06 April, 2020

Western Medicine is a boondongle

The WHO, amongst other authorities, has gone on record saying all “fake news” about coronavirus cures must be suppressed. The only true cure, it appears, is the Western medical establishment, with its resource intensive hospitals, doctors and nurses, ICU beds and oxygen tanks, ventilators and intubation, N95 masks and plastic face shields. Nothing else will do.

The modern hospital as an institution probably started in Europe during the plague of the 13th century, when monks in Christian monasteries put aside buildings in their premises to cure the sick. They also tended herbal gardens and grew their own medicinal plants, so they were ideally placed to cure those with life threatening diseases. Due to their austere schedules and lifestyles, limited social contact with the outside world, as well as lack of sexual and physical contact due to vows of renunciation, they would not have contracted infectious diseases as easily as laypeople.

According to Wikipedia: “Towards the end of the 4th century, the "second medical revolution" took place with the founding of the first Christian hospital in the eastern Byzantine Empire by Basil of Caesarea.” While ancient India, the Islamic world, Persia and others had their own hospitals--with the Islamic world specifically credited with systematizing the institution with departments, diseases, officer-in-charge and specialists--it was the Christian notion of healing the sick which may have brought the institution to a wider population.

Hospitals were associated with various branches and sects of Christianity, all vying for power and prestige. The prestige of one’s sect depended upon how well the narrative of medicinal power was projected and controlled. In keeping with the tradition of Christian dogma and persecution, those who professed disbelief were severely punished. Hospitals, cures and associated medications all took on special mystique.

It is this history of medicine that is being played out now, in much the same manner, with people believing in the virtues of ventilators without a single critique (ventilators apparently have a low efficiency rate and can kill one  third of the elders a year after being intubated, according to the New York Times). Plastic face masks may or may not work, since the coronavirus can live for 72 hours on plastic. Even the whole idea of putting a large number of sick people together may be a failed experiment, since it is easy for those less sick to get more sick with more exposure to viral loads in a contaminated hospital environment, with people packed into a small space, breathing in huge amounts of viral spores through air-conditioners.

Ayurveda, India’s age old traditional healing system, is course promptly labeled as “fake news” by this Eurocentric hegemonic model. BBC hastily put out an article to this effect, warning people that turmeric could not cure coronavirus. Prince Charles got caught up in the crosshairs, with an Ayurvedic Vaidya in Banglaore claiming “Mr Charles is my patient,” and the hasty rejoinder that Prince Charles had done nothing but take NHS advice. Turmeric, which may kill the virus faster than any known pharmaceutical in existence, has no far not been tested by a single scientist, despite there being evidence in plain sight with large parts of the “turmeric belt” of Asia and Africa relatively unscathed by the virus. Low contagion countries like India and many parts of Africa all cook their food in turmeric. Derision by rationalists there is in plenty, but no sober scientific analysis of the reasons for low contagion.

These countries also have low or non-existent use of plastic food containers. Food is cooked daily, and nothing is stored for later. Despite hysteria about plastic being the one and only material that can shield people from the virus, it is pretty clear plastic is also much beloved by the virus as an elegant habitat. It survives for 4 hours on copper and 72 hours on plastic.

I suspect that the reason why Asian countries (China, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea) have performed so much better than Italy and France in containing the virus is not just their draconian quarantine measures and authoritarian governments, but also their age-old tradition of herbal healing. Chinese herbal medicine (I’m talking herbs here, not wild animal parts) has thousands of years of “clinical trials” amongst a billion plus people. People know which herbs will cure them of pulmonary and respiratory problems, and I suspect most of those who survived may have taken some complementary herbal medicine, and not just depended upon Western meds.

All of this brings us to the question: is Western medicine a giant boondongle? The insistence that everyone must follow this model is not just ridiculous, but also may kill people since they will rush to the poorly resourced hospitals rather than stay home and minister to this with the multiple herbs, concoctions and healing blends always known by tradition.

 I am grateful to Western medicine for putting me back on my feet after my earthquake accident. I am grateful to all my young cousins who patched me together orthopedically—I am aware I may be dead without surgical operations and antibiotics. Western medicine is great with traumatic injuries and accidents. This writeup does not address the many lifesaving aspects of Western medicine. This writeup is merely a critique of Western medicine being seen as the sole cure for the coronavirus, a broad pandemic that requires a multi-pronged, multi-healing tradition response.

The beauty of Ayurveda is its decentralized model—everyone can be a healer in their own homes, with just basic kitchen cabinet ingredients as medicine. You do not need a $100,000 loan and ten years in medical school to become a healer. Western doctors are also so burdened by loans that they become willing salespeople for the Big Pharma companies that approach them post-graduation, offering them attractive incentives (a honeymoon cruise being one such incentive I know about) to sell their drugs. Ayurveda has recently become commercialized with Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali, but in many respects it still remains a decentralized model, with the knowledge to cure resting in the hands of a billion stay-at-home grandmothers and mothers, and with very low cost ingredients for medicine. 

I once attended a program in Martin Chautari, a think tank in Nepal. They’d asked an evangelical Christian pastor to give a talk. This man shared with the audience that one of the things that the new Christian had to do was rip out the tulsi plant which is planted in every Nepali courtyard, because it symbolizes Vishnu and therefore had to be removed. I was appalled at this desecration (and, I may add, at the “liberal” notion that somehow this is something we should have listened to politely, in civil Nepali fashion, and not counteracted with a single word in case we be labeled Hindu fundamentalists). I was appalled at the notion that a plant which cures respiratory and pulmonary infections more effectively than any other plant in existence was being literally ripped out by the roots. Yet this is what has passed for secular democratic discussion in Nepal the past decade or so, slowly snuffing out the traditional wisdom which could save many lives in a pandemic of this nature.

The Ministry of Ayush is treated as a joke by most scientific types in India, and its each and every movement heavily derided. As the pandemic heated up, it was pressured to put out a PSA asking people to use hand sanitizers--a luxury item for many Indians, and which is not part of the Ayurvedic repertoire. After some critique online (including a few tweets from me), the Ministry of Health of India then put out another tweet saying soap was the best option, and hand sanitizers should only be used when soap was not available. Which goes to beg the question: who is behind the Ministry of Ayush? Are they truly trained vaidyas and ayurvedic practitioners who can put out information quickly and efficiently, information which may save the lives of not just people in South Asia but also worldwide, or are they humble administrators being pressured by the liberal scientific rational crowd which see everything Hindu as irrational and superstitious? 

A young woman from Canada went online and shared her experience of surviving coronavirus. She’d used the Ayurvedic neti pot, which uses warm water to clear the sinuses, as part of her healing protocol. It is this kind of instant and useful share that can be potentially life-saving—and also the kind of information that poorly informed ancient white men in the BBC think is fake news, because they have no idea what a neti pot is.

Even Native Americans and African Americans in poor areas of America will have to tap their own culinary and medicinal heritages, if they are to survive this pandemic without depending upon what is essentially an unaffordable healthcare model. African Americans in particular have been very open to new health and healing trends, but they also have a historical legacy of cooking which could stand them in very good stead during this time when food can become the base for healing herbs.

Many Nepalese workers have died in New York. They may have lived had they followed their gurus and amchis, rather than going to the hospitals which turned them away without treatment.

Governments of India, Nepal and Bhutan must support a massive effort to produce Ayurvedic herbs which cure pulmonary and respiratory infections, and not listen to WHO, UN or any other Eurocentric hegemonic authorities which will insist that traditional healing is “fake news” in order to sustain the illusion of European supremacy to the last breath.

 It is clear as this pandemic unfolds that the savage in the heart of human culture may be modern civilization, not the painted tribes of the Amazons who always knew how to cure themselves with berries and roots. The irrational people are the ones who will not listen to evidence, who will continue to do their shamanistic dances in their plastic PPE, murmuring superstitious voodoo chants about non-existent vaccines.   

14 February, 2020

Local heating, not just global

Western science is lauded as the ultimate arbiter of knowledge. When it comes to climate change, they are often quoted as the experts, with people from all fields urging the irrational: “Listen to the science!”

The only problem: scientists are limited in their imagination and cannot see beyond the 1.5 degree threshold. Much like Tom Friedman’s “The World is Flat,” they imagine the planet to be flat, warming at an even rate all over like a nice tortilla, from mountains to Himalayan glaciers, from Antartica to the Gulf.

But the world is not shaped like a tortilla. It has immense geographical, environmental, social, political and policy variations, even a few kilometers apart.

In some parts of India, peak summer temperatures already reach 50 degree centigrades. This is unsustainable for human habitation. Some of this heating is caused by global climate change, but other reasons for warming and drought is local deforestation, extraction of water without rain recharge, and industrial application of chemical fertilizers which turn soil into fine dust. Cities and tenements built without planning for greenery exacerbate the urban heat effect. All are catalysts for heating.

A policy decision made a kilometer away can create a thriving, water rich, forest dense community living sustainably while another can be a desert only a few minutes drive away. I visited one such community in Nepal in 2009. A village of Khadgas, poor but still educated, were tending a community forest from which they harvested herbs for essential oils. They had plumes of water from groundwater to grow corn. Their lives were on the upswing with one liter of essential oil bringing in Rs.30,000 in income. The next community of Chidimars, a Dalit community which made a living off trapping birds, were living in an desertified environment—they’d been encouraged to put in a tubewell by a development agency, had stopped building traditional gadda to store rainwater, and had cut all their trees to build a schoolhouse. The community was on the edge of migrating due to desertification caused by bad policy and environmental distress.

How poor communities build up resilience to survive the global as well as local warming effects will depend heavily upon local policy decisions. In Nepal, local governance structures like ward offices and village development committees have been annihilated by the Loktantric regime. In my own neighborhood in Handigaon, I have been hard pressed to find an elected representative who could address my concerns about huge numbers of motorcycles driving through a historic area. I would like to stop this onslaught. But who do I turn to? There is no clear representative, no ward officials, no VDC structure.

This lack of local governance means special stress and vulnerability to poor communities often at the mercy of outside actors. Often current policy decisions, made ad hoc and on the spot, are driven by external Kathmandu based NGO actors whose motivations may consist of showing a progress report to the donor agency rather than the true concerns of the community. Tubewells and now solar pumps that pump up riverwater, which are unsustainable in the long run, are being introduced (to much applause) at the expense of long-term sustainable water harvesting and irrigation systems. As the traditional methods fall apart, and the people have no way to maintain expensive polythene pipe systems, a rural community can plummet into drought and distress.

This sort of development-triggered distress is never accounted for in M and E reports, a genre of writing which documents glowing successes. “Is this policy sustainable in the long run?” is not a question asked of development practitioners. Grant burn rates (throw money at people who can use it up fast), flashy new technology, hot button themes, progress reports and deliverables drive policies, rather than long-term environmental stewardship.

Fossil fuel needs to be phased out, as does plastics.  But central to people’s survival in the climate heating era will be local governance. A strong network of local governance existed in Nepal in the past. This is quickly being eradicated as crony communism takes hold. If we don’t address this, this will be a threat to the very existence of local communities.

Annapurna Post, February 14, 2020

24 January, 2020

Path to Water Sustainability

It is clear that the city of Kathmandu cannot depend upon drinking water ferried on fossil fuel tankers, although the current government has embraced this model as a permanent one. Not only do the millions of trips made per month foul the already polluted air, it also adds hugely to poor people’s water and health bills.

Nepal Parliament must pass a resolution which makes it mandatory for landlords to provide water to residents before they rent a room. In Kathmandu, landlords are rapidly putting up buildings with no running water, kitchen, toilets or electricity provided. These rooms are rented from Rs.5000 to Rs.10,000 each. The women renting them are often single mothers whose husbands are in the Gulf. The women manage their finances and run their household by holding down small jobs. They do domestic work, construction, laundry and other part-time work while taking care of school-going children. Trying to source water from tankers or plastic canisters can be a serious burden on women who are already overworked with loans, housework, cooking, laundry and care responsibilities.

It is unethical and wrong of rich landlords to force poor single mothers to carry canisters of water five floors up to their rooms. Often the landlord hasn’t provided water not because they don’t have the money—these businessmen own multiple buildings and are cashing in lakhs in monthly rent --but because they believe their tenants are from the villages and therefore can manage without running water. A pump may be provided in the yard which pumps up groundwater. These water sources are inadequate or they do not provide clean water. Tenements of this nature have sprung up freely without government regulation and control all over Kathmandu and other cities of Nepal since the Loktantric government came to power.

The government does the hardworking citizens of Nepal a disservice if they don’t put regulations in place which ensures no ghaderi or apartment building can be rented out till the landlord has put in essentials, including a water-harvesting system, toilets with adequate water, electricity connection, and gas canisters, in place. Any building with more than 3 rental families should be legally mandated to have a water harvesting system with a filter in place. The government must sent a health inspector to ensure such a system is in place before they give permission to rent. The government must also provide training to ward offices to install these systems in a cost-effective manner, with a technical team in place to deal with maintenance issues.

A Housing Agency which keeps track of all tenants in Kathmandu, along with a database of landlords, must be created. This ensures that the government can keep track of water harvesting compliance. Any complaints about toilets, electricity etc should also be addressed through the agency, which should act as a mediator between landlords and tenants. Tenants are at the mercy of landlords at the moment. They have no recourse to justice and are living in what in Western countries are 19th century tenement style buildings with very poor infrastructure. As with the past, these conditions are not inevitable, but a consequence of greed by those who are setting up large buildings with the explicit intention of cramming as many tenants as possible into small spaces while providing them with the least number of amenities.  

This kind of exploitative business model is unacceptable in a democratic system where citizens have rights, including rights to safe housing, clean water, and human dignity.

By 2025, all water in Kathmandu should come from water harvesting systems and revival of traditional gravity-fueled wells. Fossil fueled water tankers must be phased out. Not only are we losing huge amounts of foreign currency earned abroad on ferrying water into the cities, we are also giving this money right back to the oil-rich Gulf states where our citizens are currently working in near bonded conditions, and to India which continues to control Nepal’s economy with a vice-like grip.

10 January, 2020

Who is to blame?

Annapurna Express, January 10, 2020

Australia is on fire. Who is to blame for the millions of acres burnt to cinder, the lives lost and properties destroyed, the almost half billion animals killed?

Australia is a major producer and user of fossil fuel. Australia Energy Update 2018, from Australian Government’s Department of Environment and Energy (energy.gov.au), says coal, oil and gas accounted for 94 per cent of Australia's primary energy mix in 2016–17.

Sixty-three percent of electricity was generated from coal. Out of this, 11% was from brown coal, a source of energy environmental activists have long opposed due to its harmful health and ecological effects. Coal mining releases methane, a potent greehouse gas which is one of the main causes of global heating.

Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, brought a lump of coal to Parliament in 2017. He sang the virtues of coal and its links to Australian prosperity, and said: “those opposite have an ideological, pathological fear of coal. There’s no word for coalophobia officially, Mr. Speaker. But that’s the malady that afflicts those opposite.” Mr. Morrison, who critics say also cut funding for firefighters, was later seen enjoying his holiday in Hawaii as Australia went up in flames. Volunteer firefighters died trying to contain the massive fires.

Economic “growth” almost always leads to more stress on the environment, leading to worse economic conditions for people in the long run. The Australian economy grew by 2.0 per cent in 2016–17 to reach $1.7 trillion. Energy consumption was 6,146 petajoules in 2016-2017 for 24.6 million people. To compare, Nepal with a population of 27 million consumed 428 petajoules in 2010[1].  Assuming 2 million Nepalis are working abroad at any given time, and the population being roughly equal in size, an average Australian citizen uses 14 times more energy than a Nepali.

It is clear Nepal needs to increase its energy use if we are to run industries and be self-sufficient in articles of daily consumption. But does Australia need to reduce its energy levels? Is there a balance between the First World and Third World that could be struck which puts us somewhere in the middle?

Australia also has large tracks of industrial farming lands which are saturated with glyphosate, a herbicide first created by Monsanto and now sold by Bayer. Glyphosate is used to desiccate crops after they’ve been cut. This means it’s an agent that dries out organic matter. Now imagine millions of acres full of grain and stalks saturated with this substance, drying out the land across an entire continent. How could it not catch on fire?

Then there’s Bolsonaro’s Brazil, encouraging cattle farmers to set the Amazon on fire. Australia and Brazil are both in the Southern Hemisphere. In the map, they appear to be separated only by an ocean. In other words, they are upwind and downwind from each other. Without doubt, hot winds of Brazil’s Amazon fires played a hand in temperature increases in Australia. The firestorms look more like tornados than forest fires, which suggest heated air currents.

And last but not least, there’s eucalyptus. Although the literature assures us that eucalyptus is native to Australia, are there plantations that have been put together in neat rows by human hands which have dried out groundwater? In Nepal, this tree was introduced in the Eighties by the Australian aid agency. It quickly became known for depleting groundwater levels for miles around. A similar situation developed in India where eucalyptus had been planted in plantations. Is there human agency behind the reshaping of seemingly virgin land which created conditions perfect for water table depletion and drought?

Poignant photographs of children staring at dead koalas and kangaroos are making their rounds on Twitter. Many species of animals, birds and insects may never recover their population and go extinct after this cataclysmic event. For those who are children or in their teens, there is a sense of a world lost which can never be recovered.

Which is why it was enraging to see this tweet from Exxon Mobil Australia:
“Stay safe and have fun this new year, from all of us at ExxonMobil Australia.”

One person responded: “Jesus Christ this is pure evil.” Another said: “Exxon needs to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Blood is on your hands. #GreenNewDeal now.”

And this may be the only way to respond to this apocalyptic fire which has devastated an entire continent. Can ecological crimes finally be taken to the World Court of Justice, as another Twitter respondent suggested? Are the actions of big corporations not leading to genocide in many places, with people being affected in mass numbers by climate triggered events?

In Australia, people are shifting out of homes and neighborhoods they may never return to in their lifetime. It will take decades for forests to revive and restore. Where will all these fire-affected people go? Who will help them rebuild their lives? Surely it won’t be the fossil fuel corporations who made billions of dollars in profit, but paid zero tax to the country.

A sobering note to begin the new decade with, but  we must remember Nepal is one of the most climate change affected countries in the world. Our people are also being displaced, through the slow depleting of glaciers, ice and spring melt in the Himalayas. Who is to blame?


[1] https://energypedia.info/wiki/Nepal_Energy_Situation

28 December, 2019

Disband The Fourth Wall

A few weeks ago, I wrote an op-ed called “Disband the UN.” A former senior UN official wrote to me and said he disagreed with my thesis. Had I looked at the possibilities of reform within the UN? I explained that my reasoning went beyond looking at the possibilities of change within the UN—the time for that is long past.
What I am asking for is a radical rehaul of our contemporary financial system. This system is based on colonial underpinnings of Western countries exploiting the economies of the East, and forms a complex, invisible mesh of international financial modalities which underpins the present inequality of nations.

This drama of inequality is kept in place by a “Fourth Wall” which maintains the illusion, rather than a theatrical play, of a just international system. This play is embodied by the UN (“the actors on the stage”), and the reality of twenty-first century poverty (“the spectators”). Much like a play, it is funded by benefactors which have political leverage and financial clout, as we saw in the COP25 meet in Madrid this week. Protesters and advocates against climate change were the spectators, while the actors on stage maintained the Fourth Wall with the illusion of international legality.

As the COP25 drama unfolded, oil producing state Qatar proudly tweeted its support of the UN, saying it is one of its biggest financial contributors. How can a system whose survival depends upon the financial support of oil-producing states be expected to pass a global fossil-fuel ban? Which is what the COP25 should have done—hand down a 2030 deadline for the phaseout of exploration, extraction and distribution of all fossil fuel worldwide.

Yale University’s 360 website published “The Plastics Pipeline” by Beth Gardiner on December 19, 2019. The article discusses how Exxon, Shell, Saudi Aramco and other big petroleum companies are gearing up for massive plastic production in expectation of lower demand for fossil fuel. A fracking boom has led to high production of ethane, and they need a way to dispose of this feedstock. Millions of tons of new plastic is in the pipeline.

Plastic is the most destructive product we have ever invented. It clogs up our waterways, soil and air. It is found in every living being on earth. Birds, whales and deer are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Plastic should be phased out as soon as possible. We should not be talking about “recycling,” a feel good euphemism that rich people in the West use for dumping their trash. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed disappointment in the COP25 outcomes—but disappointment is an inadequate response for a crisis in which the survival of humankind as well as all of life on the planet is at stake.

It is clear that the planet can no longer be governed in this manner—with opaque financial networks, TNCs and special interest nation-states dictating the terms of international policy and law. With the effects of climate change exploding across the planet and tearing through the lives of millions of people, we can no longer ignore the reality of a handful of destructive corporations which have chosen to deceive people and destroy the planet.

Australia has been burning with bushfires for the past few months. About 7 million acres of land have burnt in 2019. Lyn Bender, a 72 year old psychologist from Australia writing in Independent Australia.net, says “The human race is engaged in a murder-suicide pact of gigantic proportions.” She states the old methods of grief management is no longer adequate for this moment: “As someone who has worked with grief and trauma, I now find the age-old concepts of grief management hopelessly puny and inadequate. The enormity of the growing evidence of environmental destruction is now unfolding worldwide.”

In Nepal, the Himalayas are melting with each passing year. Each winter is warmer than it used to be. A billion and more people depend upon spring melt water from the Himalayas for drinking water, cooking, irrigation, washing, laundry, animal husbandry, and other daily needs. When snow no longer covers the mountains, there will be mass migration of people seeking more livable environments, as Marty Logan (“Mt. Everest is Melting: Are you Moved?” December 20, 2019) pointed out in the Nepali Times. We are already starting to see this in our lifetime.

With certain environmental apocalypse awaiting us in 30-50 years time, it is genocidal to allow a capitalist system which sees petroleum profit as “wealth” to dictate what money is, what value it should have, how it circulates, and where it ultimately ends up. As a post in the Extinction Rebellion blog recently pointed out, the valuation of Saudi Aramco as the world’s most valuable company literally equates planetary destruction as capitalism’s most profitable endeavor.

We need a radical overhaul of the financial mechanisms that underpin the inequality of nations. The Bank of International Settlements, the World Bank and IMF, the opaque financial committees and gatherings, all of this needs to be examined and disbanded. Why do some nations get to print trillions for war and trillions for their citizens, while other countries can only print enough to sustain starvation and death? Surely there is a Fouth Wall between “actors” and “spectators” here that we need to dismantle. Only then will we be able to halt our current lethal apocalyptic stride towards planetary destruction.

Annapurna Express, December 27, 2019

29 November, 2019

Disband the UN

The Annapurna Express, November 29, 2019

The UN was set up after WWII with good intentions. Fifty-one countries got together and entered a network whose aim was “maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights” (UN website.) Nobody could disagree with such a  mandate.

But then cracks began to show in this ideal utopian vision. While the rhetoric assured the world that the unique international character of the UN meant it was open to all 193 member nations, it also stated:
“The Organization can take action on a wide range of issues, and provide a forum for its 193 Member States to express their views, through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees.”

The Security Council is made up of 15 wealthy countries which have used their muscle power to dominate and invade small countries. They also apply sanctions to nations who they deem rogue—although the criteria for rogue nation appears subjective, at best. At worst, an objective observer may argue that the wealthiest nations have ganged up on regional powers because they don’t want them to dominate some capitalistic sector (energy, military, or otherwise) in which they themselves have an interest to monopolize.

The workings of the UN is neo-colonial. A monied bureaucratic class dominated by Europeans, North Americans, Australians and Japanese are posted to various outposts in the world. Through these postings, they tell the governments of various nations how to conduct themselves on all sorts of internal issues like governance, finance, justice, and security. Interference of this sort which would never be accepted by Western nations is meted out to Third World nations on a daily basis. These nations are seen to be intransigent if they refuse these favors.

No questions are accepted on why a skewed economic system which allows Western nations to dominate financially continues to operate in the 21st century.

If we are to truly follow the spirit of the UN, we need to dismantle the current system and set up an alternate system of global governance. This new UN—let’s call it the United Planet --would prioritize environmental health of the planet over military, economic or demographic superiority of nation-states. It would not see military might as the arbiter of authority, but would follow the spirit of liberalism, in which the equality of all human beings would be the touchstone to creating a just and ethical economic policy.

The patchwork of work done by the UN has been exemplary in many regards. But in no way has it brought social change fast enough for the 7 billion who are suffering from lack of basic needs (food, housing, education, health, and a living, sustainable environment.) Urban poverty besets Western nations, despite talks of great wealth. Financial and monetary policy continue to favor the rich, with certain layers of society getting the crème de la crème access to credit and cash, while those at the bottom do all the work and get very little.

None of this is working, for either rich or poor. It was working well for the rich till the environment started to collapse and excessive exploitation of resources led to a planetary crisis. Even the very wealthy become subject to climate change, air pollution and water shortages. There are expensive bunkers to retreat into, but in the end there is no escape as the collapse of biodiversity may wipe all humans out of existence.

Our world is more unequal than ever, despite glowing optimism. Technology, including AI, rears its ugly head as a means of surveillance and state control. One war, one natural disaster, and millions of people can be displaced, starving, bonded to labor, trafficked, enslaved, with no oversight or system in place to stop such an event. We’ve seen such events in our lifetime—the Rohingya genocide, migrants drowning to reach Europe, the slavery of African immigrants in Libya, detention of children of Latin American families in America’s borders, the cultural erasure of Uighurs in China.

Technology has gotten a free pass for too long. It needs to be regulated with great oversight (although we have already opened Pandora’s Box.) Covert military programs will continue to misuse technology, on a scale we cannot imagine now. Any international organization that replaces the UN must be alert to this possibility. It must constantly seek to find and delete these fascist impulses.

What we need now is a radical new system to replace the old and outdated. The new union of governments will govern in a just and ethical manner, treating all nationals of Planet Earth with equal dignity. The new union will ensure fair distribution of money and resources, prioritize environmental protection over capitalistic gain, and reward simple living over excessive consumption. All of this will happen through a system of global governance which will replace entrenched systems of racial and gender inequality, nation-state dominance, and exploitation of capital and labor.

The MeToo Movement from women, Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and all the children of the world who call for an ethical deal on sustainability—all these movements point to a time in history when change is inevitable. Governance can no longer be left to the hands of a group of elderly men. We need to ask for, and get, a radical rehaul in the way governance is imagined, and conducted, on this planet.  

19 October, 2019


 This article was rejected by the Brahmin-Chettri editors because they were too terrified to challenge PC perceptions of the janjati, and also because most probably they did not want to be branded racists. Hence rather late I decided to run it in my blog instead. The article addresses the violence against women in the name of witchcraft.

Ten-year old Suman Nepali’s harrowing eyewitness account of how his mother was killed by his teacher Hira Lama and Hira’s mother Kailimaya Tamang, who tortured her and fed her human feces, was published in NepalKhabar recently. Urban readers were sickened by this account, in which the social science teacher hurled abuse at the young Dalit woman and accusations of being a witch, tied her to a volleyball post in the schoolyard, hit her on the head, tied her legs when she resisted forcible feeding of human feces, and forced it down her throat, and beat her so savagely on her head she succumbed to her injuries two days later.

The whole village watched as this incident unfolded, and did not help, except for one woman who separated 10 year old Suman from his enraged teacher after he attacked him when the boy pleaded with him not to hurt his mother.

 The victim, weakened by the torture on Tuesday, 6th December, was unable to walk the three hours to Dhulikhel Hospital the next day. The Nepal Police showed up on Thursday, two days after the incident, and made the victim sign a “milapatra” or reconciliation agreement saying their conflict had ended in the presence of 15 villagers. Used by the police often in the case of domestic violence and abuse, the milapatra is a troublingly overused system of restorative justice. The milapatra usually means the victim has agreed to a reconciliation and will not pursue legal action. Laxmi Pariyar died on Friday morning, while her husband and child slept nearby.

The account provoked storms of outrage on social network Twitter. The protesters on Twitter demanded legal action against the policeman who had made the victim sign this paper. Questions were raised as to whether the justice system was misusing this informal method of local community “reconciliation” to avoid prosecuting serious crime, in this case murder.

Dalitonline, an online news portal, also reported that the policeman in charge had been seen drinking with the perpetrator shortly before. In an extraordinary misuse of the justice system, the policeman Prempukar Chowdary, who had forced Laxmi Pariyar to sign the concocted milapatra, apparently filed a case against the tortured victim, in favor of the perpetrator.

Bisnukumari Pariyar, mother-in-law of the deceased woman, explained in a press conference held by the police on 12th December that Chowdhary had made them sign a paper in which they had to beg for forgiveness from Hira Lama, and also pay him Rs.6000[1].  In addition, the husband of Laxmi Pariyar was then arrested by the police, who are now claiming this incident never occurred—according to the Dalitonline report, this is a strategy to frame the innocent husband, in order to deflect attention from the calls of action against the police involved, including those at district headquarters.

The multiple levels of misuse of the justice system to torture, kill, hide the case, blame the victim, force them to pay restitution, and then frame the innocent husband speaks of multiple levels of miscarriage of justice for this Dalit family in Kavre. The Nepal Police have failed in their line of duty. Not only did they fail to arrest the perpetrator and take the victim to Kathmandu’s hospitals, which would have saved her life, they allowed an innocent man to be framed. 

This is not the first time a woman has been fed human feces after being accused of witchcraft. Another high profile documented case also involved a Tamang teacher who accused a woman of witchcraft and fed her human feces. In 2009, the newspapers reported another similar case in which Kumari BK was accused by  Bimala Lama, the headmistress of a local primary school, of practicing witchcraft. Ms Lama and a group of villagers then locked up Ms Kumari BK and her husband for two days, and tortured the couple. When they threatened to chop off her breasts with a knife, Ms Kumari BK "admitted" she was a witch.

Advocacynet[2] reports that:
Ms Kumari BK was kicked, punched, hit with stones, and forced to eat excrement while Ms Lama and other villagers told her that "Witches should be killed like this," according to a Jagaran Media Center (JMC) report. The villagers also threatened to kill her husband if he spoke up in her defense.

I remember talking to Subash Darnal, a dynamic Dalit activist who headed the Jagaran Media Center, about this incident in 2009. Subhash, sadly, died in a tragic accident while returning from a fellowship at Stanford University. I assumed, like most people, that Brahmins were somehow behind this conflict. He was the one who told me that during this incident, the Brahmins of the community got so enraged about this sickening violence against the Dalit woman that they had to physically send in the armed police force from Kathmandu to manage the conflict between the Brahmins and the Tamangs in the community.

It was also Subash who told me that the was a need to analyze how janjati or ethnic cultures also oppressed Dalits—in particular, he brought up the ways in which janjati men would marry Dalit women, then abandon them once the parents protested and marry a second time with women from their own cultures, leading to the social abandonment of Dalit women left alone and vulnerable with children.

There is a tendency amongst the intelligensia of Nepal, especially those educated in Western universities and mentored by high profile Western academics, to automatically read this Dalit oppression through the lens of what can, for lack of a better term, be labeled “Evil Brahminism.” Through this frame of reference, all Dalit oppression is directly attributable to the evil Brahmins and their scriptures, including those of Manu. Parallel to this is the romanticized discourse of the “Good Janjati,” especially Tamangs, whose contemporary situation has been read as directly attributable to their being oppressed by the Ranas and Shahs, who used this particular ethnic group for labor for centuries and therefore have driven them into unimaginable poverty.

I have found, however, that that sort of discourse is not just simplistic and misleading, but also has acted to obfuscate the social realities on which intersecting oppressions of different groups lies. This discourse fails to note that Tamangs have been beneficiaries of the modern Nepal state since Panchayat times and more recently with the Maoist civil conflict; and that they are in positions of power within the local community, and that they have been incorporated into the discourses of progress and development via the educational system. In both cases, the perpetrators of these gender based violence were teachers, who are respected individuals who received, in most likelihood, a government salary.

 In addition, there’s also the ominous aspect of communal ethnic cultures, missing in individualistic Brahmin Chettri culture, which is the age-old “community court”, or local justice mechanisms. These kangaroo courts can become violent when they gang up en masse against a marginalized figure—an aspect often overlooked when we romaticize the benefic nature of communal cultures.

It is also remarkable to me that amongst all the new literature of ethnic cultures, no anthropologist has taken the time to note that beliefs in witches exist almost exclusively amongst the animistic cultures (including those of Rai-Limbus, Tamang, etc)--Brahmins have no mention of witches in any of their scriptures. Which is one reason a careful analysis of witchcraft accusations will probably, in most likelihood, bring up non-Brahmin perpetrators. In other words, individuals of romanticized ethnic cultures get off easily from gender violence and have uptil now not been made accountable for these incidents of witchcraft torture, simply due to the mistaken perception that ethnic cultures like Tamangs are inherently gender equal, compared to the Brahmins. In fact, I would not be surprised to find some international scholar in some faroff country reading about this incident and writing a generic report, exclusively based on an epistemological framework of Brahmin oppression.

I find these foreign experts (who shall remain unnamed, but I will let on that many of them, from prestigious universities from the USA and UK, are anthropologists) have exacerbated and obfuscated serious issues like those of witchcraft by having the final say on their own particular ethnic group. Nobody else is allowed to question the epistemological supremacy of these individuals, who hold the supreme truth over their own particular tribe (rather like old viceroys of yore), and which has stopped other people within Nepal from asking the right questions, which may in fact have stopped this gender based violence a long time ago.

[1] http://dalitonline.com/archives/17746
[2] http://www.advocacynet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/PR-195-Nepal-witches.pdf

12 October, 2019

President Xi’s Visit to Nepal: How we should shape our foreign policy

As Nepal gears up for Chinese President Xi’s visit this Saturday afternoon, I thought I’d put forth some thoughts of mine is what is otherwise an entirely male dominated foreign policy environment. All commentators (former and present diplomats, government officials, journalists) in Nepal are male, and this definitely shapes the way we view what international relations between the two countries should be.
There is a lot of talk of infrastructure, of course. There’s the trans-Himalayan railway, a much desired infrastructural project after India’s blockade on Nepal. There’s hydropower projects of mega-scope, billions of dollars and thousands of megawatts in the pipeline. China has always been a big builder of roads in Nepal, and with the BRI this is definitely in the equation. Investment in cement factories is also a big one.
My views on this has been clear on Twitter. As we invest billions of dollars every year on roads that wash away each monsoon, the viability of roads in mountain areas has become even more questionable to me as the years progress. It is clear ropeways, which require much less invasive infrastructure and which can be quickly rebuild in the case of a natural disaster, has been neglected and wiped off the Nepali policy map for decades. We need to revive the idea of goods carrying ropeways, which in the long run may be more sustainable and viable than a railway through extremely mountainous areas of Tibet and Nepal. The cost of maintaining a railway would be astronomical. Nepal will be stuck with a White Elephant which takes us more money to maintain than it brings in. There is no doubt the lines would erode over a few winter seasons and which may never repaired later, due to Nepal’s lack of trained technicians. A ropeway on the other hand would always be operational, and require minimal maintenance.
Our main goal is to bring and take goods, not people, from China. After I saw a Chinese man in a motorcycle with a Chinese number plate and army costume wandering around in Dhulikhel, it occurred to me that bringing in people from the border areas might not be a great idea. We should limit tourism to high end and middle class tourists who come by plane.
Hydropower projects, especially on the mega-scale that China is talking about, is contested for environmental reasons. Nepal has fragile mountains, whose ecology has to be carefully stewarded. Nepal is also a democratic country and its not easy to empty habited lands — the lands have to be bought, and with speculators rushing to the proposed sites and buying up land cheaply from villagers, the government is faced with a big gold-rush crowd waiting to cash in on their dividends once the hydropower projects commence. This means more costs for Nepal, and which is one of the issues which stall these projects. All of these have to be resolved before the projects can be put in operation.
With global climate change and rivers running dry, the other due diligence that Nepal Government should do is look at how viable these projects will be in 20 or 30 years time, when we may have much less water than we do now, due to climate change melting our glaciers and ending the spring melt which feeds the rivers.
A more viable policy issue to discuss with China in the day of climate change is better management of Himalayan rivers, including ways to ensure their longevity. Also the two countries should discuss the possibilities that those rivers could one day dry up, leaving a lot of highland communities with very little water. How would they survive? What are indigenous local methods of water conservation which could stall this possibility? How can China support those initiatives so that rivers are conserved on both sides of the border? These sustainable conservation issues should also be on the agenda, although they are not as glamorous as the prospect of a huge hydropower dam.
Nomadic communities on both sides of the border should be able to graze their sheep and yaks in the way they have done for centuries. These indigenous people are the stewards of the land, and they know how to keep the ecology in balance. They should be treated with respect and given due acknowlegement for their knowledge of stewardship.
There’s talk about “people to people exchange.” This is never entirely defined, other than in tourism. As a writer and filmmaker, I also want the Nepal government to lobby for a government exchange program which take teams of Nepali filmmakers to China to expose them to their world class filmmaking industries, including on short-term training programs. This would be extremely welcome.
We also need to formalize an agreement on intellectual copyright issues. How can Nepalese translate and get their works published in China with legal protection (other than going through the circuitous route of going through an American or Western literary agency, which currently is the only option?) How can we show our films in China in a way that makes it profitable for both sides? At the moment, there are no formal agreements between Nepal and China about intellectual property rights in books, films and music. This is something we should think about, since our young filmmakers are increasingly making better films and music videos. We should also be able to compensate the filmmakers in China by watching their films on the big screen, and not just watch their excellent films on pirated DVDs.
For women and young people all over the world, the viability of the planet and its survival has become a huge concern. China is a major source of greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide. Nepal must definitely raise this issue, including ways in which China could phase out coal and move to clean energy. With global warming, we are losing our glaciers and Himalayan rivers. About 1.3 billion people (Nepalese and Indians) depend upon these rivers for drinking water, irrigation and livelihoods. They are also sacred to Hindus. We cannot afford to lose these rivers. What are some of the things that China can do to offset its carbon footprint so that we can slow and stall the melting of the glaciers?
This brings me to plastic. China has long depended upon the plastic industry to boost its exports and create the new wealth which has uplifted its population. However, plastic can no longer be the material on which it builds its prosperity. Plastic’s impact on people, animals, birds and all living creatures are now well-known. We are being inundated with this material which neither biodegrades nor provides any value to soil, air and water, other than causing their desecration. China has to move away from plastic as its backbone, and look for new materials that ideally nourish the soil and air, or at least do not cause harm. It has already stopped the export of plastic waste from America and other countries into China through “Operation National Sword,” citing pollution. Now it needs to stop the manufacture of plastic, and quickly reinvest in new green options so that it can stay ahead in the plastic alternative game.
I was at my local shop the other day when a young teenager walked up with one of those disposable coffee containers ubiquitous in the West, but which we hadn’t seen in Nepal so far. Now with China’s burgeoning exports through new online websites, we are seeing these lethal objects in Nepal. The only way to dispose of these single use plastic containers is to incinerate them. This contributes to Kathmandu’s deathly pollution, as well as to the region’s global warming. This has to stop, on both a moral and ethical basis. This is not development or prosperity. This is madness. We are working to destroy our own future generations on this planet when we choose these materials as our base.
In addition, there are several points of disagreement which Nepal as a democratic country has with China. We cannot support the kind of surveillance which has become commonplace in China and which is state-endorsed. People should not be monitored by these surveillance programs — this is a fundamental violation of people’s rights to privacy. These surveillance technology are now commonplace in HongKong as well, which is an alarming trend. China must resolve its differences with HongKong peaceably, including respecting the terms and conditions with which HongKong was handed over by the British. In addition, Nepal cannot support China’s treatment of the Uighurs. These programs of coercion and indoctrination must end, and programs which encourage Uighur youths to start small businesses and move away from radicalization must be put in place instead.
Also Nepal cannot support any program of extradition which may affect Tibetans. Tibetans who came as refugees are one of Nepal’s most hardworking communities, tirelessly bringing in the foreign exchange through the many entrepreneurial ventures that they run. The biggest export from Nepal to China may be Tibetan handknotted carpets. Tibetan Buddhist teachers run religious institutions and give lectures on Buddhism which also attract many international visitors, including many from mainland China. Nepal, as a country dependent upon tourism, see them as a valuable part of our national life, not just due to their contribution to the economy but especially in their hand in keeping alive the Buddha Dharma. They are valued citizens and we cannot put them at risk in any way.
There are many other ways in which China and Nepal can sustainably co-operate and boost trade both ways. Healing herbs have always been a major export from Nepal from mountain areas, especially the Karnali. Nepal needs to regulate the trade and provide the benefits of this trade goes back to local communities. Right now, it requires a license to harvest the herbs. Indian businessmen who pay for the license can legally harvest while the locals can be prosecuted for picking herbs from their own forests. This is obviously a system that must be dismantled and greater autonomy given to locals to steward and sustainably harvest their own forest resources.
China’s traditional healing herbs and traditional medicines are world-class, and Nepal can learn a lot from them. Our government should request the Chinese government to provide an exchange program which trains people in acupuncture techniques as well as traditional Chinese herbs so we can provide low cost traditional herbal alternatives to our people. I have gone to an acupuncturist after my earthquake accident and experienced first hand the wellbeing that comes from acupuncture. I have also seen people with paralysis and other life-crippling events recover in this healing center.
China and Nepal should also work on attracting tourists to ecological tourism, in which people are taught about the benefits of maintaining wild areas and wildlife. Without our forests and our animals, we will not survive for very long. Nature can do without humans, but humans cannot do without nature! We need to understand this and work towards rebuilding mixed forests which give importance to old growth trees.
Currently a series of new governments have devastated Kathmandu’s trees, killing thousands of old growths in road expansion programs. We are now facing the consequences of those actions — including an epidemic of dengue, which is spread by mosquitoes. Everyone from the Mayor to our most valued doctor Sanduk Ruit have come down with this disease. The mosquito’s natural predators, including dragonflies, birds and bats, all live in green areas, and with cement and asphalt everywhere, Kathmandu is prime “real estate” for mosquitoes to breed in. We know the wages of ecological sin is death, and in this current scenario of climate change it might quickly become mass death unless the environment is given top priority. Kathmandu needs to reforest itself quickly, and that means picking the right species of hardwood tree (not the tropical palm trees that the current government has quickly planted along President Xi’s route from the airport). Of course a two year old tree will never exale the thousands of tons of oxygen a stand of century-old old growth trees will give out, but at least it would be a start towards thinking about a more sustainable city.
China must think about how it could support Asian cities to re-green, not just concretize. Concrete is turning out to be an unviable material due to the way we have recklessly destroyed mountains for lime and riverbeds for sand. China has the capacity to conduct research on green building materials which are sustainable and which do not harm the environment.
The one area in which Nepal could provide support to China is in helping China to adopt its very successful community forestry model. Nepal has recently been in the news as one of the very few countries where the total landmass of forests is increasing. This is not just due to the mass migration of people from villages into cities (although that is a factor), but also because of an extremely successful community forestry program that been operational since the late 1970s. The late King Birendra’s “Hariyo Ban, Nepal Ko Dhan” (Green Forests are Nepal’s Wealth) program was instrumental in this rise of reforestation in Nepal.
As the global economy slows down due to the disruptions of climate protesters, there has to be new ways to think about creating prosperity. The old model of relentlessly pumping out objects and materials toxic to the environment and harmful to living things has to change, if industries and economies are to survive. China can play a key role in this moment, because it has the capacity to quickly shift to new, green materials, as it has shown with its manufacture and adoption of electric vehicles which outnumber those in more cumbersome Western economies. China’s solar industries are the best in the world, and Nepal should also court the possibility of attracting solar power and electric vehicle support to Nepal, not just focus on stalled hydropower. We should also lobby for a government exchange program in which Nepali engineers are taken to be trained in solar technology and EV technology in China.
President Xi’s visit is a prestigious moment for Nepal, for whom both its giant neighbors are equally important. We are honored by his visit. Our cultural and historical ties are long, and will last throughout the ages. We should use this moment to think about long-term benefits for both nations which will help citizens of both nations to survive the turbulence of both planetary as well as economic changes.

04 October, 2019

How Dare You

Annapurna Express, October 4th, 2019

“Change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Wise words from a sixteen year old that is lost amongst the clamor of panicking adults who can’t see beyond their own narrow confines of belief and bank accounts. Greta Thunberg has blown the conch shell, metaphorically speaking. In Hindu mythology, the conch shell was blown at the beginning of a battle of good over evil. In the Mahabharata, the world’s longest epic, a long and destructive battle almost destroyed both sides, but the lesson remains—no matter what the cost, the battle had to be fought to the bitter end for ethical and moral reasons. Once you entered the fray, there was no turning back.

The war of the Mahabharata was only 18 days long. But what intense eighteen days! The epic is rich with extraordinary characters, plots and events. The Mahābhārata is the longest epic poem known to humanity. According to Wikipedia: “At about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined.”

And in much the same way, we can see the unfolding furies and passions of people separating into two battle lines as 16 year old Thunberg blows the couch shell over what may be the biggest battle of humanity—the fight over the survival of the planet itself. Tied to this battle is humanity’s survival, and also the survival of all living forms on earth.

For those who believe that their “way of life” is at risk, and who continue to believe the leftists are using children to make up alarmist stories to attack their lifestyles, the path forward is clear—more fossil fuel extraction, more automobiles on the roads, endless deforestation for palm oil, soy and beef, clearcutting of all of South America to feed the geometrically multiplying human population. In this scenario, poverty can only be ended when every single human eats a hamburger a day, discards 4.6 pounds of disposable plastic each day, and drinks only bottled water or soda out of plastic bottles. Agriculture will be increasingly “human free,” and will be done on a war footing with computers, drones and planes spraying thousands of hectares of land with lethal pesticides that kill every pest (and every weed, wildflower, bird, bee, earthworm, and beetle in the vicinity.) This is the vision of progress and affluence pushed by America, which coincidentally also happens to have the biggest fossil fuel companies, car companies and fertilizer and pesticide companies listed on their stock exchanges, enriching their stockholders with this apocalyptic vision of progress.

When Greta Thunberg took a sailboat from Sweden to New York, she was entering the lion’s den—the city where all the commodities erasing the planet’s lifeforms are traded. Millions of dollars change hands in Wall Street and around New York everyday, as big finance companies trade in palm oil, soy, beef, and timber. The lifestyles of those trading the future security of the coming generation for their own securities—private jets, brownstones in Manhattan, giant mansions in Connecticut, dinners at Nobu, holiday homes at Martha’s Vineyard, private tuition at Ivy Leagues—all depend upon coolly calculative decisions which prioritize profit over planet everyday.

For these ruling elites, Greta Thunberg and children like her who speak the truth are a threat. She must be brought down by the force of public opinion, so the right-wing cavalry marched into action. Dinesh D’Souza, right-wing extraordinaire, posted a picture of Nazi propaganda featuring a blue eyed girl with braids and juxtaposed that with a photograph of Greta “Children—notably Nordic white girls with braids and red cheeks—were often used in Nazi propaganda. An old Goebbels technique! Looks like today’s progressive Left is still learning its game from an earlier Left in the 1930s,” he wrote. Fox host Laura Ingraham compared Greta to a Stephen King story.

Sandipan Deb, former editor of India’s ‘Financial Express’ and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines, said “radical-left handlers” are using Thunberg to create a pre-industrial society akin to Pol Pot’s. On the eve of massive unseasonal floods which left many people dead in Bihar, Deb wrote:
“Even if global temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, nothing cataclysmic will happen.”

Deb goes on to claim “crazed leftists” want to keep the poor in a helpless state, while magnanimous people like him see the way forward—better research in green energy which will be cheaper and more attractive than fossil fuel. By a sudden switcheroo, climate activists clamoring for an end of fossil fuel and for green energy are sudden crazed and only out to drive people into poverty, while wise people like Mr. Deb of Swarajya magazine have been calling for green energy all along. Besides the sleigh of hand of this argument, Mr. Deb expects nobody will notice the internal contradiction of dismissing the 1.5 degree threshold while seizing the green energy platform.

Who will win this massive battle for the survival of all of life? There is no doubt in my mind. It is not the middle-aged people furiously railing against Thunberg while trying to deviously confuse us with their bizarre arguments, hoping nobody will notice that their prime concern is for their stocks and shares. The only winners in this epic battle are the next generation, who will shape the world according to their own vision of prosperity.


07 September, 2019


Sushma Joshi, Annapurna Express, September 6th, 2019

When I was an undergraduate at Brown University, I took a class on Colonial Latin America. An exceptionally brilliant professor, R. Douglas Cope, taught the class. Methodically through the semester, we read texts describing the arrival of the Spanish from Europe, and their gradual takeover of Latin and South America. We went through the conquistadores and the encomienda system.  

Post-colonial theory remains trendy in anthropology and English departments—the fields in which I have two masters degrees. I am not a subscriber to the theory that all structural problems of the present is the fault of the colonial systems of the past. The Indians (of India), for one, have blamed the British a lot for their social problems while under-examining their own roles in the poor state of affairs of their nation. 

At the same time, it is hard to deny that many of the social problems of our day and age does stem from European colonialism, and the way the colonialists used savage methods to suppress and decimate the people and the lands they colonized. Indigenous people were brutally murdered in mass numbers so the lands they had lived on for centuries could be turned to farmland and grazing land for the settlers. I wonder how much of North America’s landscape is “natural,” and how much of it has been changed by the hands of the white man. I also wonder how much of the current hurricanes and tornadoes that the USA experiences is man-made. 

Vast farmland, aerated by toxic pesticides and nurtured only by chemical fertilizers, cover the middle of the USA. I travelled through Iowa during a cross-country trip in the early 90s. Long lines of corn that had been planted in precise lines, zipping by our eyes for days. Fallow land looked like the surface of the moon—nothing grew on them, not a single speck of weed, no moss, no fern, no fungi. No bees buzzed, no butterflies flew. There was no soyabeans and pumpkins climbing the corn plants, as in the Three Sisters method of planting practiced by indigenous tribes. Nothing else interrupted the landscape, except an occasional mammoth tractor or truck in the horizon. The landscape was anything but natural. Did these vast plains in the middle of the continent contain massive forests before? Did CO2 and oxygen circulate differently, leading to more stable weather patterns? It is hard to know how much the hand of the European settlers have changed the landscape and the weather in North America.

We thought the devastation of indigenous people and their lands was over, that we now lived in civilized, democratic countries with human rights. Then along came Bolsonaro, Brazil’s newest President. And in his actions we can see all of European colonial and imperial history as if it’s happening in front of our eyes. The Amazon has been set on fire. South America will burn to ashes, and replaced with beef farms and soyabean plantations to feed cattle in Europe, China and emerging economies. 

People all over the world, acutely aware of the climate crisis, are horrified and devastated by these actions. And yet Western democracy says we must let this ecocide megalomaniac play out his course of action. Nothing can stop him, because the holy strictures of European democracy is so sacred he must be allowed to burn and slaughter through the last remaining old-growth forests of the planet for a terra nulla future in Brazil.  

Protesting beef is tagged as a BJP activity in the subcontinent. But one can no longer ignore that the Hindus had a point when they resisted the eating of beef as an unethical and immoral activity. If life itself is going to be snuffed out in this planet due to people’s appetite for beef, how can we view this eating as ethical and moral? 

I visited Brazil in 2005 to attend a conference on migration, and later visited the World Social Forum at Porte Allegre. Lula was the much loved President of Brazil. When he showed up at the Forum, people surrounded him and showered him with love. There was a feeling of peace and love in the air, if such a thing can be felt. 

Later I ended up in a Vipassana center in the hills around Rio. I was relegated to the dish-washing with an indigenous Peruvian man, while the white people cooked. I didn’t like the division of labor or the way race played out in what should have been a race-neutral space of Buddhist practice. Back in Rio, I saw black people living in immense poverty side by side huge wealth. I didn’t like that either. On another memorable occasion, I thought I’d take the bus to Copacabana beach. I was about to step off the bus saying: Copacabana? with a bright smile when a tired looking indigenous woman wrapped her arms around me in a bear hug and screamed: No! She wouldn’t let me go till the bus had arrived at a safe neighborhood and I was out of the favelas. Brazil was riven with violence, race inequality and class injustice—the feeling was palpable. 

How the world responds to the apocalyptic devastation of Brazil now will be a test not just of our commitment to climate change, but also to our ideas of fairness and equality. This is the moment to seriously redress environmental and racial injustice.  

13 August, 2019


10 August, 2019, Annapurna Express

 A friend of mine who used to work for ICIMOD said to me: “You should write an op-ed about how we always respond to disasters when they occur, but we never plan for them proactively. An earthquake cannot be predicted, but floods happen yearly. Why don’t we have policies and implementation to stop this from happening? It’s a policy of responding to disaster only after it occurs. The government is ready with relief materials and helicopter rescues. But they have no policies or implementation to prevent disasters.”

Why, indeed? Is it that the political elites know that disasters are profitable moments to bring in generous amounts of state funding and international aid? Commentators have talked about the “Bihar Flood Mafia,” who thrive on this mismanagement of the rivers and who look forward to the yearly flood of funds that follows the inundation and breakage of barricades. Writer P. Sainath explored this disaster capitalism more in his book “Everyone Loves a Good Drought.”

We know the Terai is a flood-plain which floods annually. Himalayan rivers, swollen from the Asar-Shravan rains, burst their bounds and spread over the land, bringing with them disaster as well as the rich alluvial bounty of the monsoon. Before the Sixties, the rush of this water was held back by the Khar-Kosay Jhadi, the jungles which lay on the border between India and Nepal. Like Shiva’s locks which held back the mighty Ganga as she burst forth her bounds, the tangled roots of the jungle held back the water, absorbed it, and controlled the volume.

With DDT came the end of mosquitoes and malaria. People started to move down to the Terai in droves, decimating the jungles. With the forests went the tigers. As the big cats disappeared, so did a cascade of species that lived inside dense jungles.

Recently it was World Tiger Day. Someone who goes by the moniker “Amulya Sir” tweeted a photograph of King Tribhuwan by a dead tiger, and asked the question (I am paraphrasing his words): “Do you know why the tigers were more protected then, despite the hunting?” Then he answered his own question: “Because the habitat of the tiger was not fragmented as it is now.” The Terai was a long impenetrable corridor teeming with trees and wildlife where tigers thrived, alongside an ecological treasure-house of other species. Jungles absorbed the river’s overflow, acting as a natural checkdam and barrage for the villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. With the end of the jungles came the end of the tigers, but also it was the beginning of the misery of humans who saw their settlements washed away each year, with no Shiva locks to hold back raging torrents.

Is the answer then the slow revival of jungles as they once existed in this vast East-West corridor of the Nepal Terai? If people find life untenable in these areas due to annual “habitat loss,” perhaps the way forward could be to re-stitch together the land into one long wildlife corridor. Ostensibly we would be saving the tiger, but it would also provide a natural barricade for human settlements downstream. The government would have to provide compensation and resettle those who have to move into safe areas.

Loktantra has brought with it disasters we had not foreseen—bulldozers breaking down peepul trees and resting places (chautari), guthi temples and lands being absorbed by profiteers, even the land underneath the Prime Minister’s office itself being stolen and sold. If everything is for sale, what will remain in thirty years’ time for those who come after us? If the land on which rice grows is decimated by concrete apartment buildings, what will we eat when next there is a food shortage or an Indian blockade? While we have the political freedom to speak out now, is the environmental destruction so great that life itself may become untenable in a few decades?

Saving the tiger seems like a poor cause to champion when Nepal is rift apart by human trafficking and slavery of migrant laborers in the Gulf. And yet as I looked at the map and saw a proposed railway would lead straight from the Chinese border to Surkhet, close to our last remaining wildlife reserves, I cannot help but wonder if the tiger’s destiny is tied with our own. If we allow this railway to be constructed, allowing the flood of wildlife traffickers and poachers that are sure to follow, what will be left? If the last remaining tiger is killed for his penis or his bones (supposed to have aphorodisiac properties and coveted by patriarchal Chinese men who most likely never experienced the intense bonding between a male and a female that comes with love and respect between partners), then what kind of Nepal will we be left with?

Loktantra has viewed everything—agricultural land, guthi temples, migrant workers, Lok Sewa appointments, road contracts, drinking water, public transport, airports and airlines—as commodities to be exploited for capitalist gain. Nothing is seen as national resources to be stewarded and preserved for future generations. There is  little socialism and even less democratic thinking in our leaders as they sit at throne-like coffee tables and receive supplicants like mafia Godfathers, while dispensing largesse. Needless to say, such a system cannot in the long run be in charge of stewarding a nation-state, which requires self-sacrifice and long-term vision.