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.