19 April, 2021

Nepal's Ayurvedic Masterplan

Ayurveda and traditional healing traditions from around the world are dismissed as “pseudo-science.” The justification for this arrogant condescension is: “Herbs haven’t gone though a clinical trial.”

This argument is lazy. You can find medical research literature of
herbs like gurjo, hibiscus, and timmur, in the Western scientific
tradition, archived online. I have read these research articles via
the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of
Health. People do not bother to read this research, although they are only a click away.

The Kathmandu Post ran an article about Kathmandu traffic police planting tinospora cordifolia or gurjo at the Tinkune Park. Gurjo is thought to prevent coronavirus. The traffic police, one of our most vulnerable frontline workers, were grateful to have this healing herb.

This article called it an “untested herb.” There are over 300
scientific research articles about the herb and its usages, including for osteo-arthritis to HIV/AIDS, from respectable researchers on the web. The fact the herb has been in use by many ethnic groups in Nepal, creating a pool of “pharma testers” who’ve gone through a clinical trial of its efficacy for hundreds if not thousands of years, seem lost on Western educated people flaunting their infallible modern credentials.

I have written articles mentioning the medicinal value of timmur
(Sichuan pepper). Trekking in Langtang in 2005, I can down with a
severe headache as I was ascending to Kenjin Gompa. My friends
suggested I descend. My headache was debilitating. I could see why people died from lack of oxygen to their brain. In Langtang Village, the villages told me the local medicine for altitude sickness: chew timmur, and drink lots of garlic soup. I may have taken a tablet of Western medicine as well. My pounding headache disappeared only the next morning. I was able to go up to the monastery and admire the cheese factory and the yak herders.

As an undergraduate at Brown University, I was hired by Professor Phil Lieberman to analyze speech of air traffic controllers, looking at audio waveforms on a computer. Lieberman was researching speech, and if it could show how tired people had become and thereby predict aircraft accidents. In 2004, Lieberman sent students to track mountaineers climbing without oxygen. He wanted to see if there was a link to oxygen deprivation, speech impairment and brain damage. I reported on this story. I knew that oxygen levels were important and could affect physiological functioning of the body.

When the coronavirus epidemic was a few months old, observers
(including me) started to have doubts about the efficacy of
ventilators. Publications reported doctors themselves were baffled. Although their oxygen levels were dropping through the floor, patients were sitting up, speaking, and talking. The doctors concluded that the symptoms were more akin to altitude sickness, and that they should stop using only mechanical indicators to calculate O2 levels, since pumping people full of oxygen could cause more harm than good.

When I wrote about timmur acting as a natural “ventilator” that pumps oxygen into people’s brains, I was bringing this two strands of my life and education together. To my twitter critics accusing me of "pseudo-science,” this ethnographic lived experience may have been lost.

I had never drunk hibiscus tea before I went to Bali in 2009. A
wonderful woman called Janet O’Neefe organizes the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, and I was one of the invited speakers. After the festival, I took a cooking class via her Casa Luna Cooking School. A jovial man led the session. The other dishes were usual Asian fare, but hibiscus tea stayed in my mind. With a flourish, the instructor took out the pistil and added bright red petals to boiling water. Then he added a dash of lime, turning purple wilted petals into a pink drink. It looked like a magic trick.

I drank this tea because it was refreshing. Only later did I realize
its medicinal properties. When I have debilitating menstrual cramps, I drink hibiscus tea and am operational within half hour. As I researched online, I realized this botanical treasure is an ancient Ayurvedic medicine. Rudrapushpam is deeply revered and has many usages. Hibiscus had the highest anti-viral effect on the avian flu virus in a research comparing different teas. People mistakenly think antibiotics will heal coronavirus. But what we need are anti-virals, not antibiotics which kill bacteria.

We already have powerful medicine that are stronger than any dubious Big Pharma drug. People infected with coronavirus in the West die of blood clots. In Nepal, we eat turmeric daily--turmeric is a blood thinner. Hibiscus tea, chyawanprash, timmur, and other herbs, taken in moderate and correct dosage, don’t harm the kidney or liver. Hibiscus can be available for free to all in the Indian subcontinent.

On Twitter, Baburam Bhattarai called for free hospitalization for
coronavirus patients. This sounds like a responsible activist call,
although Mr. Bhattarai  was last seen infecting large Terai crowds in an irresponsible vote-gathering endeavor. If government pays
hospitals, there is a big chance people will be given unnecessary
treatments that damage lungs, livers, kidneys and brains. Americans report a dramatic range of post-hospitalization symptoms, most likely caused by drugs and treatments.

It may be more responsible to fund districtwise Ayurvedic, Amchi and indigenous medicine production, deliver herbal medicine right to people’s doors, and provide care to those who need help at home.

Writer and filmmaker
148 Hattimahankal Marg,
Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone: 977-1-4411378

27 June, 2020

America's crimes against humanity

Annapurna Express, 17/6/2020

Fifty-four African nations have called on UN Human Rights Council to have an urgent debate on police brutality and racially inspired human rights violations. The letter asks for the debate to be held next week.

The militarization of the police and imprisonment of African-Americans go back to slavery. White supremacy—the notion of white culture being supreme over others—is part of the hegemonic cultural narrative of the USA. This narrative has enabled militarized violence over minority groups, including Native Americans and Latinos.

Black Lives Matter has opened the door. The UN should now open an extended investigation into America’s crimes against humanity. Since the end of the Second World War, the deep state and military-industrial complex of the USA has terrorized the globe. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Cambodia to Laos, the same logic of white supremacy and economic and technological domination has led to the deaths of millions. Cuba, Iran and North Korea suffer and starve under economic sanctions imposed by the USA.

America has been implicated in the conflicts of the Gulf, the Middle East and Africa, with mercenary troops and friendly nations acting as fronts for proxy wars.

Agencies such as the CIA have carried out assassinations and torture. But the CIA is a known institution. More sinister are the covert agencies whose purposes are unknown, conducting scientific experiments with no ethical guidelines.

Scientists are already capable of wiring up people’s brains to computers, with the purpose of downloading thoughts. If mobilized against opponents, this technology would bring about perpetual slavery through the control of the mind. This is a violation of bodily integrity which even the slaveholders of the 18th century could not have imagined. And yet Elon Musk’s Neuralink is a reality, celebrated as a tech “innovation” that will change the world. The inherent fascistic nature of the tech-industrial complex has done little to harm him or other tech magnates. Tesla’s stocks continue to rise exponentially behind smoke and mirrors of Wall Street. We are made to think of this as a social good, not the acme of the fascist panopticon.

On April 2015, the Large Hadron Collider, based in CERN, Geneva, “accelerated protons to the fastest speed ever attained on Earth,” Symmetry Magazine reported . Superconducting magnets were involved, 6.5 TeV of energy was generated. At the same time, a powerful quake shook Nepal, killing 10,000, injuring 22,000 (me amongst them), and making 400,000 homeless. America contributed 531 million to the Large Hadron Collider project. 1700 American scientists worked on the LHC research, more than any other nation’s, says CERN’s website. These two events are connected. This is not a matter to be dismissed as “conspiracy theory,” although that strategy has worked brilliantly in the past. Now the time has come for careful legal investigation through the auspices of international institutions.

All these crimes against humanity were enabled by the propaganda of the USA as a human rights defender, a fierce supporter of democracy, and a beacon of freedom. None of this is true. Democratic regimes were removed via coups and brutal military dictatorships put in their places, as in Latin America. The true purpose was to remove indigenous people from their land and have that land be taken over by multinational corporations of America.

America has used China’s state violence against Uighurs to protest the dangers of Chinese fascism. While chilling, it doesn’t compare to what America is doing. One million Uighurs are incarcerated in Xinjiang re-education camps. "In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population," says the NAACP’s criminal justice fact sheet.

With Black Lives Matter mass protests, the world has shown racialized violence of the American state must end.

African-Americans face the possibility of being choked, electro-shocked or killed as they go about their lives. A white policeman can kill a black man or woman, in their own homes or while going about their daily business, at any time.

We have no idea how many times this same kind of impunity has played out internationally, in deserts of Afghanistan and darkened streets of Iraq with no cameras present. How many people have Americans killed, covertly and overtly, with technology as yet unexplicated in law books? How many people has it driven to suicide?

America’s narrative of its own ethical goodness has silenced all opposition. An institution as aware of international law as the UN sees no legal doorway to the crimes against humanity committed by American troops, agents and covert institutions over 75 years. Now the time has come to take apart that myth. The UN must work together to put every single war crimes criminal before the long arm of the law. It is time for the trial of the century to start.

Famine or feast?

Annapurna Express,  31/5/2020

Kathmandu saw its first known starvation death this week: Surya Bahadur Tamang, who’d spent several decades portering goods in Kathmandu, was found dead on the sidewalks of Kirtipur. He did not make enough money to rent a room for himself, so he slept on the streets. On Saturday, May 23, exactly two months after the lockdown started and all work shut down, he was found dead, still clutching the woven jute strap he used to carry loads on his back. The locals said he had no family. He’d been eating free food offered by local organizations. Yet that wasn’t enough to ward off starvation.

How many people have died already is up for debate: on Twitter, there was news of at least one other man who had died of hunger in the Terai, news which went unreported in the national media. These are not isolated incidents but a systematic failure of justice. As time passes and the lockdown continues, there will be more starvation deaths.

In a 2017 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), almost two million people in Nepal were considered undernourished. Nepalis living in remote mountain areas had less access to food than those in the Terai.

The government of Nepal has made no plans to feed the estimated 10-15 percent of the population--2 million undernourished, plus 1.5 to potentially 3 million migrants who have returned from various cities of India--who already faces hunger.

On top of the lack of government preparation, we have a locust infestation which has moved up from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, just across Nepal’s border. The FAO estimates that the locust invasion will grow bigger by June-July, with the advent of wet weather and the monsoon. We could potentially lose much of our major crops. Coupled with this is a border dispute with India which could again trigger a blockade similar to the one in 2015. There will be less food export to rely upon as the locusts destroy essential crops and cause food shortages within India.

The Nepal government is still focused on developing immediate response plans for the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary focus so far has been managing the health sector and implementing the lockdown. As days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, there is an urgent need to also focus on other crisis that will compound the risks from Covid-19. The most immediate threat is famine.

Many countries have started re-thinking their food trade and food security status. If countries like India and China do not keep trade open and supply chains working, food security risks for Nepal could be devastating. It is therefore of utmost importance to start discussing the importance of local food production and food sovereignty for Nepal. 

The returning migrant workers, who are now only viewed as a health risk could be Nepal’s opportunity to win back our own food self-sufficiency. There are vast tracks of empty land in the hills and mountains and even Terai. Out-migration and labor shortage was one of the reasons for abandoned cultivable land. Therefore, we need to capitalize on this opportunity and direct the returning labor force into farming. Nepal has deep roots in agriculture, and most of our young people already know how to farm. What they need to get started is government support for seeds, fertilizers, tools and markets.

Local governments could provide support by making land leasing easier so that ownership rights are protected but the land is not left unplanted. Water management technology, seeds fertilizers and other inputs are needed as well. The government must also set up farmer co-ops to link farmers to larger rural and urban markets. The actual approach will need to be managed at a local level. There is no single silver bullet approach. This also gives the local governments an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess.  

In Germany, when farmers needed extra help to harvest some spring crops that usually relied on migrant laborers from Eastern Europe, students from universities volunteered to help. The universities were closed due to the COVID- 19 and farmers even paid the students so it was a win-win situation. The context in Nepal would be different, but we need to find a way to increase our agricultural production. We cannot leave our lands barren and simply wait for the crisis to slowly unfold. Action needs to be taken now to hire students for agricultural work, to subsidize and support women farmers, and startup farmer co-ops.

Also urgent is the need to prepare for a locust invasion. While chemical sprays can keep the most immediate swarms at bay, they may harm other beneficial insects, so we should also think about biological control of the pests. Wasps are known to be the natural predators of locusts. We could ask Netherlands, which has top-notch biological pest control expertise, for help with designing a integrated pest management solution. We can also use drones as well as airplanes which can fly down towards the swarms and disperse them with noise. Scientists have shown the locusts stop swarming when there’s a lot of noise which disrupts their swarming activities.

We should not let this crisis go to waste. Let us use this opportunity to build back our food sovereignty. What we decide to do now will determine whether we face famine or feast in the upcoming winter.

11 May, 2020

Nepal's Lockdown Reality Check

Annapurna Express, 11/5/2020

A few nights ago, I heard a young child talking with a man outside my lane. The voice of the child was rough, like she was from the villages and hadn’t been educated. The man was laughing occasionally in the casual manner of the laborers who still lived in the giant big building that has been constructed in front of our house as an investment property. Built for $600,000, it is now empty, with no renters coming forward to pay the rumored 10 lakh per room. But a group of young male workers are still living there, no doubt guarding the property. Every evening, I hear beautiful flute music from the same building. But this evening, I heard the voice of an angry young woman who was coercing the child to do something she didn’t want to do. The child start to cry hysterically. The man laughed. Then they left.

I have done research in Mumbai and I know child prostitution runs beneath the layers of Nepali society, where family members and guardians often become the enablers of sexual exploitation. While I cannot say with certainty that is what occurred at that moment, it disturbed me tremendously. How many women and children are now at the mercy of predatory men, with the income earned from casual, informal work having come crashing down?

The government of Nepal, unlike Western countries, has no social safety net that can protect teenaged girls and children. They have no provisions for women who are now out of work—the five kilos of rice, some dal and a few packets of cooking oil can barely meet the needs of women with young children. A young woman who was helping me to clean my kitchen decided it wasn’t worth her while to stand in line at the ward office for this small amount of food. “Who wants to wait in line for five kilos?” she said, dismissively. Then she said they would ask for nagarikta, and she’d have to go back to her village to get it. Later that week, I saw another woman in my neighborhood who I know has a young daughter become tremendously upset when she realized she’d need her citizenship to get the food being distributed—clearly she didn’t have it on hand.

Most pandemics of the past went on for 18 to 24 months, if not longer. It is likely that a famine as well as surge of coronavirus cases will follow in the autumn, as temperatures start to cool and food shortages become apparent. Yet does the government know how much grain we have in stock to feed 28 million people? Can it guarantee that it will have enough for the entire population from 23 September 2020 to 12 April 2022, which according to my (jyotish) calculations, will be the time of greatest death and despair? It may be 17th January 2023 before all deaths stop—that is when, according to jyotish, Saturn leaves Capricorn. Coincindentally-although according to jyotish there are no coincidences--Saturn, which rules death, dying, sickness, grief and despair, entered its own house Capricorn on Jan 25th, 2020. On Jan 23, China shut down Wuhan, and on Jan 30th, the WHO declared a pandemic.

While traditional jyotish timing may not be used for government planning any longer, we can look at linear, Western history of pandemics and realize that deaths come in waves and that it rarely ends in a few months. What is our government’s exit strategy to support 28 million young children, vulnerable women, unemployed disabled and elderly? How will it give financial security to the young men and women in urban areas who are now trapped in their homes? What plans does it have to distribute food, vegetables and medicines?

While this task is gargantuan to the center in Kathmandu, provinces have set up systems to deliver old age pensions, vegetables and food to people right at their doorstep. Political representatives more accountable than those in Kathmandu hired buses with their own funds and came seeking for their villagers stranded in the capital, at a time when the sirsha netas had just shut down the city with no provisions for people to return home. Thousands were forced to walk home for days, with kind people along the way offering them food and partial transport and in all likelihood saving their lives.

Kathmandu may be the capital city, but most of its local ward administrative units has been decimated by years of politicization, neglect, corruption and non-accountability. The cellphone message saying “If you suspect you have coronavirus, go to your local health center” is a bit of a laugh in Kathmandu, because there are no government funded local health centers, unless you are talking about the major hospitals. How many unemployed women with toddlers can walk to Shukraraj Hospital?

Perhaps the most chilling development in Kathmandu was seeing the video of little children being bathed in bleach before the local officials would give them free food. A global apparatus of authoritarianism, as epitomized by China, coupled with the bleach can heal wisdom of a “science is might and right” America, is squeezing vulnerable children and elderly all across the planet. In order to come out safely, we must resist both.


24 April, 2020

Cold West, Hot East

Annapurna Express, 24/04/2020

Despite evidence coronavirus has spread rapidly in rich, developed countries, and left poor countries unscathed, WHO keeps up the official pretense that it will affect all countries equally. This, in fact, has shown not to be the case, after almost 3.5 months of global contagion.

If the scientific establishment was in the service of science (and not in the business of pushing forth the notion of European hegemony and supremacy, or marketing Big Pharma drugs), it would be asking the question: why? What are the factors which are enabling the spread of this pulmonary disease in developed economies?

Several things stand out to me. First, the evidence that the coronavirus can survive 72 hours on plastic. All economies devastated by the virus are plastic economies. People use plastic credit cards to pay for goods and services, they eat their takeout meals out of plastic food containers, they buy their food from plastic bowls which have been touched by multiple hands on the chain of supply.

Second, despite the evidence, all health services have also pushed the notion that plastic is sanitary. Plastic is the only material from which PPE, which protects health workers, can be made. As you can surmise, this notion is problematic and may have led to many deaths of those at the health frontlines. The PPE may be infecting patients as well.

Third, rich economies rely heavily on refrigeration. Food which has been sitting for hours in a cooler is considered fit to take out and eat, without warming. As anyone in South Asia knows, anything that is not hot off the stove can harbor viruses and bacteria—we know this to our detriment from many cholera, diahorrea and other seasonal epidemics tied to hygiene. Yet in developed economies this concern is waved off as a cultural superstition of Third World peoples. Surely the much vaunted civilized cities of the West are so much more advanced with their fridges and cold sandwiches?

There’s also the Asian notion that food that is cold in temperature can cause colds and flus. This is considered to be a quaint belief by the West, where ice-creams can be consumed in the middle of winter in sweltering hot centrally heated restaurants. For Asians, cold comes not just through temperatures but certain foods which are considered to be cool/cold foods on the bodily temperature spectrum. Cucumbers and watermelons, for instance, are cooling foods, while ginger and chilli are warming foods.

This reminds me of the children’s game which we used to play in the past, where a blindfolded child has to find someone who’s hiding. He/she is taken around by another who says “Cold, cold, cold,” or “hot, hot, hot” depending upon how close the blindfolded seeker is to the hidden person they’re trying to find. “Cold” refers to “you’re off the mark.” “Hot” means “you’re very close.” Seeking the cause of coronavirus, it appears to me, could do with this childhood strategy—“Cold, cold, cold” and “you’re about to give yourself a cold with this chilly food” and “hot, hot, hot” meaning “see all those Third World people who pressure cook their food twice a day, do not eat out, and so far haven’t caught the flu? Yes, maybe it’s the hot food that’s keeping them alive!”

Fourth, there is no Amazon distributing large numbers of plastic wrapped packages in the countries where contagion is low or negligible. Amazon has been in the news for several reasons-low paid workers, difficult work conditions, inability of workers to organize and ask for healthcare, lack of testing for covid. There’s also a recent case in which a worker tested positive after Jeff Bezos visited the “fulfillment center.” These are perfect conditions for coronavirus infected workers to spread disease all across the country via niftily delivered packages.

Fifth, the lack of well-equipped hospitals may in fact have been be a boon in poor countries. A very high percentage of people who were intubated are dying after the procedure. Doctors have now gone on record saying that they mistook the very low oxygen count and automatically put people on ventilators, not paying attention to the fact people were sitting up and talking despite very low oxygen figures. The doctors have also said that the cases they see are more like altitude sickness, more than the normal kind of respiratory distress they were used to seeing in the past.

The one factor consistent amongst Third World economies: a reliance on herbal healing. Due to lack of big machines, most people in Third World countries know a local remedy to cure respiratory problems. The Tibetan Government in Exile just handed out a black pill composed of nine herbs to its citizens—perhaps it is the first government to do so. India’s Ayush Ministry has been active online, advising people to take Ayurvedic remedies, including “golden milk”—a small teaspoon of turmeric with hot milk. Just as the rationalists (who are dropping like flies) give a disbelieving laugh, they should first do the research on which system is winning the war here.

I would personally recommend garlic soup and timmur (Sechuwan peppers) to people feeling unwell. Those two cured me of my altitude sickness when I got a pounding headache at Langtang, at 3500 feet. If nothing, the timmur will force oxygen into your lungs without the invasive presence of a ventilator.

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.