Thursday, 18 June 2009

Democracy or anarchy?

Rajendra Bajgain, a tourism entrepreneur in Kathmandu’s Thamel, called me on Sunday night and spoke in a sad voice. “My 10-year-old son has asked me to leave Nepal and go to America”, he said. “He’s scared by scenes of tire burning and vandalism by Maoists to protest the death of their comrade.”The father and son were enjoying an evening drive when these scenes played out before their very eyes. They have lost confidence in Nepal’s political situation. When they finally managed to reach the tourist hub of Thamel, Bajgain called me before passing the phone over to his son.Shivering and in a broken voice the boy explained what he had just witnessed. He recounted scenes of tire burning and breaking of road railings . Although children throughout our country are exposed to such scenes from a distance or through the TV, I believe this was the first time the well-protected boy had witnessed such happenings with his naked eyes from close quarters.
I was forced to walk on the road in the scorching heat, as everyone else en route to their workplaces had to do.Last week, students of Saipal Academy were trapped in a violent protest near Gopi Krishna Cinema in Kathmandu after a motorcyclist and pillion rider were killed in a road accident. The victim’s family and supporters took to the streets to demand compensation and bring the culprit to justice. Amid the chaos, the children’s school bus was pelted with stones. Shocking images of students trying to escape and flee the scene were splashed all over the newspapers, leading to a deluge of letters in the reader’s sections of Nagarik and Republica as well as their online versions.The road was again tense following the death of a Maoist cadre Rajendra Phuyal. This time it was not an individual family seeking justice but a political party, which was in power for almost nine months, that took over the streets in a call to investigate the cause of Phuyal’s death and bring the culprit to justice. As it turned out, the death resulted from suicide through poisoning. With no prior notice, and without waiting for the facts, the Maoists paralyzed the whole country.I woke early on Monday morning and left my Kapan home by motorbike to head to my yoga center in Gaushala. I was about to reach the access road near Gopi Krishna Cinema when I sensed tension on the other side of the bridge. The people who had amassed appeared scared and vehicular movement was almost at a standstill. I reached the road and five or six policemen came towards me, advising me not to proceed. I asked what the problem was and one replied, “Someone was killed yesterday and people are obstructing vehicular movement.”Instead of providing security, the police was alerting people to turn around and go home. Given little choice, I returned home without attending my regular yoga class to prepare for the day ahead. Back home, I surfed the television channels and found some news about what had happened the previous evening in Balaju.While scanning the morning newspapers, I remembered the call I had received from my friend and his son the night before. For the past few years, I have stopped riding my motorbike during bandas as agitators never allow me through. Journalists are manhandled and press vehicles vandalized during every single banda and I was tired and not looking forward to have to face the rude and unruly mob time and time again. Why should my mood suffer for their cause? So, I started to walk instead.On my way to office, I saw boys with stones in hand, busy puncturing bicycle tires. Previous bandas used to allow bicycles. But now, they’ve stopped allowing that as well. I was forced to walk on the road in the scorching heat, as everyone else en route to their workplaces had to do. Laborers are the biggest victims of bandas as their daily livelihood is taken away from them.Those who organized the banda burned Dr Roshan Raut’s motorbike while he was rushing to Sahid Gangalal National Heart Center at Bansbari for an emergency case. The unruly mob refused to listen to reason and burned the vehicle anyway. The next day, I saw a picture of the doctor’s motorbike burning on Republica’s cover page along with the caption, “The Buddha is not smiling”. In the picture, children bear witness to the scene with fearful faces, though one boy is shown eating an ice-cream to avert the heat.I received a call from Dr Chakra Raj Pandey, who had to walk from Lazimpat to the Medicare Hospital at Chabahil, on the day of the banda. It seems the unruly mob has stopped understanding the value of the essential services of doctors and other professionals, including journalists. All this for civil supremacy? Is this democracy or anarchy?

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