Nepali Times

Almost there

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Two weeks after electing the Prime Minister, the country is likely to have a cabinet of ministers by the end of the day.

After late night talks on Sunday, the two largest parties, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML were able to chart the tentative shape of the new government and the portfolios the parties will head. Out of the 26 ministries, the two parties are likely to get 10 portfolios each. NC will take charge in Ministry of Defence, Finance, Communication, Cooperatives, Local Development and Education, among others. CPN-UML has laid claim on 10 ministries including Ministry of Home, Foreign Affairs, Energy, Health and General Administration. Smaller parties that have supported NC are also in line to head some ministries. The final allocation is expected to be formalised within today.

Internal talks are underway since early morning today to formalise the deal made between the two parties and pick the candidates for the ministerial positions. NC Parliamentary Party is meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in Baluwatar to endorse the deal.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala was finally able to convince CPN-UML to join the government after conceding the Home Ministry. The meeting of the two parties on Sunday focused on allocating ministries. The UML team, which will participate in the government, will be led by the party’s Vice Chairperson Bamdev Gautam.

Untangling the Home Ministry knot

The power sharing talks between Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have concluded on Sunday deciding that the two largest parties need to discuss the matter again on Monday.

Today’s talks focused on allocating ministries to NC and UML. The NC has already decided to assign Home Ministry, the main contention between two largest parties, to the UML.

The UML team, which will participate in the government, will be led by the party’s Vice Chairperson Bamdev Gautam.

In today’s talks, Gautam along with UML Secretary Bishnu Poudel took part in the talks on behalf of UML, while NC Secretary Krishna Prasad Situala led the NC team in the talks.

The next round of talks on Monday will start early in the morning at 7 a.m., it is learnt. It is expected that the talks will conclude soon, paving way for the swearing in ceremony of UML and NC’s new ministers in the evening, the same day.

Read also

Whose Home is it anyway?

The year of living dangerously

Modi plays it safe

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

The cancellation of Modi’s Janakpur visit is a reflection of how Nepal’s domestic politics has always spilled over into relations with India

Damakant Jayshi in JANAKPUR

Narendra Modi's tripIndia’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had decided to attend the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu by symbolically crossing the border overland on 25 November from Bihar to this town in Nepal, the birthplace of Sita.

He was to be offering puja at the Janaki Temple and address the public, and this had landed the Nepal government into a bit of a quandary.

In a meeting chaired by Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Bimalendra Nidhi here earlier this week, parliamentarians, the business community, representatives of non-government organisations and various associations objected to the government’s plan to confine Modi to inside the temple complex.

Most people here wanted a felicitation ceremony to take place at the nearby Barhabigha which had hosted some Indian leaders in the past, including a prime minister and two presidents.

“If the government does not organise the felicitation at Barhabigha, then we will hold our own public reception for Modiji and request him to attend,” said Chanda Chaudhury of the Nepal-Bharat Mahila Maitri Sangh

The anger against Kathmandu’s attempt to muzzle Modi was already unmistakable here in the capital of Mithila. “It is not about security. The Nepal government is afraid that a hugely popular Modi would announce some development projects which they have been unable to deliver,” said Shiv Shankar Sah, chairman of Janakpur Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In the end, Nidhi blamed the cancellation on the “extremist and intolerant” attitude shown by the UCPN(Maoist) and its allied Madhesi parties to issue threats against the visit. The government was already trying to douse increasing local pressure and the sensitivity of a foreign leader making a public address. But secretly, some in Kathmandu must be heaving a sigh of relief because they feared Modi would raise hopes of restoring a Hindu state?

In Janakpur, priests, politicians and businessmen I spoke to this week before the cancellation were all unanimous in their support for a Hindu state.

They resented the attempt to make Nepal secular in the new constitution, arguing that religious minorities were never discriminated against when Nepal was a Hindu state. But they were not in favour of restoring the monarchy.

The Mahant of the Janaki Temple, Ram Tapeshwar Das, was confident that the new constitution would restore the Hindu Rastra. When reminded that an overwhelming majority of the Constituent Assembly members are committed to Nepal being a secular state, he replied: “A referendum on the subject will tell us what the majority actually want.”

But isn’t it already in the Interim Constitution? “That is only a temporary measure,” came the prompt reply.

Nidhi, on the other hand, said in a statement late Thursday: ‘We and Janakpur have lost a great opportunity with the cancellation of the visit …despite all the preparation under my leadership for the visit, the UCPN(M) and Madhesi parties irresponsibly demonstrated against the preparations and issued threats.’

Nidhi had told me on Sunday that the visit would have a positive effect for Nepal’s unity and stability. He, however, could not clarify if the speech Modi would have given in Janakpur would first be vetted by the government.

Modi may not have wanted to upset his phenomenal popularity in Nepal where the Gujarat riots and his role in it are rarely mentioned. Most Nepalis are impressed by his charisma and ‘development model’. The opposition in Janakpur may have become just too hot to handle.

In his well-received address to the Nepal parliament in August followed by his Republic Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort, and then in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September, he cited Nepal as a role model for conflict resolution. That has not gone unnoticed in Nepal.

And neither has it in India. So the current powers that be in India would be wary of sacrificing the new-found goodwill for Modi, and by its extension, to India.

Modi and his close advisers are reportedly miffed at the way India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) mishandled Nepal policy during the Maoist insurgency. They blame the spy agency for contributing to anti-India sentiment in Nepal. Besides, the new Indian establishment sees the election result of November 2013 in Nepal as a confirmation of its stance.

Would Modi want to embarrass the Nepal government and many in Nepal who do not identify themselves as Hindus by playing to the domestic gallery? By cancelling the Janakpur visit, Modi has shown he is going to play it safe.


Read also:

The second coming Editorial

Great expectations Anurag Acharya 

Separation of state and temple Editorial

Neither secular, nor Hindu Sudhindra Sharma

Secularism in a diverse state Prashant Jha

Modifiable relations Damakant Jayshi

Modi-fying Indo-Nepal ties Damakant Jayshi 

No sacrifice

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Govinda Tandon of the Pashupati Development Trust in Annapurna Post, 17 November

Many distortions have sullied the great philosophy of tolerance, non-violence and humanity that is inherent in the Hindu religion. Unfortunately, many superstitious rituals that have nothing to do with Hinduism have now come to be regarded as part of this great faith. Among the distortions of Hinduism is the practice of animal sacrifice. We think we can earn divine merit by killing and sacrificing to the gods innocent animals that trust us to protect them. Our conscience tells us it is wrong, yet we continue with mass sacrifices of animals. No Hindu text or gods and goddesses have ever asked for appeasement by sacrifice. It is us selfish human beings who have transformed the gods into blood-thirsty ogres.

The Gadhimai Festival of Bara district is starting on Monday, in the next ten days there will be thousands of animals that will be slaughtered there. A thousand people have been hired to do the killing, tenders have been floated for the leather and meat. The sacrifice is being driven by the leather industry mafia, it has nothing to do with religion. The priest of the Gadhimai Temple himself is against the sacrifices. So whose interest does this blood-letting serve? Who benefits from turning a place of worship into a slaughterhouse? Publicity about the sacrifices has tarnished Nepal’s image internationally. The following steps are necessary to immediately outlaw religious sacrifices:

– The state should stop subsidising animal sacrifice.
– Animal sacrifices at government buildings, vehicles and aircraft should be stopped.
– Ban import of animals from India 15-20 days before festival
– Ban transport of animals from other parts of Nepal to Gadhimai
– Spread message against animal sacrifices through mass media
– Government to proactively spread the message that animal sacrifice is not religion

Read also:

Overkill in Gadhimai Lucia de Vries and Deepak Adhikari 

Manage Gadhimai 

“Stop the slaughter”

Nepalis dominate Hong Kong race

Monday, November 17th, 2014
Winners of the 100 km Oxfam Trailwalker race

FINISH LINE: (From left) Ram Bhandari, Bhim Gurung, Kiran Kulung and Uttam Khatri. Photo credit: Oxfam

HONG KONG — Ramesh Bhattachan holds Hong Kong dear to his heart. Born and raised in Nepal, he grew up at a time when opportunities in Nepal were limited and passports were difficult to obtain.

He jumped at the opportunity to move to Hong Kong as a Gurkha for the British Army. Last week, Bhattachan returned to Hong Kong, hoping his dream would again become reality in the city he calls a second home.

This time, however, his hopes rested on the shoulders of four young Nepali runners, who would be participating in Hong Kong’s grueling 100 km Oxfam Trailwalker race under his watchful eye.

“They will be famous and popular runner back in Nepal if they win,” Bhattachan said last week, in between training sessions with his team. And win they did. On Friday evening Uttam Khatri, Bhim Gurung, Ram Bhandari and Kiran Kulung finished the race in an impressive 11 hours and 56 minutes. It was an easy win, with the second place team finishing nearly 45 minutes later.

“The Nepali team was so fast that I never saw them again after the start,” said Keith Noyes, a Hong Kong-based trail race organiser, whose team finished the race in 15 hours and 13 minutes. “They were in a class by themselves in this race,” he said.

None of the Nepali runners are new to Trailwalker. Khatri and Bhandari, both members of the Nepal army, ran for the winning team last year. Gurung, also a member of the Nepal Army, and Kulung, a porter and a farmer, have both participated in the race for the previous three years. All have participated and placed well in various races in Nepal. It is Bhattachan’s third year coaching a Nepali team in the race.

Bhattachan and his runners are happy with their results. “This is my third participation in Oxfam Trailwalker,” said team captain Khatri, “but this year we retained the crown and has made me very encouraged and happy in my trailrunning experience.” They also hope that their victory in a tough international race will provide motivation for up-and-coming runners in Nepal.

Though Hong Kong’s hills pale in comparison to Nepal’s towering Himalayas, the hills of Hong Kong’s Trailwalker are not for the faint of heart. Race participants climb around 20 hills over the course of the race, the highest of which is 957 meters, gaining approximately 5,000 meters in elevation.

When runners are not climbing hills, they run across terrain that varies from beach sand to pavement to jungle paths. As this year’s race kicked off on Friday morning, the heat and high humidity added an extra challenge for the racers.

Race organisers recommend three months of training to complete the difficult race. The Nepali team spent about that much time training in the hills around Pokhara which clearly paid off.

“Trailwalker is an amazing challenge for a trail runner,” said Richard Kimber, a Hong Kong based runner who completed Trailwalker in 2010 and has competed in dozens of marathons and ultramarathons. “The elevation gain and loss of the trail is unrelenting. For teams to crack the 12
hour mark they really have no option but to just keep hammering every section, whether uphill or down, however tired they may be feeling.”

The race began as a Gurkha training exercise in Hong Kong, when in 1981 the Brigade of Gurkhas mapped out the original course across Hong Kong’s Maclehose Trail. In 1986, Oxfam became a co-organiser of the race and opened it to public participation. The Gurkha teams, accustomed to Nepal’s mountainous terrain, continued to dominate the race.

The Gurkhas officially bid farewell to Hong Kong with the United Kingdom’s handover of the territory back to China in 1997, but not before winning the 1996 race. The Nepali victory this year marks a return of Nepalese dominance in Hong Kong’s original Gurkha race.

Bhattachan is already thinking about next year’s race. “I will bring a team and come for the 2015 Trailwalker Race and try to complete a hat trick.”

Amy Gunia

Read also:

The inspiration of a long-distance runner Stéphane Huët

Run, Kathmandu, run Lizzie Hawker 

What was in it for us?

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Jhalak Subedi in Kantipur, 15 November

If World War I hadn’t happened the world would have been different today. In Russia, Lenin’s October Revolution probably wouldn’t have happened, and the ideology of communism wouldn’t have spread globally. If there hadn’t been a Soviet Union, Mao wouldn’t have been able to complete his revolution. If there was no Mao, there wouldn’t have been a Maoist armed struggle in Nepal. The ideas perhaps would be there, but history would have unfolded differently.

The involvement of Nepali Gurkha soldiers in the British Army linked us to the war. On 24 April 2015, it will be 200 years since the first recruitment of Gurkhas by the British. One hundred years before World War I, Nepali soldiers were already fighting for the British. It is estimated that there were 200,000 Nepali young men in the British Army at that time – about 20 per cent of the hill
population of Nepal at the time.  Some 20,000 Nepali soldiers died in that war. Many did not return to Nepal, and statistics show a drastic fall in Nepal’s population between the two wars. Entire villages were without people. Prime Minister Chandra Sumshere also sent 16,000 troops to India to replace the ones who went to the front. He also donated Rs 10 million for the British war effort. The British gave Nepal one rifle for each soldier, the country was therefore awash with guns.

There were some benefits to Nepal. In 1923, in return for the help during the war, Britain signed a peace and friendship treaty, accepting Nepal as a sovereign nation as well as providing Rs 1 million annually which the Ranas and their descendants put into their own pockets.

The war had an impact on Nepali society and economy as well. Families with sons killed in action got some cash. Some 100,000 soldiers came back and brought back Indian currency worth Rs 130 million in salaries – about the same amount as the annual budget at the time. The price of property shot up.  They brought back English manners and eating habits. Many Nepalis stayed abroad and never came back extending the Nepali diaspora, those who did returned with new ideas. The soldiers also brought back bad habits like cigarettes, cards and gambling, and alcohol addiction. The shortage of young men encouraged women to marry across caste and ethnic lines.

But in hindsight, it is clear that Nepal never learnt its lesson from World War I. We didn’t have any enemies in that war. There was no reason for us to fight in it. Our national interest lay in preserving our sovereignty, but our rulers took the country to war to protect their own power. They served as middlemen for foreigners. Instead of setting up industries, manufacturing and jobs in our own country, they sent our young men to fight and die for someone else. This tradition continues to this day. The ‘brave Gurkha’ became a slogan for the country. In those days Nepali men died for the British Army, now they toil in the Gulf.

In 1911, before the start of the war, King George V came to Nepal, and our rulers arranged an elaborate welcome with a hunting expedition. This is all very similar to the way we are preparing to welcome Narendra Modi. We are still trying to appease foreign powers, there hasn’t been much of a change in our mentality.

Jhalak Subedi is the author of ‘Belayati Samrajyaka Nepali Mohara’ (The Nepali Aspects of the British Empire). The full Nepali version here.

Game Guru in Nepal

Friday, November 14th, 2014
Tommy Palm

Tommy Palm

More than 70 million people around the world play Candy Crush Saga every day, 700,000 of them are in Nepal – one of the largest numbers in any country in the world.

Last year, Swedish company Kings Digital Entertainment which owns Candy Crush made 1.8 billion dollars in revenue, most of it came from the social mobile game. Even after two years of release, the game’s popularity continues to grow with daily installations crossing well over the 50,000.

With the exception of North Korea, the game is played in every country in the world, even in the continent of Antarctica. What is it about the game that has transcended geographical and cultural boundaries to become the most played game the world has ever seen?

“I think it struck a chord with people of all ages and countries because of its simplicity and accessibility,” Tommy Palm, one of the developers of Candy Crush, said in an exclusive interview with Nepali Times. “I had no idea in 2011 that it was going to be played by millions of people around the world.” Palm is in Kathmandu for the Ncell App Camp and will be speaking on Saturday at the Everest Hotel.

Candy Crush is free to download and play, and because it is a cross platform game users can  easily switch from playing on the phone to computer or even tablet. It makes money from in-app purchases of extra moves, lives and boosters.

Statistics show that women between 25-55 are the most loyal players, and spend longest time playing it. Palm admits it is the first game that he developed which even his mother and sister play.

“There are already a lot of games for men in the market, but very few for women so it is not hard to see why women play it the most,” explains the Swedish programmer. The parent company Kings has developed a niche market for non-violent computer games and young women are an important target group.

Palm who started developing games in the 90s is a self declared geek. He began playing games at seven and by the time he was 12, had already started programming. Like a stereotypical gamer, he spent most of his time in his room, curtains drawn, eyes on computer causing his parents to repeatedly ask him to be more outgoing.

Palm doesn’t like the word “addictive” to describe the game the whole world is playing, he prefers “engaging”. And the trick is to make people want to come back, and to challenge them. However, when so many people spend so much time playing the game on-screen, doesn’t it take them away from reading and face-to-face social interactions?

“It is important to do everything in moderation,” Palm explains, with the air of someone who has answered this question many times before, “just because you have games doesn’t mean you don’t need friends or a social life. Being a book worm is also not very sociable.”

It is precisely why Ncell thought Tommy would be perfect for its App Camp. “The main aim of the App Camp is to encourage Nepali app developers,” says Ncell’s Sanju Koirala, “and Tommy is a great role model and we believe his presence will boost the event.”

A Swedish company, Kings has always looked outside its borders for revenue earning. Something Nepali developers will need to start doing to truly make their apps global. “The app economy is very interesting because it doesn’t require a lot of human resource or capital. A lone developer can develop a billion dollar game working from his or her room,” says Tommy. It is this message he hopes to present to the finalists of the App Camp.

Nepal’s social media networks were abuzz as word spread that Palm was in town. With 4.5 million Facebook users, Candy Crush is benefiting from the spread of smartphones and mobile internet. Sobhana Shrestha is an avid player, and says she got hooked to the game while nursing her baby. “He would get up and cry at odd hours, and I had to wait until he went back to sleep, and started playing the game,” she adds.

Many Nepali players want to know: will the saga ever end? “Not anytime soon,” says Palm, “we will keep on adding more levels as long as there is still interest in the game.”

Tsering Dolker Gurung

The art of technology

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Nepali artists have for sometime been creating interactive artworks, but only a few have succeeded.  Finally, Yantra 3.0 has brought art, technology and science together in a seamless and fascinating amalgam.

The exhibition launched on Saturday 8 November at Nepal Art Council is organised by Karkhana, Robotics Association Nepal (RAN) and Siddhartha Art Foundation’s Education Initiative. Till Saturday 15 November, Yantra 3.0 displays  eight exhibits that deal with issues of identity, education and cultural heritage.

A student discovering the history of a stolen sculpture with Davis' Revisiting Kathmandu © Nischal Oli

A student discovering the history of a stolen sculpture with Davis’ Revisiting Kathmandu © Nischal Oli

In ‘Revisiting Kathmandu’s Lost Sculptures’ computer engineer Roshan Bhatta and Californian artist Joy Lynn Davis  explored the theme of stolen Kathmandu Valley artwork.  Visitors were invited to put their hand in 14 empty niches embedded in a brick wall containing sensors. By reaching inside each empty niche, a corresponding animation was projected on an adjacent wall to show a stolen sculpture, its original location and information about it. The animations were based on the artist’s amazingly realistic paintings of sites where sculptures were stolen from.

Davis started her researches on stolen sculptures of the Kathmandu Valley in 2010, and believes it is the artist’s responsibility to remind people of the beauty in the world.
Raising awareness was also the intention of Bidhata KC in her art which delved into the objectification of women in Nepali society. “I don’t understand how we can worship goddesses, but mistreat women in real life,” explained KC, whose ‘Jigsaw’ installation was an interactive puzzle on the theme of dowry.  “Like the different parts needed complete a puzzle, the varied identities of a woman make who she is.”

Art and technology was also used to awaken the curiosity of children in Yantra 3.0. The ‘Mané’ at the entrance showed how children can implement what they learn in classrooms. The accelerator meter inside the mane has its data transmitted wirelessly via a Xbee device to two video projectors.  When the mane is turned, animations screened change accordingly to the speed. Karkhana and Artree conceived this work to re-purpose, both in form and function, a prayer wheel to deliver a contemporary message.

Modernity and tradition also meet in ‘Galaincha’, which was conceived 15 years ago by Alternative Technology  as a software to generate carpet patterns by the movement of hands over a sensor. “Our product is the illustration of how modern technology can sustain traditional arts,” said designer Sanim Shrestha.

The other installations included Art Lab’s ‘Prasad’, ‘Scan Me’ by Mahima Singh using QR codes to display images and videos on the theme of urbanisation. International artists Hayes, Las, and Scotti constructed ‘Strange Fascination’, an ontological portal allowing the viewers to examine their identity and how it relates to others.

“For Yantra 3.0, we wanted to create a dialogue between artists and technologists,” said Sunoj Shrestha, president of RAN. “The exhibition was designed to deepen a mutual understanding of how each works and creates.”

The reward of giving

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

“The greatest satisfaction is to see the smile on the faces of children.”

Susan and Stefan Findel

GATE TO THE FUTURE: An illiterate school girl in Parsa who learnt how to read and write as a result of UNICEF’s Girls Access To Education program (GATE) supported by Stefan Findel and his wife, Susan. The Findels are the largest individual donors to UNICEF.

When Susan Findel was 10 and growing up in an orphanage in Korea she got a vaccination provided by UNICEF. In the past 20 years, Susan and her German husband, Stefan, have given away $26 million to UNICEF’s work to educate children in five countries around the world, including Nepal.

The Findels are the largest individual donors in UNICEF’s history, and have said they plan to donate all their wealth to the organisation to support an initiative to educate children in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal.

“You are born alone and you die alone,” Susan Findel said during a visit to Nepal this week, “how much can you buy and spend? It is a moral issue, when the time comes I want to be able to say I have done the best I could to help.”

Stefan Findel agrees. “Since we do not have children, we are not worrying about what to leave our kids,” he said in an interview. “So we can give it to other kids. When our lives end, why should we have anything left over?”

For years, the Findels were anonymous donors, but UNICEF convinced them that by coming out they could inspire others to also help underprivileged children around the world. The couple try to make frequent field trips to look at the work they fund, and had a meeting in Kathmandu this week of their partners from the countries they work in.

“We decided to work on education because it is the most basic thing you can do to build a future,” explains Stefan Findel, “educating children is cost-effective, you are averting lot of other problems by educating children. And education is one thing no one can take away from you after you receive it.”

The Findels worked with UNICEF to select the five countries, and regions within them that were the most under-served. In Nepal, their initiative to ensure equity in education is being implemented in Parsa, Achham and four other districts.

Despite progress in literacy, especially among girls, there are over 1 million children in Nepal who do not go to school. Even in districts where there is high enrollment, nearly half the children (mostly girls) drop out before Grade 5. Literacy among children of Dalits and other sidelined groups is much lower than the national average.

“Illiteracy and caste discrimination means isolation and relegates children to insignificance, I know what it feels like to be an outcaste,” says Susan Findel who experienced stigmatisation and ostracisation first-hand when she was required to wear the colour-coded white handkerchief of an orphan.

The Findels have seen teenage girls in the West Point slum of Monrovia who used to be so shy they couldn’t even speak completely transformed after UNICEF’s girls empowerment program. They have observed similar changes in adolescent girls in Achham and Parsa (see pic above).

Ann Putnam Marks of UNICEF USA who accompanied the Findels on their field trip to Nepal says it is very unique to have philanthropists like them. “It is rare to see donors who are so committed to seeing things first-hand, and who provide support for long-term initiatives like education,” says Marks.

Indeed, most individual donors tend to prefer assistance for emergency relief because it is more visible, and many also want credit for it. The Findels say they chose UNICEF precisely because it works at all levels, doesn’t abandon a country when crisis hits like Ebola in Liberia, and invests in sustainable, long-term projects and hands them over to the government.

“There are different ways to give,” says Susan Findel, “some do it for status, some for fame, for us it is to learn by being involved.”

Stefan Findel adds: “You watch the news, and realise there is so much to do. The gap between countries and people is getting bigger. Many want to do philanthropy, but they don’t know where to start. For us the greatest satisfaction is to see that our money is helping build a better future for children, I saw that on this visit. The greatest reward is to see the smiles on the faces of children.”

Kunda Dixit