Nepali Times

Country held hostage

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Protests over demarcation of federal provinces have escalated this week with more shutdowns and clashes.

Different political parties have called strikes in different parts of the country pressing for their own demands.

A nationwide general strike on Sunday, jointly enforced by CPN- Maoist, Federalist Socialist Forum Nepal and other fringe Madhesi parties, is just another in a series of strikes against the six-province federalism model.

Police rounded up 61 strike enforcers from various parts of the country on Sunday morning including the FSFN Vice Chair Rajendra Shrestha. They were charged with vandalising two buses in the capital and attacking journalist Rishi Dhamala, who was on his way back from Nepalvani FM station.

Protestors vandalised two trucks along the east-west highway. Pic: Bidrohi Giri

Protestors vandalised two trucks along the east-west highway. Pic: Bidrohi Giri

In Nawalparasi, members of Tharuhat Struggle Committee torched two trucks and a pick up on the east-west highway. The committee has been demanding Kailali and Kanchanpur to be included in the Tharuhat province.

In Narayangarh , a Kathmandu-bound bus carrying passengers was vandalised by the Tharu cadre.

In Karnali, the general strike enforced by the locals demanding an undivided Karnali province reached the ninth day on Sunday. They vandalised some government offices in Jumla, and four policemen were hurt in the ensuing clash. The police resorted to firing in the air and tear gas to disperse the agitators. A curfew starting has been imposed in the area until Monday morning.

Agitations continued to disrupt normal lives in Rukum for the eighth straight day. The locals have been protesting splitting of the district between two provinces.

Eastern Nepal also remained tense as regional political outfits demanding an autonomous Limbuwan provinces carried out rallies supporting the nationwide strike.

Trust no one

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Om Astha Rai

Photo: Bikram Rai

Photo: Bikram Rai

At a time when the four major parties are shaping Nepal’s fate and future by scripting a new constitution, more than half of the population seems to think there is no political leader who is fit to be prime minister.

Nt survey icon onlineNearly half the respondents in the Himalmedia National Public Opinion Survey 2015 that polled 3,517 respondents across 35 districts from 3-10 August said none of the political parties can be relied on to build a peaceful and prosperous democratic country.

The astonishing survey results come at a time when the top leaders of the four parties are busy in closed-door negotiations to modify the boundaries of the six federal provinces that they had previously agreed to add to the draft constitution. Those boundaries are being hotly contested by indigenous groups and groups in western Nepal who want a Karnali province.

The Hindu royalist RPP-N has been criticising what it terms as a syndicate of the NC, the UML, the UCPN (M) and the MJF (D). But even this party is trusted by very few Nepalis. More than half the population has rejected its political agenda of a Hindu nation.

Compared to previous Himalmedia polls, the number of people against federalism based on ethnicity has grown to 80%, and most of them think a North-South model incorporating the mountains, hills and plains is the best guarantee of prosperity in future.

Map by Ayesha Shakya

The proportion of respondents who do not trust any political party has remained more or less constant at 40-44% in the past four annual Himalmedia surveys.

Although the major parties have hammered out most of the thorny issues impeding the constitution writing process in the aftermath of the April earthquake, their failure to control rising inflation, unemployment and corruption appears to be the primary reason why they are still not trusted.

Of the 58% of respondents supporting existing parties, 25.4% trust the NC while the UML has 13.4% people. In 2011, these two parties had support from 20% and 10.2% of respondents respectively. In 2013, the NC’s popularity dipped to 13.4% while the UML’s rose to 13.4%.  The UCPN (M) continues to lose its pulling power, dipping to only 9.3% this year. In 2011, it had received an approval rating of 20.1%, even higher than the NC. But by 2013, its popularity ranking had slipped to 9.7% — a figure that was corroborated by its defeat in elections that year.

Infographic by Ayesha Shakya

The RPP-N, the fourth largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA), ranks fourth as well in the Himalmedia Survey 2015. Despite spearheading a movement for a Hindu nation, it was supported by only just over 4% of respondents. Even the MJF (D) of Bijay Gachhadar, one of the signatories to the 8 August deal on the six-province federalism, received approval from only 1.1% respondents.

Disaggregated data from the survey responses show that younger Nepalis tend to tilt towards the UCPN(M) and Madhes-based parties, which are relatively new and still claim to be revolutionaries. The older generation is with old and conventional parties. The NC is the favorite in the age group 40-59. Most Nepalis above 60 are with the pro-Hindu RPP-N. The UML is favorited by the age group 25-59.

The most surprising has been the disenchantment of Nepalis of the exiting crop of leaders. Of those who agreed to choose a leader from the current breed, 10.4% said they wanted to see UCPN(M) leader Baburam Bhattarai as the next prime minister. Just over 7% wanted Sushil Koirala as PM even though he is due to step down. PM-in-waiting KP Oli got just under 6% approval. Although Bhattarai scored higher than most leaders, probably because of thepublic perception hat he is a “do-er”, his 10.4% is still much lower than the 54% of respondents who didn’t think there was anyone good enough.

The other surprising trend is the continued fall of Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the popularity ratings. After topping the Himalmedia Survey for the first few years of the peace process, Dahal has been sliding continuously. Only 1.8 % respondents said they wanted to see Dahal as the next PM, which is less than percentages of approval received by the RPP-N Chair Kamal Thapa (3.1) and the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) Chair Upendra Yadav (2%). Even Chitra Bahadur KC, who leads a fringe anti-federalism communist party, comes close to Dahal with approval from 1.2% respondents. NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba (4.8%) and UML leader Madhav Nepal (3%) have left him far behind.

Dahal’s leadership role and new political astuteness in showing flexibility and pushing through two important deals on constitution and federalism in the past months doesn’t seem to have helped him much.

NC youth leader Gagan Thapa is junior to all the prominent leaders and has never become a minister. However, he comes closer to Nepal and Deuba with approval of nearly 4% of respondents. Thapa’s rising popularity is yet another sign that the people are frustrated with the current breed of leaders and are looking for younger faces.

Secularism doesn’t seem to be very popular as a defining principle in the new constitution, with only about one in every five Nepalis supporting it. Nearly half of the respondents wanted Nepal to be a Hindu state. However, those who supported religious freedom, no mention of religion in the constitution or unwilling to comment adds up to 51.4% of the people opposed to Nepal being declared a Hindu nation. Interestingly, those against a Hindu state are evenly spread out across caste groups, ethnicities, literacy level and geographic regions.

The Himalmedia survey 2015 has once again reaffirmed the results of the past polls one federalism. As in the past, 80% respondents rejected ethnicity-based federalism with less than 12% supporting it. More than 83% respondents opposed to ethnicity-based federalism wanted North-South provinces. approved this idea.

Read also:

None of the above Editorial

The people matter Editorial 

This is what we think Om Astha Rai

Himalmedia Public Opinion Survey 2015

Tharus strike

Friday, August 14th, 2015

Tharu women and children block East-West Highway in Nawalparasi district on Friday. Photo: Bidrohi Giri

An indefinite strike called by the Tharuhat Struggle Committee has affected normal life in the 22 Tarai districts west of Nawalparasi.

The Tharus are up in arms against integration of Kailali and Kanchanpur districts with the far-western province. They have demanded these two districts be part of the province number 5, which they want to be named as Tharuhat province.

Dozens of public buses were stranded in Nawalparasi district as protesters carrying batons blocked the East-West highway.

In Rukum, the locals continued to protest for the sixth consecutive day against division of the district between two difference provinces.

The six-province federalism model, agreed upon by the four big parties on 8 August, has created furor across the country. Despite the call for calm by the top leaders of the four parties, protests have escalated. However, no casualty has been reported after the death of three protesters in Surkhet early this week.

In Kathmandu, UCPN (Maoist) lawmaker Prabhu Sah has quit the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) of the Constituent Assembly (CA). Sah has accused the CDC Chair Krishna Sitaula of not respecting opinions of other CDC members. The CDC has been given five days to revise the new constitution.


Reconstruction authority

Thursday, August 13th, 2015


The government has finally appointed the Chief of the National Reconstruction Authority, raising hopes for the start of post-earthquake reconstruction projects.

A cabinet meeting appointed Govind Raj Pokhrel as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Reconstruction Authority, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, late Thursday evening. Pokhrel is Vice Chair of the National Planning Commission (NPC).

Amid criticism about delay in forming the Reconstruction Authority, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala persuaded the UML Chair KP Oli to agree on Pokhrel’s name. After securing Oli’s consent, Koirala had called the cabinet meeting. Information and Communication Minister Minendra Rijal informed journalists about Pokhrel’s appointment.

A month after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated central Nepal, the government had issued an ordinance to form the Reconstruction Authority. But the dispute between the Nepali Congress (NC) and the UML had delayed naming of the CEO. The UML was backing former Chief Secretary Madhav Ghimire, but Koirala persuaded Oli to agree on Pokhrel.

Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam, Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, Urban Development Minister Narayan Khadka and Tourism Minister Kripasur Sherpa will be members of the authority, according to Rijal.

Before he was appointed as the NPC Vice Chair, Pokhrel had served as Executive Director of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC).  As the NPC Vice Chair, he had headed the task of preparing the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report, which was unveiled just before the 25 June meeting of donors in Kathmandu.

At the International Conference of Nepal’s Reconstruction, donors had pledged nearly half the reconstruction budget (US$ 6.7 billion). But the delay in naming the authority’s CEO had also led to delay in allocation of budget and the start of reconstruction works. Pokhrel’s experience as the NPC Vice Chair is expected to help Nepal’s reconstruction projects.

Also read:

Authority to rebuild, Editorial

Better build back, Sonia Awale


Tension escalates

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Police trying to stop protesters from marching towards government buildings in Jajarkot on Thursday. Pic: Rajendra Karki

Violent protests, clashes and shutdowns continue in several parts of the country over the six-province federalism deal.

A regional political outfit on Thursday enforced a general strike in eastern Nepal demanding an autonomous Limbuwan province. Normal life was badly affected by the strike called by Federal Limbuwan Party, which has demanded a Limbuwan province comprising nine districts east of the Koshi River.

“The eastern province comprising 14 districts is too big, we just want a province of nine districts,” the party’s Chair Kumar Lingden had told a press conference just a few days ago.

11222In Jumla district, a general strike enforced by the locals demanding a separate Karnali province entered fifth day on Wednesday. They have rejected integration of the Karnali zone with the far-western province. Two dozen people were reportedly injured in a clash between police and protesters.

In Bardiya, the Tharuhat Struggle Committee’s general strike reached the third day on Wednesday. In Banke, cadre of the Tharuhat party have vandalised three ambulances for ‘defying’ their strike. The Tharus are up in arms against integration of Kailali and Kanchanpur districts with the far-western province. They want these districts to be part of the province 5, which they see as their Tharuhat state.

Violent clashes erupted in Jajarkot, too. The irate locals ransacked various government offices objecting to integration of the mid-western region with the far-western province. Police had to resort to baton-charging to disperse protesters.

In Surkhet, which has been the flash-point of a street movement for an undivided mid-western region, the local administration did not impose curfew on Wednesday. The administration had been imposing curfew every day since Sunday. Three people were also killed in police firing and stampede.



2,000 widows

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

DOUBLE SUFFERING: After dreaming at night that her husband is still alive and her house is intact, Nani Mainya Maharjan is reminded every morning that both are gone. She also lost her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren in this ruin of her home in Bhaktapur. Photo: Rojita Adhikari


Every morning when Nani Maiya Maharjan, 47, gets up, she peers across the bed to check if her husband is there and over the field to see if her home is still standing, just as it does in her dreams.

But for Nani Maiya, life is never going back to what it was before 25 April. Nani Maya is reminded every morning of the horror of that Saturday just before noon when buildings all around caved in with a frightful roar and her husband, daughter and son-in-law, two grandchildren and mother-in-law were buried under her house.

After a night of forgetting, she is reminded every morning of her loss. Time has not healed. The wounds in her soul are as raw as ever.

Nani Maiya was serving food to her daughter, son-in-law and their two children when the building started shaking violently. She shouted “let’s go” and ran out of the house. The others couldn’t make it in time and were crushed.

“I am the only survivor in the family. I lost everyone. I wish I had died too,” sobs Nani Maiya, dressed in mourning white.

The earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people with 55 per cent of them female. Nepal Police estimates that up to 2,000 women lost their husbands, and there are an estimated 50,000 single women whose houses collapsed. For the widows and single mothers, the struggle for survival after the earthquake has been doubly difficult because they are alone to rebuild and take care of families.

In patriarchal rural Nepal, it is mostly the men who earned, made important financial and other decisions in the household. They were the ones who did all the paperwork in the VDCs. The widows and single women are now left with no choice but to learn to do all this, all by themselves, as they try to claim the Rs15,000 emergency relief, and apply for reconstruction grants.

Nani Maiya, who farmed while her husband worked as a labourer, cannot read or write. She lost her citizenship papers and all her land registration documents and has been living in a small shed made of two corrugated zinc sheets provided by an anonymous donor. She looks dazed.

In nearby Dadhikot, 33-year-old Sunita Chitrapur also lost her husband who was a carpenter, and is now struggling to take care of her two children.

Three months after the earthquake, even though she lives close to the capital, Sunita has not received any money or roofing material and is still living in a fraying tent with her children. Others with men in the families have built temporary shelters from roofing material provided by the government, and they have got their Rs 15,000.

“No one told me where to go, how to get the relief material,” says Sunita. “During storms, I have to hold on to the flaps so the tent won’t blow away. We need Rs 12,000 a month to survive, and there is now no money for food, to pay for school fees.”

Purna Laxmi Khadgi, was married off when she was 19 and had been living with her husband for 11 years in Bhaktapur. Her husband and her one-and-half year old son were killed. She and her daughter survived.

“My husband and son were sleeping inside the house that Saturday,” Purna Laxmi recalls, “I survived because I was washing clothes outside. The building collapsed and it buried my husband and son. I miss them both terribly, I remember my son most at his feeding time.”

Purna Laxmi has a degree in pharmacy and her husband was a pharmacist. They were relatively well off, but the loss of her husband has left Purna Laxmi without support. She has been living for over three months in a temporary shed built by her brother-in-law. “I have to survive for the sake of my daughter,” she says.

Subhadra Marikhun also lost her husband and her house is gone. She cannot sleep because she is worried that she will not have enough money for her son’s school. “My husband loved me so much he didn’t want me to get a job, how can I live without him now?” says Subadhra.

For the nearly 3 million people directly affected by the earthquake, life is a struggle but is slowly returning to normal. But for the 2,000 widows like Nani Maiya Maharjan, Purna Laxmi Khadgi, Sunita Chitrapur and Subhadra Marikhun, there is another dimension of loss. They need long-term help.

Special need

Women’s groups and relief volunteers say widows and single mothers need special attention in post-earthquake rehabilitation because of the loss of breadwinner and the stigma of widowhood in patriarchal Nepali society. They need financial and psycho-social support well into the future.

“Single women and widows will need a separate mechanism for support to rebuild homes and livelihoods,” says Lili Thapa of the Women for Human Right Single Women Group. Thapa wants a Rs 50 million special fund for single mothers and widows and a special relief structure to reach them.

When we put that to Minister of Women Children and Social Welfare Nilam KC, she admitted such a program had not been planned yet. But she added: “We have looked at trafficking and sexual violence in shelters, but I will keep the agenda of widows and single mothers in the meeting of the council of ministers.”

Also read:

Earthquake from above, Kunda Dixit

The Tamang epicentre, Santa Gaha Magar


Curfew in Surkhet

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Riot police are now guarding Birendranagar of Surkhet from protesters. Photo: Binod Shahi

The local administration imposed a curfew in Surkhet for the third consecutive day on Wednesday. The curfew started at 11 a.m. and will end at 6 p.m.

Surkhet’s Chief District Officer Baldev Gautam said the curfew was imposed to avoid further untoward incidents during protests by the locals.

The local residents of Surkhet have been agitating since Monday demanding an integrated mid-western region. The four political parties had divided the mid-western region into two different provinces when they struck a deal on state delineation on 8 August.

Three protesters have already died in Surkhet– two in police firing and one in a stampede caused by the firing. The locals have also demanded a probe into the firing and action against the guilty.

Protesters had descended on the streets of Birendrangar from early Wednesday morning. But the streets are now agitated after the curfew. Only police and Armed Police Force (APF) personnel can be seen on the streets.

Binod Shahi from Surkhet