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

Art for heart’s sake

Sunday, December 21st, 2014
Aditya Aryal painting 'Rape Me'

Aditya Aryal painting ‘Rape Me’

On November 2012 a young Nepali woman returning from Saudi Arabia was raped and robbed by immigration police in Kathmandu. Protests swept Kathmandu.

Public outrage over the crime spilled into the streets in front of the Prime Minister’s official residence in Baluwatar and expanded to include other incidents of violence against women in the country. The movement spread through social media and was called Occupy Baluwatar.

Many artists took part in the demonstrations, but one piece of artwork conceived specially for the occasion was never shown: Aditya Aryal’s image representing a topless Kumari holding hands on her head, with butterfly wings behind her back with the inscription ‘Rape Me’ over the top.

Two years later, this audacious artwork is finally on display as part of #Occupy: an expression of global conscience that is on at the City Museum till 7 January. The exhibition gathers images from the Occupy movements in New York (Occupy Wall Street), Hong-Kong (Occupy Central) and Kathmandu (Occupy Baluwatar).

Museum director Kashish Das Shrestha curated the exhibition to relive the worldwide outrage that had its own manifestation on the streets of Kathmandu. “It was a social experiment stirring reflection,” he said, “and I hope the audience will feel something in their hearts.”

Aryal himself felt the Kumari image was too sensitive to be exhibited at the time. “The street art scene of Kathmandu was still fresh,” Aryal
explaineds. “I didn’t want to spoil it before its breakthrough with a provocative artwork.”

There was and is an epidemic of rape and violence in India and Nepal, and Aryal remembers thinking: ““If we worship goddesses, why cannot we respect real women?”

The wings on the Kumari are a throwback to the Nirvana album ‘In Utero’ and the song ‘Rape Me’ was written by Kurt Cobain to express his feelings about his family’s privacy being constantly ‘raped’ by the media.

After Occupy Baluwatar, Aditya Aryal became a well-known street artist who goes under the pseudonym of Sadhu-X and his works have been exhibited in Kathmandu with those of his friends from ArtLab Life collective.

He tried to put up ‘Rape Me’, but no gallery in Kathmandu would risk putting it up. As in India, artists and galleries have been threatened and
attacked for depicting religious motifs. Aryal maintains that he doesn’t intend any disrespect to anyone’s faith.

City Museum’s Shrestha knows he is dealing with a sensitive issue, but adds that he felt it important to shock people about impunity and injustice. He sums it up: “There’s no reflection without provocation.”

Aditya Aryal says he is glad Shrestha agreed to take the risk. “I try to make people face their contradictions,” he said, “and I’m happy that a Nepali, moreover a Newar, curator understood my work.”

Stéphane Huët

#Occupy: an expression of global conscience at The City Museum till 7 January 2015. Limited Edition Screen prints signed by artist on sale at Rs.6,500 on first-come basis

Read also:

Occupy Baluwatar: Day 4

Foreign hand

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Editorial, Annapurna Post, 16 December

The country’s increasing dependency on foreign aid for development has turned many people to hold out their hands rather than use them for hard work. When leaders start appeasing donors, foreign interference becomes direct. The Indian-led 12-point agreement in November 2005 between the parties and the Maoists against the king is a stark example of direct foreign intereference in Nepal’s politics. Since then, other foreign powers have openly backed NGOs, INGOs, the various committees of the CA, civil society and media. But the open letter through the media to CA members by British Ambassador Andrew Sparkes to protect religious conversions crosses all norms and boundaries. It seems his understanding of secularism is defined in terms of the right of conversion. In other words, he is for giving conversions through inducement or coercion legal sanction in the new constitution. Just as India started its political interference after 2006, the UK and Scandinavian countries have tried to disturb communal harmony through INGOs, churches and their diplomatic missions. Political parties must warn Ambassador Sparkes about such outrageous meddling, and instruct foreign missions from further interference. The parties should also analyse their own role in giving in to diplomatic pressure to promote secularism, republicanism and federalism in the new constitution. If not, the public anger against Ambassador Sparkes may soon be directed at them.

Read also:

Visualisation: Nepal’s foreign aid policy Bhrikuti Rai

Rules of engagement Naresh Newar

The politics of foreign aid Bhrikuti Rai

Nepali woman jailed for abortion

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Nirmala Thapa leaves a courthouse in Bukit Mertajam in Malaysia after being sentenced for abortion last week. Pic: The Star

Nirmala Thapa leaves a courthouse in Bukit Mertajam in Malaysia after being sentenced for abortion last week.
Pic: The Star

A 24-year-old Nepali migrant worker has been sentenced for undergoing an abortion in Malaysia, raising questions of the legitimacy of the crime while human right activists seeking a revision of the case on court.

Bukit Mertajam Sessions Court sentenced Nirmala Thapa, a Nepali woman who worked in a factory in Penang, to a one-year imprisonment on 12 November one month after she was arrested at a clinic in Bukit Mertajam during a routine inspection by the Health Ministry’s Private Medical Practice Control Unit (Ukaps) for terminating her six-week pregnancy.

Nirmala was charged under Section 315 of the Penal Code for allegedly undergoing an abortion. Under the section, it is an offence to ‘prevent a child from being born alive’ or to cause it to die after birth. The offence is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, fine or both.

Nirmala was the first woman in Malaysia to be sent to jail for having an abortion. The rareness of the conviction is probably a result of Section 312 of the Penal Code, under which abortion is permitted if a registered medical practitioner is of the view that the continuance of the pregnancy will risk the woman’s life or cause injury to her mental or physical health. Section 92 further protects the medical practitioners by specifying that it is not criminal act if there is a bona fide intention of the service provider was to benefit the woman.

According to the Malaysian Health Ministry abortion is ‘the removal of an embryo or foetus from the uterus at a stage of pregnancy when it is incapable of independent survival”’ which means only the removal of foetus that has reached 500 grams or 22 weeks gestation can be defined as an abortion. In the mean time, Nirmala was only six-week pregnant when she terminated the pregnancy.

Nirmala was first sent to Jawi prison and then moved to the Pokok Sena prison after the verdict, during which she had been in distress, according to Choong, “We learned that the girl did not even have a translator or a lawyer with her when she was taken to court.”

Nirmala’s case has drawn the attention of the women’s rights and health advocacy group’s co-chair, and hence raised the questions about women’s right and how migrant workers are treated in Malaysia.

According to the Malaysiakini, Lawyer for Liberty legal coordinator Michelle Yesudas gave a statement this week urging the Chambers to explain its policy on prosecuting women who undergo abortion to avoid claims of inconsistent and selective prosecution against vulnerable migrant women.

However, Attorney-General of the Chambers Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail defended the case by telling The Star newspaper: “If we have sufficient evidence to prove an offence has been committed and we are sure of a possible conviction in court, we will prefer charges.”

Claire Li Yingxue and Elaine Wang Yiwei


Maithili art on exhibit

Monday, December 8th, 2014
Members of the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC)

Members of the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC)

Stunning paintings that demonstrate the vibrancy and artistic range of the Maithili tradition will be on pre-Christmas exhibition and sale at The Taragaon Museum at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The artists belong to the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC), a cooperative established in 1989 by Claire Burkett, an American artist and philanthropist.

JWDC has five production groups of women painting pictures, producing papier-mâché objects and mirrors, screen-printing, sewing and producing ceramics. The Centre offers local women in Janakpur an opportunity to be creative, and to earn an income, giving value to their work and to their own sense of achievement and worth.

The paintings and other objects are rooted in traditions which Maithili women have passed down through generations. Traditionally, Maithili women would paint designs of elephants and peacocks (signifying prosperity) and other animals on the mud walls of their houses during weddings and festivals. In the monsoon, the paintings fade or wash away.This ephemeral art is the basis of the artistic work of the women of the Centre today.

After the involvement of Claire Burkett and a grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, a talented group of women were selected to transfer their wall designs to paper. They came from their villages to the Centre where, together and without losing their originality, developed skills in composition as well as in the use of colour and line.

After experimenting, the paints were rendered on Nepali handmade lokta paper which has the rough texture of mud walls. After trying pens and sticks, and experimenting with their own dyes and pigments mixed with milk, the women found that acrylic paint worked best on Nepali paper and could be used as spontaneously as the home-made dyes applied to house walls and decided on using brushes.

Both the form and medium known today as ‘Janakpur painting’ was created by JWDC. A strong core of women, most of them illiterate started working together to produce works of art to express their individuality and shared common religious and cultural themes.

They loved coming to the Centre and working in a comfortable and supportive environment with other women of diverse social backgrounds, free from the constraints of the village and home. As they work they sing Maithili songs and tell tales of Hindu Gods and paint scenesfrom the Ramayana – notably the marriage of Ram and Sita which is celebrated annually in Janakpur.

Many women enjoy painting the Maithili tale of Anjur, in which a new bride is made to do impossible tasks by her jealous sisters-in-law, and each time is helped by sympathetic birds or snakes. They often mix other images with Anjur’s tale, and Gods appear in scenes of family planning. The women have also made paintings promoting Vitamin A, the right to vote, safe sex and saying no to drugs. This spontaneous mixing of themes is a reflection of the real world of Janakpur artists today.

Visitors are struck by the commitment of the women artists, and by the quality of the work they produce. However, sales are limited by lack of advertising and distance from more lucrative markets in Kathmandu and abroad. Competition from others imitating their work is undermining their income.

The pre-Christmas exhibition at The Taragaon Museum is sponsored by Crisis Recovery International (CRI) which helps poor women establish viable and sustainable income generating projects in Nepal and elsewhere.

Maithili Art Exhibition

The Taragaon Museum

12 to 23 December

10AM to 6PM

Hyatt Regency Hotel, Boudha

 David Seddon in Janakpur

Dekendra’s murderers sentenced

Monday, December 8th, 2014
.................................................................................................................., 7 December

Journalist Dekendra Thapa

Journalist Dekendra Thapa

The Dailekh District Court Sunday sentenced five accused of the torture and murder of journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa in 2004 for periods between one-and-half and two years in a landmark case that could set a precedent for other war-era crimes.

Forensic examination of Thapa’s body showed he had been buried alive, and the prosecution had demanded life sentences.

Two of those sentenced today will be released since they have already spent their terms in detention.

Human rights activsts were apalled that the sentence was so light, and said it was disproportionate to the seriousness of the crime. They had lobbied for the case to be tried after the Maoist prime minister Baburam Bhattarai ordered police in 2012 to discontinue investigation into the case.

Among those sentenced for two years were Nirak Bahadur Gharti, Harilal Pun and Jaya Bahadur Shahi. In addition Lakshiram Gharti Magar and Bir Bahadur KC got one-and-half and one year respectively. Four others accused, Bam Bahadur Khadka, Keshab Khadka, Bam Bahadur (“Mukti”) Khadka and Bhaktiram Lamichane,  are still at large.

In June 2004, the Maoists blocked the pipe that brought water to the district capital, and Dekendra Thapa and other journalists walked to the
Maoist-controlled area to try to persuade them to open it. Instead, they were kidnapped by the rebels, and while the others were released,
Dekendra was detained.

A month later, eyewitness reports started coming in about the Maoists torturing him by hanging him upside down and beating him until he died.
The Maoists put up posters claiming responsibility for killing him. Dekendra’a wife Laxmi lobbied hard and got forensic experts to find and exhume his body after the conflict ended in 2006. When they found the body, his mouth was wide open, his left leg and right elbow were broken. He had been buried alive.

Fast forward to 2012: police inspector Binod Sharma had kept the investigation open and finally arrested four of those accused of Dekendra’s
torture and murder. One of them was Lachhiram Gharti, who confessed to the torture and asked to be detained because he was wracked by guilt.

By this time, Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai had become prime minister in Kathmandu, and got his handpicked Attorney General Mukti
Pradhan to call off the investigation. Prosecuting the guilty would have set a precedent for the investigation of other war crimes.  Senior Maoists leaders are implicated in other cases, including the torture and murder of Krishna Adhikari, whose  father Nanda Prasad Adhikari died in September demanding justice for his son.

Back in Dailekh, key witnesses in the prosecution of Dekendra’s killers have all retracted their testimonies one by one. Chandra Bahadur Gharti had told investigators that on 11 August 2004, he and Man Bahadur Sunparai heard screaming at the Nepal Rastriya Primary School and went to find out what was happening. “We saw Lachhiram Gharti and eight others beating journalist Dekendra Thapa with sticks. When Dekendra couldn’t speak anymore, we saw them drag him to Lachhiram’s house,” reads Gharti’s testimony.

However, Chandra Bahadur Gharti later made the following deposition at the District Court: “I was away working in India when the event happened, and returned only four or five months later. I don’t know who killed Dekendra, where or how.” Another witness, Amrita Sunakhari, had told the same investigator: “A Maoist named Bam Bahadur Khadka alias Mukti, Lachhiram and others had kidnapped journalist Dekendra Thapa and kept him in our house. After questioning, they took him towards Dwari, and I later heard that they killed and buried him.” But Sunakhari withdrew her statement and told the court recently: “I don’t know Dekendra Raj Thapa, I don’t know where, when and how his death occurred. I don’t know if the accused killed him, the accused should not be punished.”

Other government witnesses, including Jamuna Thapa, Sashiram Gharti, Man Bahadur Sutparai and Devi Lal Gharti had also withdrawn statements, considerably weakening the case against the accused. Another witness Balbir Ramjali had earlier testified that he had seen the accused beating up Dekendra in the school. But now, he has made a statement saying he was in India on that day. “I don’t know anything about the incident. I don’t know anyone involved. I only found out that Dekendra was killed after the police took me in.”

Prakash Adhikari, a Dailekh based journalist who covered the investigation for the past 10 years, says: “Maoist leaders had gathered all the
witnesses from Naumule, Dwari and Baluwatar in a hotel in the district capital, forcing the accused to retract their statements.”

Lawyer Basanta Gautam, who has been representing Dekendra, also confirms that witnesses withdrew the case because of threats. Lawyer Govinda Bandi says the reason witnesses have retracted their testimonies after threats is because of the lack of witness protection laws.

Read also:

Justice under threat, Tufan Neupane 

Dekendra’s grave

Transitional injustice, Kunda Dixit 

Reign of terror in Dailekh, Damakant Jayshi 

Shooting the messenger, Editorial

Human smuggling

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Shambhu Kattel in Annapurna Post, 29 November

A human smuggling from Nepal to the UK was exposed when two Syrians, along with their two brokers, were caught at the Tribhuvan International Airport. Primary investigations show that Nepal was the transit point of the facilitation, and settings were made at the airport to send them to the UK. The German broker, Omirat Husain, and Turkish broker, Jorich Iradins, were found to have facilitated fake Slovenian passports to the Syrians, who are currently under custody at the immigrations department which had granted Fouad Ijeh and Fadiya Aaj a visa for 15 days in Nepal. The two Syrians landed in Kathmandu last Friday. Driver Madhu KC and office helper Januka Thapa were found to have taken bribe from the Syrians to help fill the arrival forms and show them their way out.  It was also confirmed by a CCTV footage that they helped the Syrians to move money past immigration. The two have been suspended by the department. Immigration director Dhruba Raj Joshi said investigation of the Syrians and their brokers have begun and that the wider trafficking network may be exposed after further interrogation. The police caught the four Syrians at Axis Hotel in Thamel, where they had headed straight to after receiving their visas. The police got suspicious when the two brokers were noticed trying to hide the two Syrians from the police’s view, after which they were followed to the hotel.

Bal Mandir rapists jailed

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

The Kathmandu District Court on Monday sentenced two men connected to the Bal Mandir to 16.5 years each, finding them guilty of repeatedly abusing three autistic girls in their early teens.

Rabin Shrestha was a former head of adoptions at the state-run orphanage and Rabin Chalise was a former student and ran a youth club there. They were also ordered to pay Rs 100,000 each to the three girls.

On 16 June, Shrestha, who had left Bal Mandir, and Chalise were arrested by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) after child rights activists presented new evidence of repeated rape and abuse of other girls and boys at the orphanage.

Monday’s decision by the Kathmandu District Court came after the Shrestha and Chalise were denied bail in July and were kept in judicial custody as court hearings in the last four months collected testimonies from the three autistic minor girls, the two suspects, Bal Mandir officials, doctors, caretakers and other persons connected to the case.

According to the testimonies given by the three autistic girls to the CIB in July, the men would introduce themselves to the children as Bollywood film stars Amitabh and Abhisek Bachchan and would lure them into drinking alcohol and watching pornography before abusing them.

They would organise ‘wedding ceremonies’ every Saturday and dress the girls in red saris and have them dance to brass-band wedding music. One of them would spray water on the girls, who would then be forced to take off their wet clothes. This occurred during the afternoons, when Shrestha got a free pass at the orphanage. In the evenings, according to the children’s account, Shrestha used to take the children to a bar in Thamel where they were groomed to be prostitutes.

These detailed testimonies were presented to the CIB by child rights activists from ACR-Int (Action for Child Rights International). The evidence was cross-checked for veracity, and was so compelling that Shrestha and Chalise were arrested right away, while a third man was questioned but couldn’t be detained because of lack of evidence.

But this was just the latest in a series of scandals to rock Nepal’s orphanages which have become fronts for child trafficking and abuse. In February, the operator of Happy Home orphanage in Dhapakhel was arrested on fraud and child abduction charges after a seven month investigation by the CIB.

The abuses at Bal Mandir first came to light after Sarah Robinson, a British teacher came to Nepal in 2009 and decided to adopt a blind girl, whom she named ‘Hope’, from the orphanage.

Rabin Shrestha was in charge of adoptions when Robinson applied for papers for Hope. “I tried to adopt her, but Shrestha told me I couldn’t do that. He wanted me to sponsor her instead and told me I would get a decision after she turned 16,” Robinson told Nepali Times in July.

Once, when a caretaker spotted blood in the child’s underwear, Sarah took Hope to Teaching Hospital where doctors confirmed she had been raped. A CIB investigation confirmed that Shrestha and Chalise used to play games with the girls and had abused them repeatedly.

It had already crossed the 35-day statute of limitation on rape when Robinson finally filed a case against Shrestha (she was afraid he could deny her Hope if she accused him) so she only filed an FIR with police on grounds of sexual abuse. Shrestha was issued a warning in 2012, but not arrested.

Lawyer Sapana Pradhan Malla also listed five other pleas: amendment to the 35-day limit, a mandamus order to not dismiss the case, to teach children about sexual abuse, to set up a child-abuse monitoring system at Bal Mandir and for the Central Children’s Welfare Board to come up with a manual for regulation.

Subash Kumar Pokharel, General Secretary of Bal Mandir, was asked in July how the accused could go in and out of Bal Mandir, but he was evasive. Instead, he accused activists of using Bal Mandir’s children against the institution that protected them.

Established in 1964 to take care of orphans and abandoned children, Bal Mandir was a powerful institution with royal patronage. With Queen Ratna at the helm, it put together buildings and 50 ropanis of property which are now prime real estate.

Administered by the quasi-NGO, Nepal Children’s Organisation (NCO), Bal Mandirs across the country today take care of over 600 children in 11 homes. Since the loss of its royal backing, the NCO has been plagued by political interference and corruption. Its buildings and property have been leased out to private individuals, amidst allegations of huge kickbacks to political appointees in the NCO.

In 2011, the Public Accounts Committee of the legislature parliament ordered the NCO to systematise its lease process. Seeing the conditions at Bal Mandir, the Australian charity Mitrataa Foundation agreed to manage the orphanages for five years in 2009, but pulled out within 12 months because of widespread corruption and mismanagement at the NCO.

Sunir Pandey

Names of Sarah Robinson and Hope have been changed for safety and privacy reasons.

Read also: 

Child predators, Sunir Pandey

(Un)happy homes, Sunir Pandey

 Selling sympathy, Bhrikuti Rai

At the mercy of mercenaries, Trishna Rana