Nepali Times

Swimming out of the rubble

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Photo: Narendra Shrestha

From the Nepali Press

Girish Giri in, 23 December

When the earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, Ramesh Khatri was having lunch at a Gongabu guest house where he was a waiter for two years.

Unhappy with his meagre income and burdened with the responsibility to look after younger siblings back home, Khatri, who was just 16 then, had quit his job, and bought a bus ticket to return to his village in Dailekh. He had bought new clothes for his mother, brother and sisters.

Khatri had just begun eating when the narrow eight-storey building started shaking violently. Before he could figure out what was happening, a huge concrete pillar fell, and he was trapped under the rubble.

bHe cried for help, spitting out the food that was stuffed in his mouth. He realised two of his friends were also trapped  there. One of them, 14-year-old Pemba Lama, was miraculously rescued alive after six days. The other was rescued four days later, but died soon afterwards.

Khatri was lucky to be rescued after 24 hours, but both his legs were amputated at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital. “When I regained consciousness, I felt my feet were itchy,” he says. “I had no idea they were no longer with me.”

When his aging father and mother came to see him, he did not cry and tried to be strong so they would not lose hope, but he was worried about his younger siblings.

Five months later, while attending a training program conducted by the National Disabled Fund (NDF) in Bhrikuti Mandap, he befriended Sandesh Basnet, who had also lost his legs in the earthquake. Basnet’s father was a policeman, was killed by the Maoists. He took Khatri to Mahendra Police Club, which lies just across the Bhrikuti Mandap road.

When Khatri saw the blue water in the swimming pool of Mahendra Police Club, he remembered fondly how he used to swim in the river near his home when he was a child. The club authorities initially did not allow an amputee to swim, but they finally gave in.

“When I jumped off the wheel chair into the swimming pool, I found it difficult to float without legs, and nearly drowned,” he recalls. ‘But it did not take me long to learn to swim with just my hands.”

cBack in the wheel chair, he realised that the earth’s gravity discriminates against amputees, but because of the buoyancy water does not. “You cannot walk if you lack legs, but you can float even if you do not have them,” he says.

One year after the earthquake, Khatri enrolled in Khagendra Nawajiban Kendra, a school in Kathmandu for physically disabled students. When Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association announced the fourth national swimming competition for physically disabled persons in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Nepal Para Olympic Committee, he signed up.

After one month of training, Khatri was ready for the championship on 17 June. He came first by crossing 25 m in just 23 seconds, much ahead of other contestants. President Bidya Bhandari handed over the prize to him.

Khatri’s life changed after becoming the champion, and spent one week in December in Japan where he took more swimming training. Before the earthquake, he had no goal, and was only worried about future of his younger siblings. He now has a goal – a reason to live: he wants to win the gold medal in the next Paralympics in Japan.

Khatri is aware of the bitter truth that Nepal lags far behind other countries in infrastructure. In Japan, he could swim in warm water even when it was cold outside. In Nepal, all swimming pools remain shut in winter, and he can practice only in summer. Disabled persons find it difficult to travel in the city.


Reconstructing the past

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016
Pic: Alina Tandukar

Pic: Alina Tandukar

The monument that gave Kathmandu its name, a building supposedly constructed from the timber of one big tree, was destroyed in last year’s earthquake. Ten people in Kasthamandap were killed in the structure that was built for the first time 1,300 years ago.

Excavations at the site have revealed layers of foundations of various buildings that have stood here over the centuries. Earthquakes hit Kathmandu every 100 years or so, and this time the rebuilding has been accompanied by an elaborate ceremony to consecrate the foundation.

A special Saptabidhanottar puja and prayer ceremony was held this week to honor the mandap-shaped nine pit foundation of Kasthamandap. Five priests representing the Pancha Buddha assisted by 15 others conducted the ritual in line with tantric Vajrayan Buddhist tradition while 125 priestesses in red uniform recited the Pancharakshya Scripture to invoke the five protective methods that are believed to prevent any possible misfortune in the reconstruction. Similarly, 30 priests recited the Sadharma Pundarika Scripture for immediate solution of potential problems.

The ritual was possibly performed for the first time since Kasthamandap was built in the 8th century, and was organised by the Campaign to Rebuild Kasthamandap and  Bouddha Darshan Adhyayan Pucha of Srikhanda Tarumul Mahabihar held

Birendra Bhakti Shrestha of the Campaign appealed to the public to reject the government’s system of awarding reconstruction contract to the lowest bidder, as that would result in poor quality reconstruction which in turn could lead to the heritage sites being unlisted from the UNESCO world heritage list.

The Dharani scripture was also recited to pay homage to members of a blood donation program who lost their lives in Kasthamandap when it collapsed on 25 April, 2015.

Presence and absence

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

king-jigme-palbar-bistaSienna Craig

Last Thursday, not much before noon, I was walking through a forest steeped in snow, in rural Vermont. Sun came and went between the clouds. It was quiet, spare. Crystalline light reflected off the frozen surface of a nearby pond. The world felt peaceful, filled with grace and presence, even as it was marked by absence: the bareness of birch trees, the pale winter light.

I did not know it at the time, but as I was walking, at what was the first hour of Friday December 16, in Kathmandu, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, the King of Lo, or Upper Mustang, was leaving the shell of his body, his consciousness released. He was 86 years old, and had ruled his kingdom for more than half a century with equanimity. I had the good fortune to have known him, in some small way, for the last twenty years. We shared an affinity for horses and a love of the andscape he called home. It is fair to say that meeting him altered the course of my life.

Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista was known by many names. In Nepali, people referred to him as the Mustang Raja, one of four ‘petty kings’ – including local rulers in Bajhang, Salyan, and Jajarkot – who retained regional power even as their territories were incorporated into the emerging nation-state of Nepal in the mid-18th century. These “petty kings” were recognized by Nepali law from 1961 until 2008, when Nepal transitioned from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic.

In Tibetan, Bista was called Lo Gyalpo, or the King of Lo, evoking a sense of respect and deference akin to the titles given to kings of neighboring Bhutan and Sikkim. The fact that Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista had been officially stripped of his raja title by the Nepali state did little to affect his importance in the lives of Loba, people from upper Mustang.
To them, he was far from ‘petty’ in his influence. To Loba, he was often called Kundun. This Tibetan word means ‘presence’. It is the same term

of address that is often used by Tibetans to refer to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This gives one a sense of just how important this person was to the people of Mustang. He helped to define and defend a people, a place, a way of life, and a sense of belonging to the high pastures and valleys, the canyons and plains, the monasteries and villages of this Himalayan enclave.

Bista was 25th in a lineage of rulers that dates back to the late 14th century, and the founding of the kingdom by a western Tibetan leader named Amepal. In 1964, when he was in his mid-thirties, Bista assumed the title of Lo Gyalpo after the death of his father. He was his
father’s youngest son. Bista married Sidol Palwar, a refined, elegant woman who traveled from Shigatse, Tibet, to Lo as a bride in 1950, before the political upheavals of 1959. They had no living biological children, but the couple adopted their nephew, Jigme Singe Palbar Bista, as son and heir.

Over the past half-century, Bista ushered his community through massive political-economic and sociocultural transitions: the stationing in Mustang of Chushi Gangdruk, the Tibetan Resistance Army, from 1961 until 1974; opening Lo to foreign tourists in 1992, after Nepal’s
first jan andolan, or People’s Movement, in 1990; the decade-long People’s War (1996-2006) and its attendant impacts on all aspects of life in rural Nepal, even in a district that saw minimal direct conflict; the end of the Nepali monarchy in 2008; the recent completion of a motorable road that now links Mustang with the Chinese border to the north and Pokhara to the south; and the earthquakes of Spring 2015.

Bista has also lived to see the impacts of climate change on Mustang’s environment, a complex social ecology that balances irrigated agriculture, pastoralism, and trade.  As an example of this, two of Lo’s villages have been relocated in recent years as a result of water shortages as some of Mustang’s glaciers shrink and headwaters run dry. This, in addition to the recent discovery of uranium deposits in upper Mustang, bring to light some of the environmental and geopolitical crucibles facing this region. On top of all of these shifts, Bista bore witness to profound internal transitions within Mustang’s communities, brought on through education- and economically-driven outmigration. Today, the population of Loba in cities in urban Nepal and India as well as those making homes in Queens, New York, rival Lo rivals those who live in Lo.

When I picture the Lo Gyalpo, I see his stately dignity. He had expressive lips which formed words of advice or considered action for his people and, especially in recent years, shaped the syllables of Buddhist prayer with humility and devotion. He was a beautiful, intense presence. During our meetings, be they formal audiences at Khar, the palace and his residence in the walled city of Lo Monthang, or over quiet cups of tea with his family in recent years in Kathmandu, I remained in awe of him. He could be serious, even stern, but then his expression would open up into a broad, friendly smile, his gold-plated tooth glinting brightly.

One of my most cherished memories of the king was traveling with him and his entourage up to the summer pastures north of Lo Monthang for days of sheep shearing, yak wrangling, picnicking, and ritually bathing his horses in a glacial stream.  It was here that I saw him as a man at work, a man filled with purpose. I will hold on to that memory, and the one of him and his male companions walking kora early each morning, circumambulating the wall that runs around Lo Monthang, which means ‘plain of aspiration’. There was also deep purpose in such moments: of conversation, of communion.

The king’s heir, Jigme Singe Palbar Bista, along with others who belong to this generation of Mustang nobility, are invested in the future of upper Mustang. The family remains very important to the social life of Lo, even without continued recognition by the Nepali state of the local monarchy. And yet the death of the king marks the end of an era. One of the Nepali news reports that came out in the wake of his death reported that his last words to his family members were, “Never migrate from the village and the district.”

While I have no way of confirming the veracity of this statement, I believe in its essence. Bista loved his home fiercely, with his whole being. I am also certain that, despite the challenges and changes facing Mustang, those who bear his lineage will do all they can to honor his wishes as they work to protect and thoughtfully transform their culture.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

Sienna R Craig, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College in the United States

Protecting Nepalis in Qatar

Monday, December 19th, 2016


A week after Qatar abolished its controversial ‘Kafala’ system enabling Nepali migrant workers to change jobs or return home without their employers’ permission, the human rights commissions of the two countries have reached an understanding to ensure greater protection of migrant rights.

On the occasion of International Migrants Day, Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission Chief Anup Raj Sharma and Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission Chief Ali Bin Smaikh Al-Marri signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Kathmandu on Sunday.

As per the 11-point MoU, the two commissions will press their respective governments to provide free legal service in Qatar for Nepali migrant workers sacked or exploited by their employers. The Qatari human rights commission will also provide its service for Nepali migrants in Nepali language to enhance their access to justice.

NHRC Nepal’s spokesperson Mohana Ansari told Nepali Times that the both commissions will establish desks in their offices to implement the MoU. “This is an important step towards enabling Nepali migrants to work with dignity in Qatar,” she said.

After Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the number of Nepali workers going to Qatar surged dramatically. An estimated 400,000 Nepalis are still in Qatar, mostly hired to build stadiums, roads, railway, hotels and other infrastructure for the World Cup.

International human rights organisations had been criticising Qatar for treating migrant workers like ‘slaves’, and pushing for reforms in Qatari labour laws.

Last year, Qatar reformed its labour laws under international pressure, ensuring greater protection of migrant rights. This year, just before International Migrants Day, Qatar ended its Kafala system that allowed Qatari employers to enslave migrant workers. After the abolition of Kafala system, migrant workers need not require their employers’ permission to seek new jobs or leave the country.

However, the NHRC Nepal spokesperson Ansari says Nepali migrant workers in Qatar are still vulnerable, and need greater protection.







“Political will ended load-shedding” 

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Pic: Gopen Rai

Translated excerpts of interview with Energy Minister Janardan Sharma in Himal Khabarpatrika (18-24 December)

Himal: So, no more load-shedding?

Janardan Sharma: It is now getting increasingly more difficult to supply 24-hour electricity, with water levels going down in rivers. But we are exploring multiple options to ensure that people’s joy will not turn into sorrow.

But how can we be sure?

The pace at which the Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur transmission line has been built in the last two months is one reason. If we get this trans-boundary transmission line ready, we can import more electricity from India. But that will still be insufficient to meet demand, so we will add solar electricity to the national grid and promote energy-efficient LED bulbs. We are confident that we can supply 24-hour electricity even in the dry season.

How did you manage to provide Kathmandu with 24-hour electricity when others had failed?

A week after I became Energy Minister, I presented a 37-point workplan to end load-shedding. To implement it, I formed an expert panel to recommend ways to curb leakage and pilferage of electricity and repair transformers.

When I was President of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, I had opposed to selling cheap power to industries by forcing the people to live in darkness. I wanted to redistribute electricity, and called a meeting with industrialists, but they were not bothered to attend the meeting. When I became minister, I instructed the NEA to redistribute electriticioty, and that is how it happened.

But a lot of the framework had been laid by the former government.

The former government announced an energy emergency plan, but that was not implemented. Ending load-shedding was possible because of our political will. We formed a strong team and moved forward step by step.

But people are saying you did this by taking power from elsewhere to give it to the capital, and that you are draining Kulekhani.

It is not true that we have diverted to Kathmandu electricity from other places.  Kulekhani was built for peak power in winter, and it is not true that we cannot use water of the reservoir in other seasons.

Only hydroprojects with at least 51 per cent Indian investment in Nepal can now sell power to India. Is that true?

We have spoken to India’s energy minister about this issue. Our Foreign Affairs Ministry is also talking to India’s External Affairs Minister. We are committed to implement the Power Purchase Agreement between Nepal and India.


Rebuilding schools

Friday, December 16th, 2016

The U.S. Embassy in Nepal and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have signed an agreement to rebuild 15 earthquake-damaged schools in 11 most affected districts, benefiting 4,500 students.

The ADB will use the $10 million U.S. contribution to rebuild the schools through its Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project.  The project uses approved architectural and engineering designs for permanent, earthquake-resilient buildings. The schools will also be equipped with classroom furniture, separate girls’ and boys’ water and sanitation facilities, access accommodation for children with disabilities, and recreational facilities.

“This contribution reaffirms the U.S. Government’s commitment to stand with the people of Nepal to rebuild a safer, more prosperous country for the next generation,” said USAID Nepal’s Acting Mission Director Amy Tohill-Stull.

The 2015 earthquakes damaged or destroyed more than 8,200 public and private schools, interrupting the education of approximately 2 million children.  The U.S. Government has provided over $170 million in relief and reconstruction support to Nepal since the 2015 earthquakes, including over $5 million immediately following the earthquakes to build more than 1,000 temporary learning centers, allowing nearly 270,000 children to return to school.



“No polls in the Tarai”

Thursday, December 15th, 2016


From the Nepali Press

Sadbhavana Party Chair Rajendra Mahato in an interview in Naya Patrika, 15 December

Naya Patrika: The Big Three are preparing to hold local elections without first restructuring existing local government bodies. Will the Madhesi parties agree?

Rajendra Mahato: It is a mistake to think that these three parties can sort out everything among themselves. They pushed through the constitution, but were they able to implement it? They cannot hold elections without addressing our demands by amending the constitution. If not, we will boycott elections.

The Madhesi parties have obstructed the restructuring of local government bodies, and are against elections to existing local bodies. What do you really want?

Whether before or after restructuring local bodies, elections cannot take place in the Tarai as long as our demands remain unaddressed. We are ready to participate in the restructuring of local bodies only after the constitution is amended to address our demands. Even the second constitution amendment bill that is now in Parliament does not address our issues. It needs to be revised before being passed.

What if your rigidity causes federalism to fail?

That is what the three major parties want. By refusing to show flexibility on our demands, they are not only threatening federalism but all our political achievements. Madhesis need federalism more than they do. The constitution they imposed on us is a betrayal of the mandate they got from the people. And the biggest proof of it is that they are still unable to go to the Tarai to defend the constitution they pushed through. Unless the constitution is made acceptable to Madhesi people, we reject every decision by the government, not just elections.