NEWS FROM NEPAL
From internet sources in Nepal and elsewhere, October-December 2006
The “Beginning of a New Beginning” Most readers probably know that on November 21, the leaders of the SPA (Seven Party Alliance) and the Maoists (Girija Prasad Koirala and Comrade Prachanda, respectively) signed a treaty that brought the two warring parties together on the road to a new government for Nepal. It was not easy for either party to reach agreement. Both had to accept compromises, but both had to be aware that the alternative to working together would be a return to the bitter civil war that neither party was strong enough to win and that, in its ten-year course, had cost the the lives of 13,000 of its citizens, forced many more to leave their homes - most out of the country, seriously damaged the economy and generally turned things upside down. Among the issues to be resolved was how to contain the two fighting forces that, until a ceasefire was declared in April, had dedicated themselves to shooting each other; how to conduct free elections when more than half of the country has been closely controlled by the Maoists; and how the different groups could be assured of adequate representation in the process of forming a new government. Then there was the matter of the king. The Maoists have made it plain that they want the monarchy abolished. Yet there is strong sentiment in some parts of the country for keeping the king, if only in a ceremonial role. The document that the two leaders signed postponed a solution to the monarchy question - other than to nationalize all royal property - yet set up the machinery that will bring the matter before a representative body that can make a nationally-endorsed decision. The body in question will be a constituent assembly that will be chosen next year in an election organized by an interim government. The members of the latter will be chosen on a proportional basis by party, with 48 of the 330-member body being selected from “civil society, professional organizations and various party organizations.” As for disarming the warring parties, the Maoists have accepted a plan where their troops (numbering 35,000, although there may be many more who have less official status) are assembling in seven “cantonments” and 21 “sub-bases” around the country monitored by representatives of the UN, and to stash their arms in locked armories. Their leaders will keep the keys to these but a UN team will keep tabs by means of monitoring equipment. Nepal’s army, in turn, will confine an equal number of its own soldiers (about a third of its total force) in barracks and will lock up an equal number of weapons. With the threat of military pressure removed, the UN will try to keep elections to the constitutent assembly free and fair. It will be the job of the assembly to decide what kind of country Nepal should be. It will devise a new constitution that may or may not include a role for the king. This will lead the way for new elections - this time for the government that will lead Nepal of the future. None of this will happen quickly. The interim government will not be formed until after December 1; election of members of the constituent assembly will take place in June of next year, and election of a more permanent government will be after that. There is thus a long road ahead before a government can be established on a new track. Yet the signing of this treaty was an important start. In the words of Prachanda, “it is the beginning of a new beginning.” (all media, November 8-25)
Reaction to the News. There was general rejoicing in Nepal at the news that a treaty had been signed by SPA and Maoists. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets all around the country. In Kathmandu, there were rallies, parades, and mass meetings, with participants shouting such slogans as “Long live democracy and a peaceful Nepal!” The government declared Wednesday, the day following the signing, a public holiday and urged all residents and businesses to keep their lights on. Schools and offices were closed. In Biratnagar, candy was handed out and four dozen pigeons released. Even King Gyanendra, whose heavy autocratic rule had produced the backlash that eventually produced the agreement, gave it his blessing and expressed the hope that “a prosperous Nepal can now be built with the collective efforts of all the Nepalis through multi-party democracy.” World reaction was also China, India, the UK, Norway, Japan, Switzerland, and other countries sent congratulations. The US, which has listed the Maoists as terrorists and earlier vowed that it would not support (and would even halt aid to) any government of which they were apart, seemed to have softened. “We want the peace process to work and we pledge our full support,” said a statement released by its embassy in Kathmandu. “We support an agreement that safeguards the aspirations of the Nepali people.” It indicated it was still nervous about the Maoists by adding that “violence, intimidation, and criminal acts - such as forced recruitment of cadres and extortion - must end.” As for the United Nations, which will play a part in implementing the agreement, it congratulated the parties “for their hard work in finalizing an agreement which is entirely a Nepali achievement,” and promised further help in other areas, such as human rights monitoring and electoral assistance. (various media, November 22)
The Dim View It is not easy to be an optimist in Nepal, perhaps because, in late years, there has been very little to be optimistic about. Even when, as now, things seem to be on a positive course, there are voices of skepticism. Those who take a dim view can now point to many possible pitfalls on the way to a new and better government. Can the Maoists be trusted to accept a place in a representative government in which they may not be the dominant party? Will their actions meet their words? Even as their leaders have been engaged in negotiation, elements of their army have been forcibly recruiting young people, and instances of extortion are being widely reported. Prachanda promises that the practice of demanding what they call “donations” will stop as soon as the government provides funds to take care of the Maoist army. And as for recruiting students into their army, he and other Maoist leaders claim that the kids are joining voluntarily. “There is a surge in the number of those wishing to join us,” says one district leader. “We have neither forced nor lured anyone to join.” Others speculate that recent recruitment drives were undertaken to swell Maoists ranks at a time when their troops are gathering in cantonments and can be counted. So far, only several hundred insurgents per cantonment have showed up at the various rallying points (those missing, the Maoists say, are on leave). There is also the question of whether, ignoring their leaders, there will be Maoist cadres who will continue to harass and intimidate citizens. The Maoists too have reservations. They have made it plain that they want Nepal to be a republic with no room for a king. It remains to be seen whether they would be willing to accept a purely ceremonial monarchy if the constituent assembly so decides. They also expect their troops to be integrated into a new national army that they say should be about a third of the size of the current army of some 95,000 troops. There is also the question of the degree to which the seven political parties who have been able to unite in the desire for a new government in spite of different goals and objectives, will be able to cooperate in working out its details. Or to what extent any of the parties can count on party unity. Dilip Maharjan, an advisor to the CPN-Maoist, has declared that he is ready to “revolt against the party leadership if the promised issue of ethnic autonomy is ignored.” Although it was not central to discussions about a new government, the question of ethnic rights has been a matter under consideration. If the new constitution does not do justice to “the different castes, communities, religions and languages,” this may “ignite another phase of the revolution.” (various media, November 12-22)
Panel Holds King Responsible for Anti-King Demonstration Casualties. A five-man, high-level commission headed by former Supreme Court Justic Krishna Jung Rayamajhi, has decided that King Gyanendra is responsible for the killings and shootings that took place during pro-democracy protests in April. At least 18 people were killed and thousands were injured. The panel recommends that parliament take strong action against the king and that all former ministers in his cabinet be charged with human rights violations, and some of them prosecuted on corruption charges. The commission interviewed more than 270 people and presented the king with a list of questions with a demand that he respond in a week’s time. He did not. The commission itself has no judicial power but has presented its findings to parliament for action. That body has formed a panel of its own to study the report. If proven guilty of suppressing the Jana Andolan II (the demonstrations), the government will let no-one escape punishment, not even the king, promised Mahantha Thakur, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperation. (all media, October 10 - November 29)
New Law Will Add Citizens. Nepal’s parliament has passed a bill that can make it possible for some five million people who were born in the country before 1990 to become citizens. The measure should particularly benefit large numbers of migrants from India living near the border of that country, and may make a difference in coming elections by adding many new voters to the polls. Not everyone is happy about the new law. The leader of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, the only member of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to vote against it, warned that it would “provide Nepali citizenship to agents of foreign multinational companies, thereby turning domestic capitalists into street vendors.” (For ownership of a Nepali business, It is now necessary for a majority interest to be in the hands of Nepalis). The country, he predicted, was in danger of “turning into Fiji,” where, a few years ago, the indigenous people became a minority and a person of Indian origin was elected president. A lawyer for the Citizenship Abuse Resistance Campaign complained that in addition to the many Indians who freely cross the border, and the Bhutanese refugees, there are refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibet, as well as Iraq, Iran and Myanmar, and that “our indigenous Terai people will become a minority in a short time.” You can almost hear him snorting as he adds, “anyone can be born here!” (nepalnews.com, November 27)
New National Anthem. Nepal has a new national anthem. The old one, adopted back in 1899, was criticized as being “just a melody praising the monarchy.” The new anthem was chose out of a field of 1,272 entries by a task force appointed for the purpose. It “incorporates national feeling, feeling of the people expressed in the recent peopel’s movement, love of the land and the glory of the Nepalese people.” Its opening line emphasizes Nepal’s new unity in diversity: “Sayaun thunga phoolka hami eutai maia Nepali [from hundreds of flowers, we are one garland]” (eKantipur, Zee News, December 2)
Squatters Becoming Ill. In mid-October, landowners took action against those whom they believe had constructed their huts illegally on their land in Butwal in south central Nepal - they burned down their huts - all 1,800 of them. Their now homeless occupants have been agitating for compensation for their losses and pleading with local authorities for alternate housing arrangements. “Neither political parties nor the so-called organizations working for our welfare have provided any help so far,” said one of their number. “. . . the police have not even taken action against those who had burned down our huts and beaten us.” Now the squatters have even more to worry about. Many of them are getting sick. Thirteen of them have been admitted to the Lumbini Zonal Hospital after their condition turned critical. They have been diagnosed with such illnesses as pneumonia, typhoid and fever. (eKantipur, November 15)
World Bank Gives $25 Million to Help Rural Poor. The World Bank has announced a grant of US $25 million to improve community infrastructure and access to income-generating projects in Nepal. It will help the Poverty Alleviation Fund, which currently operates in six of the country’s poorest districts, to expand its activities to 19 districts. According to the World Bank’s country director for Nepal, “the Poverty Alleviation Fund has proven to be very effective. . . . against a difficult context of political uncertainty and conflict.” He believes that it proves that “modest amounts of resources given to community-led development initiatives can help many poor families get a sustainable path out of poverty.” (Zee News, November 15)
DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS
Nepal Ranks 138th in Human Development. The UN measures human development in terms of degree of “poverty, inequality, and unequal power relationship.” In its 2006 Human Development Report, it puts Nepal in 138th place in the world. Only 35 percent of Nepalis have sustainable access to improved sanitation. Access to clean water is also limited, especially for the poorer people. “At community water taps where lower-caste people are forced to wait until upper-caste groups have finished, the less powerful, who are also often the poorest, spend more time collecting water. . . . at the same time, education opportunities are being lost, as girls are spending time collecting water,” said the organization’s representative in Nepal. The UN recommends that the government adopt a national strategy to make water and sanitation available to all and to spend one percent of its Gross Domestic Product on the task. Norway ranks first on its scale; the US is 8th. (Himalayan Times, November 10)
Fewer Poor People in Nepal. The level of poverty in Nepal declined from 42 percent to 31 percent in the years from 1996 to 2004, according to the World Bank. The reason offered has to do with the huge number of workers (around one million, or one out of every eleven adult men) who have fled the country during the Maoist insurgency. The amount of money they have sent home has increased fourfold since the mid-1990s, bolstering the income of a third of Nepal’s families. The exodus of workers has created a reduced labor pool in Nepal and forced employers to pay their employees more. Pay for farm workers is up 25 percent while that of skilled labor has more than doubled. (New York Times, November 23)
Poor Grades for Corruption. It could be worse - but not much worse. In a recent report, Transparency International has ranked Nepal as 121st out of 163 nations in its corruption percentions index. On a corruption scale of one to ten, Nepal, which has shown no improvement since last year’s report, managed to score only 2.5 points. Finland, Iceland and New Zealand are the cleanest nations while Haiti, with a score of 1.9, is the worst. (Himalayan Times, November 6)
116 Languages on Verge of Extinction. A total of 125 different native languages are spoken in Nepal, but experts now are warning that 116 of them are destined for extinction. “The number of native speakers have gone down drastically over the years and the trend of language shift to Nepali is increasing,” says Professor Yogendra Prasad Yadav, who is head of Tribhuvan University’s Linguistic Department. It is necessary for Nepalese citizens to know Nepali, the country’s official language, to read newspapers and other documents. It is also a lingua franca that allows one language group to communicate with another, and it is the only native language taught in most Nepalese schools. Local languages could be better preserved, says the professor, if they were included in the school curriculum as an optional subject. He recently resigned as coordinator for an Education Ministry committee concerned with linguistic minorities. “There is no use occupying the post when the government makes no effort to implement the committee’s suggestions,” he explained. The Ministry’s response, through a spokesman, was that it is seriously thinking of adding native languages to the school curriculum but has been hampered by what it describes as “technical problems.” (Himalayan Times, November 5)
Update on Bhutanese Refugees. In our last issue, we reported that the US had offered to resettle in its own country 60,000 of the 106,000 refugees from Bhutan now living in UN-admininstered camps in southeastern Nepal. Now three more countries - Australia, New Zealand and Canada - have also agreed to take some of the refugees. Yet not all of the refugees want to go to other countries. A large number are holding out for repatriation to Bhutan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is concerned about this. “This (division among the refugees) is not what we want,” says its representative in Nepal. He is worried that the refugees in the camps may be vulnerable to intimidation or that they may be misinformed about the third country resettlement. Yet “the UNHCR is not here to push anyone for the third country resettlement or repatriation or integration.” (Himalayan Times, November 11, 28)
Almost More Nepalis Leaving the Country than Tourists Coming In. The number of Nepalis leaving Nepal almost equals the number of tourists arriving there. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s annual report on the subject, 373,362 Nepalis left the country in 2005 at the same time that 375,362 tourists entered it, a difference of only a little more than 2,000. Almost 273 thousand of the departing Nepalis (or 73 percent of the total) were seeking foreign employment. The others were attending conferences (23,498), or had business commitments (20,021); 15,838 left as pilgrims, and students, holiday seekers and persons needing medical treatment left in numbers less than 10,000 per category. “The prolonged conflict and lack of opportunities back home have compelled tens of thousands of youth to go abroad in search of greener pastures,” says a spokesman for Nepal’s Tourism Board, adding that the number of Nepalis leaving the country as tourists has also gone up. As for incoming traffic, 42.7 percent came as tourists or for holidaying; 16.4 percent for mountaineering and trekking; 12.7 percent for religious activities; 4.5 percent for “formal programs,” and the rest for a variety of reasons including business. (Himalayan Times, October 26)
Double Agents Active in Kathmandu? “Investigations have unearthed an ISI-backed network that is operating between New Delhi and Kathmandu,” announced India’s Defense Minister at a conference in New Delhi. ISI is Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. The minister’s comment came after the arrest of two Indian Army personnel who had apparently been active in Nepal spying for Pakistan. “A detailed investigation is necessary” before it can be determined for sure that the two were passing on secrets to the ISI, but “we have to ensure that such things don’t happen again.” (Himalayan Times, October 23)
Man Leads Slow Police Chase. This man, a 36-year-old Nepali student, is not named in the news report. Some time after midnight on September 23, he was spotted by Monroe County, Michigan, police urinating on a highway median. He said he had become lost trying to return from Detroit to Bowling Green University in Ohio. The police told him to wait in his car while they checked out his credentials. After a bit, the Nepali moved his car ahead about 20 feet. The police followed, warning him by loudspeaker not to leave. Yet shortly after, he drove off at a steady speed of 55 miles per hour on a highway whose speed limit was 70 miles per hour. The police followed, sirens blaring and lights flashing, and several times tried to get him to stop. He finally did. When asked why he did not stop earlier, he explained that he thought the police were escorting him home. He didn’t know what the siren and flashing lights meant because police cars in Nepal, he said, were not equipped with such devices. (monroenews.com, October 25)
Nationwide Bank Withdrawal Spree. When word got around that Nepal Bangladesh Bank Ltd was on the verge of bankruptcy and was about to be taken over by Nepal Rastra Bank, depositors thronged its branches throughout the country to withdraw their money. In two days, more than Rs 450 million (around US $6.5 million) had been returned to depositors. At the same time, the Supreme Court was reviewing the Patan Appellate Court’s stay order to Nepal Rastra Bank banning legal action against the Nepal Bangladesh Bank. The former had accused the latter of “not being able to handle its activities effectively.” (Himalayan Times, November 10)
Maoists Attack City - with Brooms. “We took up arms for a cause, but the political situation has changed and now we are concentrating on reconstruction,” declared the leader of a Maoist group that late in October began a campaign to clean up the city of Kathmandu. Starting on the outskirts and moving towards the city’s center with brooms and shovels, the rebels worked at cleaning up the city. Their red head scarves and arm-bands identified them as Maoists. (canada.com, October 31)
Crime Fighting Maoists Act as Self-Designated Policemen. “The state and the police administration have failed to fulfill its duty in maintaining security in the valley, so we took the initiative lto start our own operation” announced Sagar (one name only), Maoist commander of what the rebels call operation crime control. Two hundred People’s Liberation Army soldiers have been deployed for the task. So far, they have arrested 190 people, of whom all except ten have been released “after investigations.” Sagar’s group does not intend to jail suspected criminals, only to investigate them and “keep them under our surveillance.” Needless to say, the government does not support the program. “What the rebels are doing in the name of maintaining security in the valley is totall illegal,” says a spokesman for Nepal’s Home Ministry. “They must stop such activities immediately.” Yet the Maoists feel that the police have ignored rising crime in the valley, including kidnapping and theft. “We want to make Kathmandu a crime-free zone in the next couple of months,” says Sagar. (Zee News, October 26)
It Pays to Know Someone if you Live in Biratnagar. When vacancies were announced for the Eastern Regional Police Training Center in Biratnagar, 526 candidates applied. Of those who were accepted, 40 percent had passed a written examination and a medical test. Another 60 percent apparently were accepted only on the basis that they had been recommended by important people. “Those who did not have the backing of higher ups in the brass were left to return disappointed,” said an un-named source. The Chief of the Center and Superintendent of Police is believed to have contacted local political parties for candidate recommendations. Although he denies this, the list of successful applicants reveals that more than half had been recommended by people of political importance, mostly in the Nepali Congress party. (Himalayan Times, November 10)
Brewery Workers Lock up their Employers. The employees of the Gorkha Brewer in Nawalparasi in south central Nepal were upset not only because their pay was lower than they thought it ought to be but because they thought the company was hiring temporary workers at lower pay to do what they considered full-time jobs. Their union, the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Trade Union Federation, joined backed them in these demands but added another of its own. It wanted the company to pay three rupees as tax to the Maoists for every carton of beer produced. It was able to get together with the company and work out an agreement, but the company never acted on the workers’ demands. These responded by locking six of their bosses in the brewery. One might think that being locked in a brewery would have its advantages but, according to an industry security guard, these men are not even allowed to go to the bathroom. (Himalayan Times, November 15)
Police Capture Only 10 Percent of Robbers. If you are robbed in Kathmandu Valley, your chances of either recovering your property or seeing the robber brought to justice are slight. In a report by the Valley Crime Investigation Branch, police admitted that they are able to nab only about 10 percent of the Valley’s thieves. They gave no figure for the number of thieves in the Valley, yet they said that 101 cases of thievery had been registered from mid-July to mid-October, with property stolen worth Rs 21,100,000 (more than US $297,000). Most of the thieves, the report says, are professionals. It is harder to make away with a motorcycle than money. Of 73 motorcycles stolen during the same period, police have recovered 54. The report does not explain why only three of these have been returned to their owners. (Himalayan Times, November 13)
Falsely Accused Cops Vainly Seek Exoneration. Back in 1988, two policemen, Khul Bahadur Kunwar and Yagya Bahdur KC, were accused of stealing two revolvers from the Police Training Center arsenal they had been assigned to guard. They insisted they were innocent but were dismissed from the police force and made to serve four and seven years, respectively, in jail. After serving their sentences, they returned to their homes and tried to live a normal life, yet as ex-convicts they were tainted. In 2003, 15 years after the crime, one of their former colleagues approached each of them separately and confessed that he was the one who stole the guns and that he was sorry for what they had suffered. He returned one of the revolvers to the police department and is now serving a four-year jail sentence. That should have led to the exoneration of the two who had been falsely accused but that is not the way they do things at Patan’s Regional Police Special Court. Upon receiving the policemen’s demand for reinstatement and due compensation for their suffering, that court turned to the Kathmandu District Police Office, now called Metropolitan Police Range. This office, however, had no records that dated back to 1988 and announced that it could do nothing to help. The two former cops now have the help of the Center for Victims of Torture, which believes that they were tortured into making a confession. It has filed a complaint for themwith the National Human Rights Commission (Himalayan Times, November 17)
Protest Police Death Ruling. There was one thing that was certain about Nawaraj Bajgain’s death. It was not accidental. The body of the 17-year-old was found in an isolated place with a noose around his neck. The police decided it was suicide but the boy’s family had reason to think otherwise. He had fallen in love with a fellow college student, but the girl’s family apparently did not approve. Four days before his death, they came and beat him up on the grounds that he had been “teasing” her. It was not only the family who thought he had been murdered. Fellow students, neighbors and members of the Maoist-affiliated Nepal Trade Union Federation took to the streets, blocking traffic and demonstrating in front of the District Police Office at Hanumandhoka, demanding that the truth be brought out and the suspected killers punished. The police agreed to look further into the matter. (eKantipur, November 17)
Toilet Suicide Questioned. Lal Bahadur Tamang, 52, had been arrested by park authorities at Chitwan National Park on the charge of killing rhinos. According to the Park’s acting conservation officer, Tamang had gone to bed after dinner on the night of November 14 but was found dead the next morning, hung from a ventilator in the toilet. Family members do not buy this story. They are preparing a lawsuit against park administration accusing them of torturing Tamang to death. The Park has given the family 8,000 rupees (approximately US $112) for expenses for last rites. (Himalayan Times, November 17)
Fake Astrologers Arrested. Metropolitan Police arrested two Indian nationals in the Thamel district of Kathmandu for “making money from people in the name of solving their problems.” The two were posing as astrologers, police say, but according to some of their victims, did not know what they were doing. (nepalnews.com, November 6)
Increased Demand for Rhino Horns Diminishes Population. One area where China’s new prosperity is being felt is in Nepal’s jungles. There has always been a demand in China for rhino horns, which are believed to have aphrodisiac qualities. It has been more easily met in recent times in Nepal as that country’s political problems have created a vacuum in its forest security systems. A rhino horn can fetch as much as US $10,000 in the international market; hooves and other body parts are also valued for their medicinal qualities. It is the army that has traditionally run the national forests. During the insurgency, its small and isolated security posts have been a target for the insurgents. Authorities are now happy to report that with the ceasefire and opening of talks, the situation is changing. Army personnel are returning to their security posts and poaching has been cut down. “We have already restored five security posts and more are being set up,” says Chitwan’s chief warden. “We are also trying to get more involvement of the local community in anti-poaching drives.” (Reuters, November 4)
Rampaging Elephants Kill 7. Rahim Miyan, 50, of a village in the southeastern district of Sunsari, woke up one morning in late October and stepped out of his house to relieve himself. It was then that a wild elephant emerged from a jungle on the border of Nepal and India and trampled him to death. It may have been the same elephant who, a few days earlier, had killed a woman in a neighboring village who had come from Khotang to celebrate the holidays. Wild elephants knocked down houses in the nearby district of Morang at around the same time, killing five inhabitants. Thirty families in the area have issued a joint press statement demanding that the government take action to control the elephant menace. (Himalayan Times, October 26; The Peninsula, October 27)
Tree Feeler Captured. In Nepal it appears that feeling trees - never mind hugging them - can get you in trouble, as the following news item from nepalnews.com shows: “Locals at Pataura VDC 6 captured a Maoist cadre Rakesh Shreevastav, for allegedly feeling trees inside a community forest in Maila village of the VDC. A group of Maoist cadres and locals clashed over the feeling of trees before they captured the rebel.” (nepalnews.com, November 4)
Monkey Terrorizes Village. It is apparently a single monkey who is responsible for damaging crops and fruit plantations in Ghansikunwa in the Tanahun district in central Nepal. Villagers there report that more that $10,000 worth of fruits and vegetables have been endangered. We do not know what sort of efforts they have made to kill or capture the animal, but they have appealed to concerned authorities for help in resolving their problem. (Rising Nepal, November 9)
Increase in Number of Nepali Students in US. Six thousand sixty one Nepali students enrolled in US universities in 2005/2006, putting Nepal among the top 20 countries sending students to study in the US. The figure is drawn from a number of sources and may be less than the actual total. It represents an increase of around 25 percent over last year. One of the reasons offered is the recent deteriorating security situation in Nepal, with regular strikes and campus shutdowns at its own universities. For the seventh year in a row, the US has hosted more than half a million foreign students. (nepalnews.com, November 14)
Man Arrested for Giving Out Chocolates. Twenty-seven students at Shramik Shanti Higher Secondary School in Lalitpur suddenly took sick and had to be hospitalized after they had eaten chocolates. Police tracked down Shyam Shrestha as the one responsible for the “sub-standard candies.” He is supposed to have given them to Sushila Koirala, a fourth grade student who handed them out among her classmates to celebrate her birthday. Yet alert policemen discovered that the date in question was not her birthday. “We are trying to know why she distributed the chocolates and how did she got them,” said the police superintendent. Her older sister said that they were given to her by a stranger the day before. She had eaten three of them with no ill effect. Yet her fellow students were vomitting en masse shortly after consumption. Police were later able to identify the generous stranger. Shrestha has been taken to an office of the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control along with 42 sacks of his candy. “Fact will emerge after the food office comes up with laboratory findings,” says the superintendent. Whatever those facts show, the school’s principal believes that “the incident may be a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the school.” (Himalayan Times, November 27, 28)
Demonstrators Protest Death of Child. Ten-year-old Rekha Kumari Shah was brought into the National Medical College Training Hospital in the Terai city of Birgunj with appendicitis. After surgery, she lay on a bed, unconscious, for three days. The doctor then gave her an injenction, two hours after which she died. Her family was sure that the death was caused by incompetence on the part of the doctors who had not diagnosed the problem properly in a timely fashion. They started shouting and breaking things in the hospital. Others joined them, burning tires at the institution’s gate and preventing anyone from entering or leaving. Hospital operation was brought to a stop. The police and local political leaders stepped in and were able to calm things down by getting the hospital to agree to compensate the grieving family with a payment of Rs 50,000 (a little more than US $700). (Himalayan Times, November 20)
ON (AND OFF) THE ROAD
Bus Accident Kills 42. Even by Nepal standards, this was a major accident. A bus carrying more than 100 people skidded off the road in Salyan district in western Nepal, leaving 42 people dead and 43 others injured, most of them critically. Rising Nepal reports that during the last fiscal year, there has been an increase in automobile accidents, with at least a sixth of them resulting in deaths. Considering the relatively small number of roads in Nepal, the proportion of accidents to road is higher than in most parts of the world. Yet roads in Nepal tend to be narrow, twisting and badly maintained as they traverse the country’s hilly landscape, and a large number of accidents are believed to be caused by drunken, sleepless, or badly-trained drivers. (BBC News, Rising Nepal, October 28)
IN THE MOUNTAINS
Avalanche Kills 6 on Ama Dablam. Saran Subba was probably disappointed when exhaustion forced him to turn back before reaching Camp 3 on Ama Dablam, yet he, at least, was alive the next morning. Other members of his team, the Swedish climbers Michael Forsberg and Daniel Carlsson, and two climbing Sherpas, Danurbu Sherpa and Tashi Dorje Sherpa, had kept going to reach the 21,000-foot level of the 22,400-foot mountain where they set up their tents to spend a night before attempting the summit. They were joined at Camp 3 by British climber Duncan Williams and Mingma Nuru Sherpa, members of a different expedition. Some time during that night, an avalanche descended over their camp and swept all three tents away. When a rescue helicopter was able to fly over the site before dropping rescuers at base camp, clothes and shoes were spotted in the snow but no bodies. The Swedes were members of the “Climb High Ama Dablam Expedition 2006" which had prepared for the ascent with a climb of Island Peak. The others were from “Adventure Peaks Ama Dablam Expedition 2006.” They had climbed nearby Lobuche East before they started up Ama Dablam and after being forced back by heavy snow on Pumori. It was approximately one month earlier that four Sherpas (Ang Zangbo, Phurba Thundu, Pemba Wangdi, and Lhakpa Nurbu) who had been participating in a 10-man expedition, died on in an avalanche on that 23,500-foot mountain. (various media, October 15, 16; and November 15, 16)
French Climbers Missing on Paldor. It was a month after four French climbers had set off for an ascent of Paldor (approximately 19,500 feet) in Ganesh Himal northwest of Kathmandu before their friends began to worry about them. They had not returned at an appointed time nor was there word from them. A 17-member rescue team has since been looking for them, as well as a helicopter chartered by the French Embassy. (MountEverest.net, November 15)
2008 Olympics is Reason for North Side Restrictions. If you have been planning a climb of the north side of Mt. Everest for your next year’s spring vacation, you should be warned that the price is going up and that the number of climbing expeditions from this side will be limited. The north - or Tibet - approach has been more popular for climbers in recent years because it is cheaper ($3,000 rather than $10,000) and because the Chinese have done little to regulate climbs. But Mt. Everest is to play a part in China’s celebration of the Olympics in 2008. The traditional Olympic Torch Relay will feature a stop at Mt. Everest (although perhaps not at its summit) as the sacred flame is carried to Beijing. There will be a trial run of the ceremony in 2007. (MountEverest.net, October 31)
Discovered Remains are Probably French Tourist’s. It was more than a year ago that Celine Henry, a French visitor to Kathmandu in her 30s, went for a hike in Nagarjuna Park just outside of Kathmandu. She never returned. Nagarjuna (or “The Queen’s Forest”) is a wooded hill with a Buddhist monument and spectacular viewpoint on top, and is a favored place for joggers, hikers and picnickers. After Celine’s disappearances, Nepalese and French investigators conducted an intensive search of the area but found nothing. But now police report that they have found a skull, ribs and some clothes they believe may be hers. The remains have been sent away for DNA testing. Around a month after Celine’s disappearance, another foreign lady in her 30s, this one a German named Sabine Gruneklee, vanished in the same area. Her body was found about five months later. (BBC News, November 3)
New (and More Expensive) Rules for Trekkers. Trekking just got more expensive. A Trekking Registration Certificate (TRC) now required by the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), if given expected final approval by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, will cause trekkers to pay at least $10 more per day than formerly for their trekking adventure. Every trekker will be required to employ the services of a porter or guide, thus doubling the cost for those who would otherwise be shouldering their own loads and choosing their own course. “When the old permit (abolished in 1999) was abolished, a lot of bogus agencies came into existence and started operating illegally,” a TAAN spokesman said. “The TRC requires every agency to be registered.” The agencies will not be required to submit an itinerary and personal details for every trekker, and there will be TRC checkposts along major routes to insure that its rules are being followed. Although there is agreement that the aim of the new rules is laudable, some tour operators are wondering whether trekkers will recognize any increased benefits that might go with increased costs, and note that there are no training programs for guides and porters and no established standards of service. One American guide who has recently returned from the Khumbu, said that, “people there are wondering where they should put all these guides and porters. They are used to individual trekkers without staff and there’s no system in place to accommodate all these extra people who aren’t paying anything.” Yet TAAN is convinced that its certificate will do more good than harm. “We might lose some individual trekkers,” says its spokesman, “but we are looking for quality and not quantity. Nepal is still cheaper than other destinations in the world. I don’t think it will damage tourism.” (Nepali Times, November 3)
THE ART SCENE
Walking Art. “I don’t like canvas or paper,” says Deneth Plumakshi, an artist from Sri Lanka, “so I started painting on clothes.” She has been doing this in Kathmandu, where she has recently joined with seven other, like-minded, artists in mounting an exhibition of walking art. It takes place after dark in a namely palace garden with performers, each wearing a self-designed art work, walking a cat walk to the accompaniment of carefully selected music. One is dressed like a Roman gladiator, his cloak adorned with sensuous female forms; another wears a version of Picasso’s “Guernica,” another, a mosaic of mirrors. The exhibitors want to make it plain that these are not costumes, nor does this have to do with fashion - it is art. Plumkshi, who is curator of the exhibition, has long been attracted to Nepal. “People basically live in art in this country,” she says. Despite Nepal’s conservative reputation, “people here a very broad-minded. Give a push, and doors will open.” (BBC News, October 25)
Is Kumari Being Mistreated? Most visitors to Nepal are familiar with the living goddess Kumari. They may not be allowed to get close to her but they can go to her palace off Durbar Square and, if they are lucky, see her appear on her balcony. She is thought to be an embodiment of Taleju Bhavani, a goddess of strength. Rules are followed for the process of discovering her in a Shakya family when she is aged 3 or 4. She is then taken from her parents and kept sequestered in her temple except for balcony appearances and a few festivals during the year when she is wheeled through the streets in a chariot, dressed in red and gold. A goddess she may be, but there are now those who are more concerned about her as a human being. Responding to a writ filed by children’s rights activists, Nepal’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to investigate possible violations of children’s rights in her treatment. Kumari’s role as a goddess requires her to “live away from her family, restricts contacts, deprives her of normal social as well as family life and regular schooling,” says a lawyer and human rights activist. Others note that most Shakya families are eager to have their child chosen as Kumari, and that “the girl is given proper care and education, and lives with dignity,” as one of them has asserted. Not only that, traditionalists say, she is given what amounts to a pension after she retires and rejoins her family. The court gave the government three months to make a decision. “This raises the status of the child as divine,” says the leader of a group that promotes Newari language and culture. (Reuters, International Herald Tribune, November 2; Yahoo Asia News, November 3)
Muslim Groups Clash Over Plans for Madrasa. Two Muslim groups had gotten together in Shreepurjabdi in the southeastern district of Sunsari to discuss the opening of a madrasa (religious school) in their village. There were disagreements, although the news report does not say about what. Yet they were serious enough that the two groups started pummeling each other. When it was all over, 27 were left with injuries. Six were taken to the Zonal Hospital in Biratnagar in critical condition. The others were treated locally at the District Hospital. (Himalayan Times, November 7)
THE BACK PAGE
What it Means to be a Sherpa: Comments by Two Sherpas
There may be no way to know how many Sherpas are in the United States. There are not a lot of them compared to other ethnic groups - but then, there are not a lot of them anywhere - not even in their native Nepal. That may be one reason why it seems so important to some of them to hang onto what is unique in their make-up - what makes a Sherpa a Sherpa - particularly here in the US where other influences are so overwhelming.
We are giving this space to two young Sherpas who would like to address their fellows on the subject. Tsering Norbu Sherpa, from Namche Bazaar, now lives in Colorado and would like to form an organization, “Sherpas of the Rockies,” that will help Sherpas in the US keep together, whatever part of the country they live in. Here are excerpts from the letter he has sent out:
Dear fellow Sherpas,
Back home in your village you were always near your family and your friends. You could keep in touch with what was going on with them and what was going on with other Sherpas. You’d get together with other people in your community for festivals and, without even thinking about it, kept your religion and your language and your dances alive - in fact, kept everything that makes us Sherpas alive, naturally and without effort. . . but here, all this is very hard.
You may be lucky enough to live somewhere where you can get together with other Sherpas but there is nothing that brings all of us in America together in spirit and brotherhood. Sherpas, in a large way, are out of touch with each other. Except for what is right around us, we do not know what is going on with other Sherpas. If someone needs help, there is often no-one there to give it.”
[That is why he and his friends want to develop Sherpas of the Rockies. “Sometimes the most important things are so simple that you don’t even think about them - and the most important thing about Sherpas of the Rockies is just making us aware of each other.” ]
A second thing has to do with what makes us Sherpas. It is not just blood lines. It is a way of thinking and acting that comes out of our background, beliefs and religion, and has been carried forward by generations. We think it is something special and want very much to keep it alive. This is not easy when you are living in a foreign land surrounded by people who mostly do not know anything about Sherpas (“they’re the ones who carry loads up Mt. Everest, aren’t they?”). The western world exerts all kinds of pressures, some good and some bad, that can easily make people forget what is valuable about their own culture. But we don’t need people like Sir Edmund Hillary to tell us that what Sherpas have and are is unique in the world and good (perhaps, although maybe we shouldn’t say this aloud, better than most).
We don’t want to lose it. We don’t want to lose our language, our religion, our dances, our beliefs and our way of doing things. And that means reminding each other what we are and making sure that our young people know about their own culture and background.”
There is more to Tsering Norbu’s letter and more about the organization he has in mind (in spite of its name, it is meant to include Sherpas all over the US). Those who wish to learn more can contact him through his e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ang Pemba Sherpa is a student at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. He has been thinking along the same lines and, in fact, has voiced his thoughts about Sherpas on a local radio program. These are excerpts from an essay he wrote for his school, but with a message that is directed to other Sherpas:
What a wonder it is to be a Sherpa in today’s world, and at the same time, what a shame! Do we ever try to think who we are? What does it mean to be a Sherpa? How much do we care about our own culture?
There are more questions that we could ask, but do we ever stop to ask them? It is my perception that we don’t much think about these things, but maybe we should. As time goes on and new generations replace the old, it would seem to be increasingly important to have a better feeling for who we are. There is today a kind of cultural globalization, where millions of people commute from one culture to another, and that makes it all the harder to retain one’s own cultural core.
Who and what are we? Books and articles - if not tradition - can tell us that we came from the east. “Sher” means east and “wa” means people. (“Sherwa” is the original version of “Sherpa”). We are told that we came to our homeland in Nepal some 500 years ago from the eastern part of Tibet - Kham - but beyond that, facts are sketchy. Our ancestors did not keep good records of themselves and so what we know about our early history - exactly how and when our communities were settled and that sort of thing - is largely guesswork.
Today there are many Sherpas like myself, who have abandoned their land and have come to live in different countries, like the USA. Here the word “Sherpa” seems to mean someone who carries loads up mountains for western masters. I don’t know how many of you face this situation, but I am tired of trying to explain what “Sherpa” really means.
In some ways, it seems that we are only a commodity on the market - a name that is applied to such things as boots, knit sweaters, denim jackets, snowshoes, and wheeled pet carriers in order to help sell them. Although the Sherpa name on a product may give it added value, it does not in any way describe what we really are.
But It is not simply ignorant westerners or greedy corporations who define us thus. We may not ourselves think enough about what we really are. We tend to get lost in the fantasy of holding a better life and earning a better wage, and forget what we really are. There are benefits to being thought of as hardy Himalayan porters - it gives an easy entrance to the doors of the world, better attention from other people and more sympathy. Yet this is not what Sherpas really are. If that were true, one would have to ask, what were Sherpas doing in the centuries before anyone started climbing mountains?
Many other ethnic groups carry loads and only some Sherpas are engaged in tourism or mountaineering. There are others who are doctors, engineers, pilots, businessmen, etc. (Can you imagine the answer of a Sherpa doctor if asked how many pounds he is able to carry?)
So let’s not live behind a label that does not really describe us. Let me ask of you, what is Sherpa? What is our culture? Do we try to preserve it even if we are living in another land? I believe it is important for us to think about these things.”
Again there is more to Ang Pemba’s plea. If you are interested in discussing these things with him, he can be reached at his e-mail address, email@example.com
Another voice on more-or-less the same subject is the Dalai Lama’s - in a new book, Himalaya, published by the National Geographic Society and edited by Richard C. Blum, Erica Stone, and Broughton Coburn ($35):
“It is important that we improve standards of living, broaden educational opportunities, raise levels of health, and ease modes of transport. But as we progress from one way of life to another, there is a risk of abandoning what is tried and tested, what appears to be old, merely to have something modern instead. It would be a great shame if, in the process, we were to lose our sense of positive values.”
This leads us into a quick review of this excellent book.
The Dalai Lama is one of three people who introduce this collection of 40 essays on Himalayan subjects. The others are President Jimmy Carter (describing his trekking experience) and Richard Blum, head of the American Himalayan Foundation, which has cooperated in putting out this book.
Blum quotes Lama Govinda, a 20th century holy man, on how to look at a mountain: “To see the greatness of a mountain, one must keep one’s distance. To understand its form, one must move around it. To experience the moods, one must see it at sunrise and sunset, at noon and at midnight, in sun and in rain, in snow and in storm, in summer and in winter and in all other seasons. He who can see the mountain like this comes near to the life of the mountain, a life that is as intense and varied as that of a human being.”
If you can’t actually take the time to do all this in the Himalaya, you can read this book. It presents its subject in a variety of aspects and from a variety of points of view - from that of climbers, trekkers, geologists, wildlife experts, art restoration experts, health experts, persons involved in helping the local population in matters of health, education, discouraging girl-trafficking, etc., persons who can describe (and in the case of Upper Mustang, are in charge of) remote areas of Tibet and Nepal, and those, like the Dalai Lama, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, or the Tengboche Rinpoche, whose Himalayan concern deals with the spirit. Each of those short pieces is by an authority in the field that is described; and each also describes a personal experience - which gives the subject an immediacy it might otherwise lack.
The approaches may be diverse but there are elements that run through all these essays. These are stories by people whose lives have been changed by the Himalaya, or who are dedicating their lives to changing it. Some of its problems are described, as well as efforts, often under the American Himalayan Foundation, to deal with them. Frequently the writer both has been changed by his experience and is now working to change some part of the environment. And it is not just the holy men who see these mountains in terms of the spirit. That is another theme that seems to recur. Apa, who has climbed Mt. Everest more times than anyone else, knows that he is able to do this only with the blessing of its deity. George Schaller believes that conservation work involves the spirit as much as it does scientific expertise. John Sanday and Stan Armington describe how important the gods are in accomplishing any art restoration work in the temples of Upper Mustang or Bhutan.
One of the most outstanding things about this volume are its photographs. There are well over 100 of them and nearly every one is of salon quality. Even without the text, this is a coffee table prize.
NEWS FROM NEPAL