1-7 July 2016 #815

Crazy politics

History is replete with examples of political dissidents being labelled ‘mad’
Bidushi Dhungel
Diwakar Chettri

At an interaction program earlier this month, Nepali Congress lawmaker Radheshyam Adhikari posited a rather convincing argument about the scope of duties of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). A detailed look at the sequential history of the constitutional body and the multiple times it has been applauded and encouraged for overstepping its jurisdiction is telling. Adhikari hammered home the point that time and again we have collectively encouraged the illegal behavior of the CIAA.

However, like most politicians today, Adhikari was reluctant to comment directly on the current goings-on, even suggesting that elected leaders would be unable to impeach the CIAA chief.

Orthopaedic surgeon and activist Govinda KC, who was in the audience — and who this week announced a fast-unto-death demanding the ouster of the CIAA head — stood up and made a powerful statement about how impeachment was not a matter of inability, but of unwillingness. After all, he said, politicians are made of much the same mettle as the CIAA chief himself. “You may be able to let this go, but there is no way that we will,” Govinda KC said, “we will not spare him, nor must you should the time come.”

But no sooner had the good doctor laid out his demands than the CIAA once more overstepped its jurisdiction, into the realm of moral policing and even psychiatry. At first glance the statement issued by the CIAA regarding Govinda KC’s demands is outright absurd, but a closer look reveals a far more sinister and dangerous mindset — one that is centred on quashing dissent at any cost. If the rumour mills in Kathmandu are anything to go by, the future of this Loktantra isn’t looking swell, and if you thought the Prime Minister’s ‘Oligarchy’ was bad, we ain’t seen Lok’s Loktantra yet. And we certainly do not want to.

The tactic of labelling people who voice dissent as ‘mad’ has a long history. The CIAA’s statement against Govinda KC, in fact, harks back to the days of the Soviet Union or Mao’s China, when political dissidence was quashed by branding dissidents ‘crazy’. During slavery in the US, there was even a ‘medical diagnosis’ (drapetomania) that supposedly caused slaves to flee captivity. Until the 1960s, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness. Hitler’s Germany accused Jews of being ‘racially and cognitively compromised’. As late as 2012, the Indian government used psychiatry as a tool to quiet anti-nuclear protesters in the south. Calling someone ‘crazy’ when they have the audacity to challenge the powers that be, and often following that up with diagnosis, forced treatment and effective imprisonment, has proved to be one of the most effective methods to silence the opposition.

In Govinda KC’s case, never mind the CIAA’s breach of protocol and scope (there are no psychiatrists employed at the CIAA as far as I know) in making such a diagnosis — Nepal is a signatory to many international conventions and tools that forbid this kind of labelling and false propaganda. Brushing off what little action has been sought against the medical mafia and the gangsters that run this country as ‘mad’ is beyond absurd, more so when it comes from an institution created, in principle, to embolden such action.

A psychiatrist practising at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital told me the number of cases of CIAA-induced mental illness is surging, and the incidence of paranoia and persecutory delusion is on the rise. This is due to the actively predatory nature of the organisation’s recent activities, whereby no one feels safe from prosecution. Engagement in graft is becoming widely understood among bureaucrats as an excuse for personal vendettas against individuals. In fact, policymakers suggest that budgetary spending and proactivity in the civil service have plummeted because of the fear that signing any new contracts or agreements for projects might lead to an entanglement with the CIAA.

No diagnosis can be made until a thorough medical investigation is undertaken, but perhaps the question of mental instability ought to be reversed and raised among the staff within the CIAA itself, for a more accurate reflection of recent procedures.

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