Nepali Times
Alice in Nepal’s wonderland


This de-clawed and defanged columnist has hesitated to resume writing after returning from the US because every time she sits down to the computer she has to control her anger, her passion for and against causes, and her worry about the future of her adopted country. Finally, last week, she took the bit in her teeth and set out to find the new office of Nepali Times. "Opposite the UN building" the man usually seen on the back page with the funny hat, had said.

When I got to the UN, and couldn't locate this newspaper, I thought of asking Nepali friends inside if they could tell me how to find their offices. Not so easy any more. It took a lot of persuasive Nepali, and my best attempts at charm, to persuade the guards to open the gates for my ancient, and, I suppose, disreputable, vehicle.

One of the most disconcerting aspects of today's Nepal, for one who has lived here forever, is the "security apparatus" everywhere one goes. In the old days one walked, drove, or rode one's horse freely into any compound, except the Royal Palace, of course, and was always warmly welcomed. In these days, of what is still called democracy, a disconcerting sort of paranoia reigns. Chanting Buddhist monks in red robes are taken for Maoists shouting slogans, human rights activists are accused of "supporting terrorists", and the American Embassy has turned its once relaxed club at Phora Durbar into an exclusive fortress for a handful of diplomats.

The benign weather is lulling us into believing that aside from the garbage and the traffic things are still pretty much what they once were. Infuriatingly nonchalant politicians, trying to convince us that if only those "communist terrorists" would go away Nepal would be peaceful and prosperous, and illegal anomalies like torture and disappearances would not be necessary. There is an Alice in Wonderland quality in today's air.

As politicians continue to squabble over power and spoils, Western countries continue to provide them the wherewithal for such quarrels. The Human Rights criterion for foreign aid, which is imposed so rigorously in some countries, when it suits the West, is never mentioned here. Is it that living is so pleasant here that normally sensitive people just choose to turn the other cheek to what they know, but somehow manage to forget, when arranging for still more money to enrich the already rich?

The recent talk programme on Politics and Human Rights was attended by Amnesty International's international directors and its urbane and quietly passionate president, Pierre Sane, who described and documented the increasing and frightening deterioration of the human rights situation in Nepal.

Sane deplored the killing and other human rights violations by the Maoists, but he made it clear that torture, extra-judicial killings, and disappearances carried out by the state authority was worse than inexcusable and totally discredited the government's pallid lip service to human rights. Referring to ex-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's statement that Nepal had abolished capital punishment, he stressed that although law may have banned capital punishment, the number of extra-judicial killings by both the Police and the Maoists, had increased alarmingly. Sane felt it should be possible to bring the Maoists into the political process. Public opinion in Nepal is headed in that direction: free elections held by an all-party government is one of the solutions that has come up.

Sane, whose name is perfect for one so balanced (although it is pronounced differently), was so articulate and so obviously caring and passionate about what he was preaching, that he held the usually cynical audience of journalists, politicians and auxiliaries thereof, spellbound. When at the end of his talk he said: "Human Rights, spelled H-U-M-A-N R-I-G-H-T-S, spell it with me," the entire audience spelled human rights aloud, including this usually cynical non-joiner. We were energised and enthused to join the struggle. Who, or what, is going to energise the Human Rights Commission?

(Barbara Adams is a long-time Kathmandu based writer and ommentator.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)