'll add to the huge quantity of illegal weapons already in circulation and skew the odds in favour of criminals for years to come.

The Hand salutes the Nepali spirit for its remarkable resilience in coping with these insane developments, but wonders how the perpetrators of such abuse are allowed to get away with it.

If adapting to new sources of stress is necessary for survival these days, it's important to remember life wasn't always like this and doesn't necessarily have to be this way in the future. To live free of fear is a basic human right we have been robbed of, and the worst uncertainties plaguing Nepal these days are manufactured by those with a political agenda who will have very little left once the fear is gone.

Innocence lost may never be regained, but given time and a bit of luck even these troubles will pass.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)