Nine long years after Nepal’s civil war the people finally have a constitution
About nine years ago I arrived in Nepal. The country had just ended a civil war, had removed a monarchy and were still battling Maoist violence. Bandas (strikes were common) as were riots and protests.
For the following nine years political turmoil hindered nearly all of Nepal’s development.
Nepal’s downward struggle for democracy
Nepal was once a country that exported produce to India but now imports most of their agricultural consumables from India.
It is a country with a bizarre import tax of 200% on vehicles yet does not produce its own. Similarly electronics are taxed to exorbitant levels. Why? Because people should buy Nepalese … That’s great if you produce the product. But Nepal does not produce electronics either.
For over a decade Nepal has suffered from power cuts (load shedding). A bit strange for a country with more hydro-power potential than many others on the planet. The people see power cuts of up to 16 hours a day in the winter.
Various countries from Japan to the USA have offered to build Nepal hydro-power plants. Some projects even got started. Most lie half built with a river of red tape blocking their progress. Why? Nepal imports fuel for generators from India and taxes it heavily.
The list goes on. And the people watched on as the tiny nation of 23 million saw over 130 political parties emerge.
Gridlock, protests, political corruption and frustration reigned.
September 20th 17.00 Nepal announces the new constitution
In all my years in coming to Nepal there has been one constant on the daily newspapers. “Constitution countdown timer”. Sometimes it read 365 days. Other times it read 23 days or 163 days.
In all cases within days of the deadline the whole thing would collapse.
2015 saw a massive earthquake and its aftershocks rattle the nation. Nearly 10,000 died. The politicians have not been rebuilding with international aid money. They’ve been bickering again.
However, the pressure was on. Not even the highly paid people in charge of the constitution over the past 9 years could change their fate.
Violence was erupting once again. The people were becoming restless. Mother nature had spoken.
To celebrate with the nation or the people?
I had the choice yesterday of attending the celebrations at the constitutional assembly or simply not go. I chose not to go. I, personally, found this nine year struggle of corruption, violence and local struggle not a time to celebrate the powers that be.
I had been in a bus the day before and passed by the constitutional assembly when the dress rehearsals were going on. Pomp and pageantry by a few surrounded by many tax paid decorations while outside the people were stuck in gridlocked traffic and grim.
A lady told me of a people’s celebration in Durbar Square at six in the evening where they would mark the peoples constitution with a simple butter candle celebration.
I was still of two minds.
I walked down Thamel as groups gathered in local communities. Chalk and paint were being used on the ground. Traffic ground to a halt. People gathered. Traffic police backed away.
I continued on down when a friend jumped out at me with a big smile.
“This way, this way, bring camera. We have our country back!”
Celebrating with the people
I looked on as a local community drew out their country on the road with flour and dye powders. Flags were drawn. Butter candles were placed around the flags and country.
Young and old helped. There was no discrimination. Even a drunkard tried to help before he was brought to the back – with smiles from the locals.
Children gathered by the side of the road mural as community leaders broke out the loudspeakers.
Interestingly there were no speeches about them. Only about Nepal and how it was a time to celebrate. No one talked for more than fifteen seconds. And, in the background, there was traditional music.
As night fell people cheered “Nepal, Nepal, Nepal!” along with songs of passion and hope.
Men, women and children posed for photos by the mural.
There were smiles everywhere.
Traffic at a standstill
A bevy of shouts, trumpets and cheering came from the north as a precession of people with candles marched down the road. People sang and cheered for their country and their new rights.
Behind them the traffic police sank into the archways of buildings. Powerless against the mass of goodwill. Thamel was traffic free. People were celebrating their new found constitution.
It’s not the end but the beginning
While many people celebrate the final confirmation of the constitution there still remains a lot that needs to be done.
The constitution is not without controversy. The new republic will become federal. With over 100 languages Nepal’s caste system and diverse ethnic population will be split into seven states. Boundaries of said states have yet to be finalised.
People are still divided into whether this should happen or not. Forty people have died in clashes over the constitution in the Terai region. Many suspect hired groups coming from India to be the unseen trouble makers. Curfews were put in place.
While gay rights campaigners are delighted at the recognition of homosexuality and third genders, women’s rights campaigners have raised the astounding fact that single mother children cannot have their mothers citizenship.
Similarly if a Nepali woman marries a foreign man, their children cannot become Nepali unless the man becomes Nepali (something that is not easy). However, if the father of the child is Nepali, the children can also be Nepali regardless of the wife’s nationality.
More astoundingly the sexual abuse of boys is still not recognised as a crime.
Freedom of expression has been restricted to only cover Nepalese citizens. “Foreigners” do not have the right to freedom of speech. This includes tourists and the thousands of people from ethnic groups who have settled in the country.
The vastly Hindu nation has become secular which has not made many happy.
So while the new constitution is here, there remains disparity among many. Some claim it will merely aggravate the protests. Some say it’s the mark of a new beginning.
Today there was meant to be a national strike. The good news is, there has been no strike. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.
If there’s one thing I took away from the street celebrations last night it’s this.
Children are Nepal’s future. They stood celebrating and helped the adults on their own merit. They knew the importance of what was happening. The community leaders kept their speeches very short. They know too. It was not about them.
While the political “elite” disappeared into closed banquet doors the people celebrated on the their streets.
Much like during the earthquake and in daily life. The people are doing things on their own. They’ve had enough of waiting.
The Nepalese people have learned that if you want something done right in Nepal, do it yourself.
They have a constitution and they are working towards a better future.
Congratulations on your new constitution Nepal!
I was here when the constitution was proposed. I’ve wondered alongside you why it was taking so long. I’ve gasped with you every time it was set back.
I felt frustrated just like you. I’ve hoped the best for you and your country along this long road.
Thank you for taking the time to invite me to celebrate with you last night.
Nepal: Finally, back on top of the world!
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